Recently, the Jewish Gay and Lesbian Group and Imaan the group that supports the LGBT Muslim Community living in the UK, came together to create something beautiful at JGLG’s monthly Chaverah (in English meaning friend), Friday night service lead by Rabbi Anna Gerrard. Rabbi Anna Gerrard created an inclusive service to welcome in the Shabbat, where together we created our own Amida and all those that attended participated. It was the first time in a long time I felt at home once again with my own faith and sexuality. After the service we had a wonderful feast where everyone brought some vegetarian food to share.
This showed me how important as human beings it is that we have a community place to sometimes come together: be it a Synagogue, Temple, Mosque, Church, Spiritual Gathering, or for many LGBT community members bars and clubs provide the same qualities. More importantly how creating these spaces for continued dialogue in a secular society and finding our commonalities has never been more important than today.
Whilst the UK media portrays a large divide between Jews and Muslims living in the UK, it was a wonderful opportunity to have dialogue about our similarities rather than divided conversations around our differences. Learning about each other’s cultures and commonalities around how we manage the intersection of sexuality and faith. Whilst in some parts of the Jewish community in the UK they still have a long way to go with regards to issues around: gender, sexual orientation and expression of sexuality. Conversations around same sex marriage and the options available around having children are happening; things I never thought would be possible when I came out in the mid 1990’s. We have come far and we still have a long way to go. By finding our own ways to show up and be seen within the Jewish community will only help us create and be the change we want to see.
During Passover I returned home for first and second night Seder, this is always is a stressful time for me, in what should be a time of celebration of our modern freedoms and relaxation with my family. I at least have never been pushed into forced marriage, or pushed to attend reparative therapy. Though, I still have to split off that side of my identity from my niece and nephews leaving this part of myself outside their front door. At present it does not feel the right time to be open about my sexuality due to their ages & them living in the more Orthodox community. For someone who is open about most threads of my identity this is no easy task. I feel when they don’t have to worry about being ‘found out’ or other members of the community, I know I won’t feel fully at home in my family’s home.
My family has a very close, supportive and loving relationship. Though this is still the freedom I long for. I am hopeful that as the kids have good relationships with their Uncle this important part of my identity will not ever dissolve those relationships. When I see the experiences of hate crimes against LGBT identities across the world, this feels like such a small insignificant matter. As an adult I have resolved these parts of my identity, I am able to integrate and celebrate these parts of my identity when and where I choose. This also helps me bring more compassion to the small work I do to create change in the wider world. As I get older I have noticed how my faith has become more and more important to me, this brings more authenticity and connection to my place in the world today.
As Shanon Shah, a Trustee of Imaan said at the end of the JGLG Chaverah, an enriching thought to leave you with: “Queer Muslims are not that different from our Jewish and Christian brothers and sisters who might also have to contend with judgemental and inhospitable interpretations of Scripture. But perhaps these experiences also endow us all with the gift to re-examine our sacred traditions in greater depth and reclaim their underlying ethos of love, justice, mercy and dignity for all. I’d like to believe we are in unique positions to identify with what the Muslim mystic, Jalaluddin Rumi, once said: ‘You are not a drop in the ocean. You are the entire ocean in a drop.’ Amin”