When I heard about the Orlando massacre, my first thought was “I will not get to grieve this. I will not get to mourn these lives.” The next two days, I spent many hours on the phone with reporters resisting questions that assumed a binary opposition between my queerness and my Islam. But I had something to look forward to: a vigil outside Stonewall Inn, an iconic symbol in New York City of the gay rights movement, on Monday evening.

As I walked to the landmark, I let myself relax—thinking this would be my moment of catharsis. I hoped that I would get to shed welled-up tears and stand in solidarity with others who understood this massacre for what it was—a political moment. But a few hours into joining the 4000+ crowd, I realized my initial instincts were more correct – I would not get to grieve these lives.

Upon arriving, I found myself in a sea of well-dressed upper middle class gays—mostly cis men, the kind that litter Human Rights Campaign ads and scream things like “Love Wins.” I suddenly felt so visible in my Muslimness, so naked in my identifiable Arabness. I was conscious of my enormous Arabic tattoo, my eyes, my skin, my hair. Lingering gazes felt hostile, but I brushed them off as a symptom of my own paranoia.

A contingent of four people shared a cardboard sign that said “No to Homophobia, No to Islamophobia.” I was relieved to see them, even finding a familiar face below the sign. Soon, they tried starting a chant.

“We’re here. We’re queer. Don’t give in to racist fear.”

It did not catch on. I thought “well, it’s not a movement crowd.” It takes a certain training to pick up on a chant; it can feel awkward to rally-novices. Besides, this was a notably whiter, richer crowd than the rallies that had trained people like me—from anti-war to Free Palestine to Occupy to #BlackLivesMatter.

Then another chant broke out: “We’re here. We’re queer. Don’t fuck with us.” That one caught on. Apparently people could chant, just not about racism.

The anti-racist chanters did not give up, and tried to re-initiate their chant, without success. A woman from the group began addressing the crowd, giving an impromptu speech about the exploitation of queer deaths for political gain. I would later find out she was socialist lesbian feminist, Sherry Wolf, who is quite famous on the Left.

“You see how this is being used, people,” she said, admonishing politicians for advancing their aims using a queer community they otherwise do not support. Across the barricades, in the park on the corner of Christopher and 4th Street, a few Latinx (a degendered term for identifying folks from the Latino/a community) folks responded loudly with cheers and applause. But the crowd around her, around us, was silent. I heard a man whisper to his partner, “babe, she’s not the speaker.” His partner responded sarcastically, “well, she’s certainly speaking.”

By the time the formal proceedings began, I was among a handful of queer people of color and our allies. We shared our shock and dismay over the course of the evening. We marveled as the crowd cheered for Governor Andrew Cuomo and Mayor Bill De Blasio when they stopped to sign the memorial outside Stonewall.

Cuomo took the stage, to much applause from the crowd around us. We chanted “Pass ENDA,” the Employment Non-Discrimination Act. Even the promise of employment non-discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation did not move the crowd. Instead, they responded enthusiastically to Cuomo’s promises to “do what we did after 9/11.”  As the applause broke out, I flashed back to memories of the FBI raiding mosques, homes—including my own—and Muslim charity organizations. If the crowd remembered how the state had imprisoned thousands of Muslims after 9/11, it certainly did not show it or did not care. If anyone remembered that the global “War on Terror” had taken hundreds of thousands of lives, it certainly did not seem to bother them.

Politician after politician took the stage and talked, not about homophobia, but about gun control. In the same breath, they lauded the NYPD for “protecting New Yorkers.” Indeed, the police seemed at home in front of Stonewall, carrying the same assault rifles that had been used two days earlier to kill the people we had come to mourn. A group of NYPD counterterrorism officers with canines, stood in the middle of the street talking to each other in relaxed voices. They were one with the crowd.

In the crowd, all around us, were the flimsy politics of those who thought sexuality was just one hurdle in the fight against an otherwise-just society. The majority of Stonewall attendees were enamored with the rich, powerful people who had hijacked our grief, and would not hear of any disruptions. We tried, at various points, to heckle the men in suits and rally the folks around us to engage in actual chanting. My friend shouted “Fuck the NYPD” during De Blasio’s speech. She received contemptuous glares from the audience, with one man simply saying “No.” Another man, standing next to her, said “They’re the only people protecting us.” She responded, “Do you know where you are? You’re at Stonewall.” Another voice interjected, “That was a long time ago.”

At one point, the crowd finally grew tired of the parade of platitudes from politicians. Chants of “Say Their Names” and “No More Bullshit” interrupted a speech from a mayoral staffer enough times she was forced to move on.

A white, young man near us responded in anger to the crowd’s chants.

“Of course they’re going to read the fucking names. Let people finish.” he said. “You have to give respect to get respect.”

Apparently occupying a stage at a rally is enough to earn you respect.

“They don’t deserve my respect,” I responded.

“Then don’t expect theirs.” He said.

“I don’t want their respect. I want my rights.” I said.

Another voice in the crowd interrupted our conversation, “It’s not the time for that.”

When my friend pointed out that a white liberal was silencing us, our old respect-obsessed friend said, “that’s racist.”

Before it became mainstream, the fight for gay liberation was part of a broader movement for a better society. Stonewall itself was a riot against police brutality toward working class transwomen, lesbians, and gay men.* But, now, we are standing in front of a New Stonewall.

According to the logic of the New Stonewall, police oppression of queers is in the past. Our oppression is compartmentalized from our political goals. If we just ask nicely and give them the respect they apparently deserve, people in power will listen to us. Based on this thinking, the fight for job non-discrimination is separate from the fight against transphobia is separate from the fight against gentrification is separate from the fight against police brutality is separate from racism is separate from the deaths of forty-nine, mostly Latinx, folks at the hands of a raging, gun-obsessed homophobe.

But, this New Stonewall is not for people like me. I am not interested in a partial humanization doled out by elites. I do not care when Cuomo humanizes me as a queer person only to criminalize me as a Palestinian. I do not want the NYPD’s protection while I dance, only to get their harassment while I pray. I do not want De Blasio to embrace my choice to love, while his real estate friends push me out of my home.

My experiences of homophobia, Islamophobia, and the crushing weight of living under capitalism cannot be conveniently separated out into “different issues.” They are all one and part of my life.

My oppressions often take the same forms—an angry glance on the subway, a slur shouted out the window of a passing car, my own quickening heartbeat in the face of the police, a job inquiry gone unanswered. They also have one source, one in which my body, language, and sexuality are threatening to capitalism and its faithful guard dog, the state; and where our collective queer bodies and stories and lives are cut into parts and sold to win elections and wage profitable wars.

We need to reclaim the radical potential of gay liberation from the New Stonewall by connecting Islamo- and queerphobia to the systems that fuel them and other injustices. Until then, we have even more than forty-nine lives to grieve. We have the death of a movement to mourn.

*UPDATED 6/16/16: This post has been revised to note that police brutality against gay men also contributed to the Stonewall riot. 

Support our work. Advertise on Muftah.

Advertisement
  • donovan67

    Wonderful! I can read this a thousand times!

  • God I hate that you are so right. I wish we could distill your argument so people, our people, could understand. Maybe it’s the sorrow, PTSD, from Sundays killings. But I don’t see that understanding happening.

  • s.quest

    thank you. from the west coast, trying to do what we can to help you build safety.

  • So you, a follower of a religion with a majority of adherents that believe homosexuality is evil and should be punished in some way, often death, attended a vigil/rally for homosexuals in the wake of an attack on them by a follower of the same religion, and were SURPRISED when people were scared and suspicious? Surprised when people felt comforted by having police officers with guns legally obligated to protect them? Have some empathy.

  • Jeff Neff

    If I had been there, I would have stood right with you and chanted. Period.

  • Kaley

    You have literally just described most major religions.

  • Ben Chompers

    Are you talking about Christianity here or what? I can’t tell.

  • Tea and Vinyl

    Hey, that describes lots of white Christians, guess that’s why people of colour are afraid and suspicious of them. How dare a brown queer person think that they have the right to mourn the loss of people in their community while also calling out the larger issues that allow this sort of violence to occur. She should know her place (which is beneath wealthy white men), am I right? Why don’t *you* have some empathy- oh, I forgot, you don’t have to because you’re a white guy so obviously you get to dictate how queer PoC feel about the deaths of other queer PoC.

  • shitlord666

    ^^my entitled-mayonnaise-boy senses are tingling

  • orionsbelt3

    “So you, a follower of a religion with a majority of adherents that
    believe homosexuality is evil and should be punished in some way, often
    death” <—— Do you have statistics for this? Source?

  • orionsbelt3

    Great piece. Thanks for sharing.

  • Ryan P

    Sounds like not everyone in the crowd shared your exact same beliefs, problems and ideas about how to solve them, and maybe they were even upset about the attacks and too on edge to realize the obvious, that you are the center of the world!

  • Josh,

    By validating the experiences of the “scared and suspicious”, you are clearly defending Isamophobia. You are defending the idea that it is permissible for Americans to assume that if you’re Muslim, then you also have violent tendencies.

    And that’s just racist.

    To assert that the Muslim author wants to “punish” gay people is to imply that 1) all Muslims have the same interpretation of the Koran, and 2) all Muslims aim to “punish” or inflict harmful discipline upon homosexuals. This is wrong for two reasons:

    1) Not everyone who subscribes to a religion adopts all of the scripture’s beliefs. And let’s remember that *all* Abrahamic religions (Islam, Christianity and Judaism) forbid homosexuality. Yet, not all Christians are Fundamentalist Christians, and not all Jews are Orthodox Jews. There is a wide variety of denominations and interpretations of any given religious text. Just as in any religious following, there is a huge range of diversity among Muslims– an estimated 1.57 BILLION followers.

    2) Just like the other religions, holding a particular belief doesn’t necessarily mean that you intend to violently impose it upon other people. It’s also just NOT TRUE that all 1.57 billion Muslims violently impose their beliefs on other people. Xenophobic racists on TV would like you to believe that, but no, it’s simply not the case.

    Eman experiences racism and discrimination on a daily basis because of her identity and beliefs, not just since this tragedy. She writes about how her home was broken-into by police in the aftermath of 9/11: as a white person, can you empathize with that act of violence? Consider taking your own advice and try to empathize with the author’s perspective.

  • Charlie Dees

    I’m still lost here – the opening of the article draws a lot of attention to fears about whether or not you would be “allowed to mourn” (what does that even mean?), and between the headline and the rest of your introduction it seems quite obvious that your religion and Arab ethnicity is supposed to be the cause of this fear, and then…absolutely nothing anti-Arab or Islamophobic happens to you at this rally, and you’re instead mad that in an unruly crowd, not everybody has the exact same opinions on how to publicly mourn as you. This seems like quite a reach, as if you were expecting far worse to happen to you, went in with that kind of mindset, and then have to cling to scraps in order to still pretend like you were being oppressed at this rally.
    Also, Stonewall was a place where gay people fought back, so their chants make sense, even if they are not what I would have said.

  • ChristopherBlackwell

    Does that include White Christian Queers, shouldn’t they too have some empathy. You just proved the point that White queers can be racist. As one old enough to remember the beginning of the Gay pride movement at your age, you do not impress me, with your backwardness.

  • Hey, you said brown. I didn’t mention race, just religion.

  • “Most Muslims agree on certain moral principles. For example, […] There also is widespread agreement that some
    behaviors – including […] homosexuality and committing suicide – are immoral.”
    From, PEW research from 2013

  • I didn’t assert that the author wanted to punish gay people, and I significantly doubt that is the case. I asserted the empirical fact (see PEW research) that the majority of Muslims believe homosexuality is immoral.

    I then said that it is understandable for a gay person to be scared of someone who follows a religion which (whilst it may or may not actually teach against homosexuality, I don’t claim to be a scholar of Islamic scripture) has a large (and even majority) amount of anti-gay individuals in it, and to worry that they might share the views of the majority of their community. Just like it would be understandable for a gay person to be scared or suspicious of an Orthodox Jew or a Catholic. And, if I had used Judaism or Christianity as an example instead of Islam, you wouldn’t have questioned it. Because you think that only one religion is above criticism.

  • Present me with proof that a majority of Christians globally think homosexuality is immoral. Then present me with proof that a majority of Christians in the western world think that.

    Because here’s proof that a majority of Muslims globally think homosexuality is immoral:
    http://www.pewforum.org/2013/04/30/the-worlds-muslims-religion-politics-society-morality/
    and if you look at it in more detail, you can see that the majority think that even in the western world. Hell, 100% of British muslims said it was immoral. All of them. Every single one surveyed. By PEW, a respectable, unbiased organisation with no political agenda (before you accuse me of using skewed or unfair data)

  • лидия

    Sounds like the crowd majority was more close to the oppressors than to the oppressed, it is sure. very nice to be on the same side as USA imperialist rulers. After all, now openly gay could be cannon fodder for USA imperialist wars, is it not great?

  • лидия

    Yeah, absolutely nothing but the anti-Arab and Islamophobic politicians who promised even more such politics and anti-Arab and Islamophobic police who would enforce it, and the majority of the crowd happy with it.

  • лидия

    PEW research found that Muslims in USA are more ready to support homo rights than Evangelists, mmm

  • лидия

    In USA Muslims are MORE tolerating that Evangelists, by the way (see pew)

  • лидия

    Anti-homo laws in the ME and beyond, by the way, are the result of UK and French colonization.
    And there is a good article about real(!) Islam attitude
    http://europe.newsweek.com/what-does-koran-say-about-being-gay-470570?rm=eu
    And, by the way, the best pals of USA rulers who are very(!) anti-homo are Saudi royals.

  • garryq

    100 percent Josh? Does that mean queer British Muslims think themselves immoral?

  • Oneironaut

    Not everything you don’t like is a matter of oppression.

  • Sam H

    Great piece, thanks for sharing. I especially like this: “I am not interested in a partial humanization doled out by elites.” Yes, it seems that the LGBT movement has lost its drive for all-embracing social justice – sexual, cultural, economic – and is instead narrowly focused on issues palatable to upper class liberal elites, namely same-sex marriage and trans bathroom rights. These “hot button” issues don’t challenge the neoliberal capitalistic economic agenda or the neocon imperialistic foreign policy of our government, so the liberal elites can easily rally behind them in a self-righteous manner. Indeed, many of the upper class white LGBT elites are fully entrenched in this system, so they don’t want to challenge it. Who care if millions of brown bodies die from our interventionist wars and weapons sales or if the poof of this country keep getting screwed by multinational corporations and their Congressional puppets? As long and the rich gays can get married and get tax breaks, then all is well with the world.

  • Kabir

    Some reflections from India and it’s Queer movement or wait we can call it upper caste homosexual men’s movement, “Let me make a confession here, I’m no expert in Gender studies or
    much popular queer theory. My understanding is based on my own
    experiences with the rainbow movement and the reflection of it is
    presented here.

    Most movements related to identity tend to be exclusive and
    assertive, for justified historical and contemporary reasons. The
    movement of alternative sexualities which is now referred to as LGBTIQ
    or Queer movement was, in theory, believed to be far more inclusive than
    the others. It was an umbrella under which all those -whose way of
    living and beliefs were opposed to “patriarchal hetero- normative
    lifestyle” were welcome. If all “inclusive” theories are transformed in
    reality, I must say that world would have been a better place to live
    in. Sadly that either rarely happens or it takes centuries to make it a
    reality.”

    https://maleccha.wordpress.com/2014/11/23/why-i-shall-not-participate-in-queer-pride-march/

  • лидия

    Sure, USA killer cops and Islamophobic politicians are NOT oppression, they are just nice guys – when one is not their victim. Of course, the victims should shut up, because really they just do not “like” it.
    By the way, I am a Jewish Atheist.

  • 100% of British muslims surveyed by PEW said it was. Take that up with PEW or the Muslim community, not me.

  • Mitch

    Except they exist in areas which werent colonised by those powers.

  • Mitch

    Also in response to this

    >constantly denying the role of CIA and Saudi royals in “snaring” USSR in Afghanistan, even though the mastermind of this crime – bringing Wahhabi terrorists to Afghanistan – Brzezinski – had publicly claimed it and bragged about it in 1998 – just 3(!) year before 9/11.

    This has been explained to you before, the reason for the soviet entry had to do with the soviets no longer supporting the afghan leader and wanting him out of the way, so they invaded and installed a new leader.

    Brzezinski can claim what he wants but the facts are clear.

  • Mitch

    But are they more tolerant than christians overall?

  • Charles Davy

    Islam is the problem, Arab culture is the problem, and the majority of the LGB community had no problem recognizing that.