Thursday, 23 February 2017

LGBTHM17: 7 Trans Muslim Activists Everyone Should Know About

A common argument made by those on the far-right is that the entire religion of Islam is anti-LGBTQIA+. The likes of *45, Geert Wilders and Marine Le Pen love to spread their fearmongering ideology because it allows them to control the narrative. Why on earth do you think their followers online keep telling gay men that they will be thrown off buildings if the UK becomes "Islamified" and keep telling bisexual women that they'll be forcibly raped to try and "cure" them of their sexuality? One way of combating such rhetoric is to remind these Alt-Righters that there are open, progressive Muslim activists who identify as LGBTQIA+ and who are actively trying to change hearts and minds within their own communities with regards to LGBTQIA+ people. I feel for LGBT History month 2017 (LGBTHM17) it's time to highlight a few of my favourite trans Muslim activists based in Muslim-majority countries and the wonderful work they have done and continue to do.
  1. Sally Mursi openly declared her desire to transition from male to female in 1988 in Egypt. Egyptian Muslims were so divided on the issue that the Grand Mufti, Muhammad Sayyid Tantawy was asked to rule on whether transgender status should be spiritually legal. He decided that trans people could spiritually change their gender in a legal way (through releasing a fatwa). Mursi was studying as a medic at the time (in her 4th year) but unfortunately the medical school rejected her after her transition, even though a court ruled in her favour twice. Mursi is now a dancer but she's still trying fighting to return to medical school as a point of principle to allow other trans students to enter the medical profession in the future.
  2. Yasmene Jabar is an American trans woman activist who married a Jordanian Muslim. Jabar helped organise the first transgender conference to be held in the Middle East in 2005 and now hopes to become an actor, using her experience to help give authenticity to her performance and increase empathy for trans people across the board.
  3. Fatemah Javaheri is an Iranian professor of sociology who has written for journals about trans issues all across the world. Javaheri did a study of Iranian trans rights in 2010 for the Iranian Studies journal and notes that even though rights for Iranian trans people exist (and have done since the early 1980's) they still face challenges with regards to finding long term employment in the professions....there are no openly trans judges or lawyers in Iran, for example.
  4. Demet Demir is a Turkish trans female politician who has faced arrest, assault, harassment over the years. Demir was first arrested after a military coup in 1980, again in 1982 and was arrested and tortured in 1991.  Demir had to work as a prostitute to support herself and her experience convinced her to establish the first sexual minorities commission within the Turkish Human Rights Organisation, where she helped campaign successfully against Article 159, which prevented women from working without their husband's consent and Article 438, which allowed punishment to be decreased by 1/3 in cases of violence against prostitutes. Demir was the first trans woman and the first person to be considered a "prisoner of conscience" by Amnesty International due to her "sexual orientation". Demir completed her transition in 1996 and ran for office in 1999. Demir also fought for her right to change her gender on legal documentation.
  5. Bindiya Rana is a transgender female activist and social worker from Karachi who founded the Gender Interactive Alliance Pakistan which aims to support trans people by educating them about health risks (including getting HIV/AIDS through unprotected sex) and providing access to employment advice and counselling programmes. Rana ran for public office along with a handful of hijras in 2013. Rana has recently helped to campaign for same-sex trans marriages to be legally recognised in Pakistan. Clerics in Pakistan have recognised the right for trans people to enter heterosexual marriage but that's still discriminatory against lesbian or gay trans people.
  6. Alex Mamytov is a Kyrgyzstani trans male activist who was subjected to forms of local "conversion therapies" (moldo voodoo priests and shamans) by his mother after being kicked out of university for having a perceived lesbian relationship. Mamytov and Anna Kirey and Anna Dovgopal of Labrys help develop workshops which help to inspire self confidence amongst  trans people. Mamytov is now a Project Coordinator at the Youth Human Rights Group, which works with orphans and young activists as well as developing human rights initiatives in Kyrgyzstan. Mamytov notes the example of old trans men who have raped and who never got to transition but also states that it's much more acceptable to be a passing trans person than a lesbian or gay person because they say trans people are "mistakes of nature". It's quite interesting to read from Mamytov's blog that trans people in Kyrgyzstan can be homophobic because of their lack of understanding regarding the relationship between gender identity and sexual orientation. Some don't understand why a trans man would want to be with another man, for example. Mamytov wants to challenge these assumptions within the trans community whilst working to get legal recognition of gender identity and easier access to Gender Reassignment Surgery.
  7. Nadeem Kashish is a Pakistani trans male activist who helps to run the Shemale Association for Fundamental Rights (Safar) which helps to advance the rights of the "hijra" community (which includes transgender, transsexual, transvestites and other groups who are recognised as "third sex"- neither male nor female). Safar have campaigned for the building of a new mosque in Islamabad to welcome Muslims regardless of their gender identity or sexual orientation. Kashish knows of 2,700 trans people in Islamabad even though only 2,500 are registered in the whole of Pakistan. 
Sally, Yasmene, Fatemah, Demet, Bindiya, Alex and Nadeem are all part of a movement towards a progressive, trans inclusive form of Islam. Yes they have faced crushing physical and emotional prejudice and discrimination within their respective countries but they have managed to rise above the abuse shown to them to speak out in a positive way to help enact social change. I can't speak for them or own their narrative or exploit it for my own ends. Nobody who has not faced the oppression they have faced can really do that. The key thing is to recognise their contribution to trans activism, to amplify their stories using the platforms that even I as a white trans non-binary Christian person in the West am  lucky to have access to. If their stories have interested you, you should definitely search them on Google or try to find their Twitter accounts. Give them a shoutout when you have access to a political or social platform and challenge the stereotypical views of Islam as "incapable of reform from the inside" or "not for LGBTQIA+ people to practice". With knowledge comes power; the power to open minds and hearts not just to benefit ourselves but to benefit others too. Trans people certainly do not agree on everything and I know there will be some who may be reticent to talk about trans Muslims having similar wishes for acceptance and respect as they do because they don't want to offend friends who may disagree with Islam in general. However, empathy is something that can be demonstrated universally, across religious, political and cultural boundaries. You don't have to be a trans Muslim to empathise with their experience. Be brave enough to use your platform to amplify voices who may seem initially different from yours this LGBTHM17.