Media coverage of 2013 LGBT Muslim Retreat


In the Advocate's "LGBT Muslims Make Progress on the Path to Acceptance," by Trudy Ring, we get a glimpse into the 2013 LGBT Muslim retreat,

In May the Muslim Alliance for Sexual and Gender Diversity welcomed 86 attendees to the third annual LGBTQ Muslim Retreat, an event aimed at advancing the reconciliation process. That’s up from 71 in each of the past two years, and the number would have been greater if the retreat space was larger, says [Tynan] Power. His organization officially launched this year, but several of the people involved with it helped organize the earlier retreats, and some of them worked with an earlier, now-defunct LGBT Muslim group, Al-Fatiha. He hopes the founding of the alliance heralds “a bright new era for LGBTQ Muslims in the U.S.”

In "At Muslim LGBTQ retreat, attendees try to reconcile their faith and sexuality" by Emily Wax and Nikki Kahn in the Washington Post, we get some more details,

Some wore T-shirts that read, “Muslim + Gay = Fabulous.” They prayed. They attended workshops about pioneering progressive Muslims. Ever heard of Isabelle Eberhardt, a.k.a. Mahmoud Saadi, a convert to Islam who challenged gender norms at the turn of the 20th century?

And they held discussions on struggling to reconcile their faith with their sexuality, and their sexuality with their faith. (Many folks said that they face Islamophobia from inside the mainstream LGBTQ community.)

At the retreat, women and men prayed side by side, rather than in separate quarters as is customary. Some people found potential partners. Others wept in workshops when they talked about their family’s reactions.

The Washington Post goes on to profile two transgender attendees,

[Bre Campbell is] 27, lives in Detroit and is a convert to Islam. She also identifies as transgender, male to female. Campbell talked about how it’s often hard to be transgender at a mosque, which segregates men and women.

A few gossipy women at her place of worship have tried to figure her out. “Bre, you know, you shouldn’t pray at the mosque when you have your period, right?” she recalled some of them asking.

Yes, she would answer, she understands.

She didn’t want to tell them that she was transgender, partly because it was personal and partly because she realized they might ask to her to pray on the male side of the mosque.

“Not everybody is willing to have that conversation,” she said. “But I feel, God doesn’t make mistakes. I can be myself and keep my faith.”

In another Washington Post segment, we meet Yusef Bornacelli,

He is originally from Venezuela, now lives in Northampton, Mass., and is transgender, female to male.

A Muslim with a mohawk, he laughs as he doodles a swirly arabesque logo for the retreat, just for fun, on one of the workshop’s giant sheets of white butcher’s paper.

“A transgender Muslim male and unapologetic,” he adds.

While some of those at the retreat are shy, Bornacelli is all about using his art and poetry to spotlight his identity.

The retreat inspired him, he says, to start the process to become — perhaps — the world’s first transgender Muslim prayer leader.

“I thought I was the only transgender Muslim out there,” he told some of those he met."

Meanwhile, the Advocate article explores the basic beliefs of the LGBT Muslim Retreat,

Both Power, a queer transgender man, and Zonneveld, a straight woman, say there’s nothing in the Koran, the Muslim holy book, that promotes or justifies antigay or antitransgender sentiments.

“There are progressive Muslim scholars who offer analysis of the Koran and Hadith — sayings and accounts of the life of the prophet Muhammad — which aims to counter some of the religious arguments that are made to exclude LGBTQ Muslims,” says Power.

“However,” he continues, “for those who are not scholars, I believe the argument is much simpler. We find no example in the prophet’s lifetime of his punishing anyone for homosexuality or transgender [identity]. Homosexuality is not even mentioned by name in the Koran. More to the point, the prophet never excluded anyone from participation in the religious life of the mosque. The Islam practiced by the prophet Muhammad was one of radical welcome.”

In some countries, of course, Islam is practiced in a radically unwelcoming fashion, with LGBT people persecuted and sometimes even executed for simply being who they are. Zonnefeld, though, sees that as a legacy of colonialism.

For much of history, she says, homosexuality was not taboo in Islam, but European powers that colonized Asian and African countries brought sexually repressive attitudes and policies with them, all in the name of “civilizing” native peoples. “What has happened is that Muslim nations became extremely homophobic,” she says.

The Advocate article goes on to unpack some issues of perception,

Adds Power: “Non-Muslims who believe all Muslims are homophobic are misinformed. Part of the blame is certainly on Western media, which tends to paint all Muslims with a very limited palette. However, part of the responsibility is also on the individual, for not questioning such generalizations. It’s my view that assuming all Muslims are homophobic is, in itself, playing into heterosexism, because it is assuming that all Muslims are heterosexual.”

The author also interviewed Congressman from Minnesota, Keith Ellison, who is Muslim and has a strong pro-LGBT voting record, 

[Ellison] agrees that Islam does not condemn homosexuality. “The Koran doesn’t address the issue at all,” he says. “It doesn’t discuss it.” He does see growing acceptance of LGBT people among U.S. Muslims, noting, “I think it probably reflects the attitudes of American society generally.” When Minnesotans rejected an anti–marriage equality constitutional amendment last November, “Muslims probably voted similarly to the rest of the population,” he says.

As for members of his faith who would use their religion as a basis for antigay laws, he reminds them that Muslims are often targets of prejudice as well. If the general public were polled on how they view Muslims and how they view LGBT people, he says, Muslims would probably rank lower. So he makes this argument: “It’s rights for all or rights for none.”

Zonneveld notes that antigay and anti-Muslim attitudes often come from the same sources. So it’s key, she says, for LGBT Muslims to join with other progressive forces within the faith to advocate for equality and inclusion. “We should be working together,” she says.

Read the full articles --

In the Advocate: "LGBT Muslims Make Progress on the Path to Acceptance," by Trudy Ring

In the Washington Post: "At Muslim LGBTQ retreat, attendees try to reconcile their faith and sexuality" by Emily Wax and Nikki Kahn 

Connect with the LGBT Muslim Retreat organizers at

More Trans and Muslim Content at Transfaith