Hafsa Qureshi says being Muslim and bisexual has seen friends reject her and discrimination at work. She describes why it’s vital to break stereotypes and encourage diverse LGBT+ role models.
Hausa, 25, works in recruitment support for Her Majesty’s Courts and Tribunals Service in Birmingham, part of the Ministry of Justice (MoJ).
Hafsa is very active in the Midlands subgroup of the department’s LGBT network, Spirit. This includes helping to organise an event for Bi Visibility Day in the region and speaking on the panel, and arranging the MoJ presence at Birmingham Pride.
Being ignored at work, passed over for promotion, or outright hate speech is not uncommon for LGBT+ Muslim women, writes Hafsa.
“Being BAME (black, Asian and minority ethnic people), LGBT and Muslim makes discrimination feel almost inevitable.
Being accepted by my cultural and religious groups means hiding my sexuality for fear of being ostracised, or even fear of violence.
In LGBT+ groups, I am asked how I can identify with a religion that is seen as not accepting of the LGBT+ community. Because of all these boxes I tick, I fit into neither category.
It feels as though I am too queer to be Muslim, and too Muslim to be queer. I feel I must relinquish an aspect of my identity to retain another.
As I grew up, I came out to my family as indirectly as possible. I’d say that I like girls, or that I’m not quite straight.
I was afraid to say the words out loud.
I am lucky enough to belong to an accepting family. But it’s still not something we discuss.
I had other religious friends who asked me why I was telling them that I’m bisexual: “Can’t you just marry a guy and forget about it?”
When I couldn’t quite conform to what they wanted me to be, I had friends turn their back on me.
As a bisexual Muslim woman, it is very easy for me to hide my sexuality. Because of my headscarf, I am often assumed to be straight, or married, or a parent.
I am none of these things, but I have the privilege of seeming like I am.
I can be on a date with another woman and we would just be perceived as two platonic friends. I have had friends and past co-workers say transphobic, biphobic or homophobic things to me, not realising I am LGBT+ myself.
There is an assumption within my community that LGBT+ people are to be feared. Or that queer people of faith simply do not exist.
This “othering” effect led me to fear being out in the workplace. For many years on forms, I was “straight”. I was afraid someone would see “bisexual” and treat me differently.
Before I was even out, I had ex-coworkers asking me if I was a lesbian because I didn’t talk about relationships. This was always phrased in a negative way, as if I had something to be ashamed of.
I previously worked in a role with clear diversity policies and thought it would be safe to be out. But then the co-workers I used to get on well with started to keep to polite greetings.
I had applied for a new role I felt qualified for, but my manager at the time said he noticed I was interacting less with others, and therefore, was less of a team player. I felt this was a direct result of me not hiding my sexuality.
In my work to increase visibility for other BAME LGBT+ people, I have had other LGBT+ Muslim women email me talking about similar discriminatory experiences to my own. Being ignored at work, passed over for promotion, or even outright hate speech.
Thankfully, I’m now at the Ministry of Justice, an organisation where I feel safe from discrimination and able to be a visible LGBT+ role model to support others. To help other BAME LGBT+ Muslims, we need more visible role models from similar cultural backgrounds.
It is so difficult to break the stereotypes surrounding my culture, and the urge to conform. If we have more employers nurturing these role models, we can create better workplaces where people feel free to be themselves.
Hafsa has been named 2019 Bi Role Model of the Year by Stonewall for sharing her experiences as a BAME, LGBT Muslim woman.
Source: Sky News UK – This is an edited version of the original.