Many of us who work outside the home may have experienced discrimination or been exposed to people with phobic beliefs about other people before. I work in San Francisco with homeless youth, at the heart of what’s known as the Gay Bay. My organization is obviously pro-LGBTQ+, and we get hit with endless demands to vouch for ourselves because Muslims are apparently supposed to be homophobic and transphobic.
I had my own experience with this after I had been working there for about 10 years. There was a new person hired, and she engaged in Islamophobia towards me, believing that because I’m Muslim, I must be homophobic or transphobic. At my job, over 80% of the youth we serve are of color, or LGBTQ+, or both. In fact, in San Francisco, as well as around the country, the rates for homelessnesses for LGBTQ+ youth of color is much higher than for other populations.
According to the United States Interagency Council on Homelessness, the national statistics are as follows:
- Among racial and ethnic groups, African-American youth were especially overrepresented, with an 83% higher risk of having experienced homelessness than other races. This disproportionality mirrors Black youth racial disparities documented in school suspensions, incarceration, and foster care placement.
- Latino/a/x youth were found at higher risk of experiencing homelessness than non-Latino/a/x youth. Further, while Latino/a/x youth were 33% of the 18-25 year-olds reporting homelessness, only 19% of youth served by federally funded runaway and homeless youth programs in 2014 were Latino/a/x.
- LGBT youth had a 120% higher risk of experiencing homelessness than youth who identified as heterosexual and cisgender.
So understandably, when so many of our youth are queer and of color, there is a very high degree of concern about racism, homophobia, and transphobia. When this individual attacked me as a Muslim as unfit to work at our agency due to her Islamophobia, I put up with it for a while, but I eventually complained to HR. But while I complained about this individual, I was aware that the youth themselves on my caseload are almost all queer or trans, and they never held my religion against me. Most people just think “Live and let live.“ Accept me as I am, and I’ll accept you. I almost always feel welcomed and accepted by most folx that I know.
I was aware that the youth themselves on my caseload are almost all queer or trans, and they never held my religion against me.
I also watched the Super Bowl just for the amazing halftime show. Wow, Shakira and JLo. Mind-boggling; they slayed so hard. But I never watch TV, and I was taken aback at how pro-gay the ads were. So many pro-LGBTQ+ images. It reinforced to me how important it is, at least in the US, that the Muslim community has good relations with the LGBTQ+ community. They are powerful and visible, and have a strong base of support. They share many of our values, and many of our community identify as LGBTQ+ so there is a cross-over. With all the positive images, it is really important for our young people that we can co-exist.
After I complained, HR didn’t do anything. I did start going to Jummah prayer again on Fridays. But no email, nothing. But then a few months later, I walked in to the administrative office and I saw these posters:
It said to me that my faith in the LGBTQ+ community was justified. I almost wept with relief. A little while later, these same posters appeared elsewhere in the agency.
The posters are put out by the Muslim Youth Leadership Council.
Their campaign #MuslimAnd is a huge step towards making it safer for Muslims in the U.S. I am so grateful for my work, and to the #MuslimAnd campaign. I have greater hope that we are moving together towards a world where peace and security is possible for all people. #MuslimAndProud!
Sarah is a social worker in the San Francisco Bay Area with at-risk and homeless youth. She likes to paint, drum, sing, and spend quality time with her family and God in her free time. She is currently working on a book on Sufism, mindfulness and recovery from co-occurring disorders and on an album with her band EYETestify.