Mirza describes herself as “not as ritualistically Muslim as culturally.” She attends religious services at a mosque primarily when she visits her mother in Fort Wayne, Ind. She often meets with a group of Muslim queer and transgender people in Chicago, though, and usually goes to the annual retreat sponsored by the Muslim Alliance for Sexual and Gender Diversity. “It’s a coming-together for all,” she says of the retreat.
Many non-Muslims would not consider Islam an LGBT-friendly religion, but it’s important to note that Muslims range from liberal to ultraconservative, and the alliance is among several groups working for progressive values within the faith. As for Mirza, she says, “For me, as a survival tool, I had to embrace my Muslimness. I cannot see myself as any other faith. I’m deeply protective of people of Muslim faith practicing the way they see fit.”
Embracing one’s Muslimness also means dealing with Islamophobia in the LGBT community and American society generally. “It seems hard for people to reconcile my Muslimness,” Mirza says. “Just because [LGBT people] are marginalized does not mean we are free of any bias or stereotyping.” It’s her duty to fight negative misconceptions about Muslims, she says, and queer people should champion the rights of all marginalized populations.