Out, proud and Muslim in Australia | Asia Pacific

Out, proud and Muslim in Australia

Out, proud and Muslim in Australia

Updated 6 March 2014, 17:14 AEDT

.Coming out as gay, lesbian or transgender can be traumatic and difficult ..

Coming out as gay, lesbian or transgender can be traumatic and difficult .. but it can be even more complicated if it involves religious beliefs and values.

Australian woman, Alyena Mohummadally is a Muslim, who was able to reconcile her faith and sexual identity.

Reporter: Kate Arnott

Speakers: Alyena Mohummadally, founder Queer Muslims in Australia; Catherine Roberts, partner

MOHUMMADALLY: As a young child - I would take 10 showers a day trying to scrub my skin dry - with soap like washing myself - towelling myself dry - trying to clean myself of these thoughts of same sex attraction. I really didn't feel that you could be gay and Muslim - you had to choose one or the other and when I tried to choose one or the other I wasn't happy.

ARNOTT: Alyena Mohummadally was born in Pakistan and spent her teenage years there.

When she was 15, she remembers watching the Winter Olympics on television in Karachi - and being mesmerised by German figure skater, Katarina Witt.

MOHUMMADALLY: I just thought wow - she's so beautiful - I want to marry her and in the next same breathe I thought - how can you think like that? I'm a girl and you don't marry girls.

ARNOTT: 22 year later though - Alyena Mohammadally lives in Melbourne with partner, Catherine Roberts ... and they have two children.

They never imagined this was how life was going to turn out, when they went on their first date in 2005.

MOHUMMADALLY: Where did you choose dinner - I was really quite offended!

ROBERTS: I chose an Indian restaurant..

MOHUMMADALLY: I'm Pakistani. (laughing)

ARNOTT: For Catherine, coming out was a relatively comfortable experience... she had a supportive family in Melbourne and wasn't tied to a religion.

ROBERTS: It was never a big struggle, a big internal struggle for me. It was just kind of this realisation that it was a better fit for me.

ARNOTT: For Alyena though, it WAS a big struggle.

Strict interpretations of Islam forbid homosexuality.

When she started her first same-sex relationship at university in Canberra in 2000, there seemed no place for her religion alongside her personal life.

So, she renounced her faith.

MOHUMMADALLY: For a couple of months, for a couple of weeks I was happy and then it all came crashing down and I realised - faith is really important to me.

ARNOTT: After a long and difficult journey - Alyena's family came to accept her for who she is ... and she decided she COULD reconcile her faith and sexual identity.

MOHUMMADALLY: Islam teaches us that no-one who identifies as Muslim is allowed to judge another Muslim.

ARNOTT: The complexities of being torn between religion and sexuality are explored in a report called "Growing Up Queer" by researchers at the University of Western Sydney.

Sociologist, Kerry Robinson say people from strong religious backgrounds face particular hurdles and heightened levels of personal conflict, anxiety and confusion.

ROBINSON: They quite often feel like they are sinful, they are going to bring shame on their family, they're going to be discarded from their communities.

ARNOTT: Professor Robinson says the consequences of families abandoning these people can be devastating.

ROBINSON: They can end up being homeless. A lot of them can actually experience abuse - that's physical apart from it being emotional abuse. Attempting suicide for example - or thinking about suicide can be one option, when you don't really have anywhere else to go.

ARNOTT: A decade ago - Alyena Mohummadally didn't have anywhere to go either.

MOHUMMADALLY: I'd made this promise to myself when I was young that if I ever was able to reconcile my faith and my spirituality - then I would like to help or assist other people to do it.

ARNOTT: And that's exactly what she's done... by setting up an on-line support group called "Queer Muslims in Australia".

It provides a safe space for people to share their experiences and seek advice on where and who to go to for specialist help.

MOHUMMADALLY: (Reading email) I'm an Indian Muslim in Sydney and I'm a lesbian. I need a support group and I am in much need of help - please I need someone to talk to.

ARNOTT: The group has been a lifeline for some - giving them the strength to come out.

But Alyena has also been contacted by people searching for marriages of convenience because they're too scared to reveal their sexual identity.

MOHUMMADALLY: Probably worse than that though is the people who come to the list saying that they've been rejected by their family - that their brother found a gay magazine under their bed - that their father threw them out or their mother said she'd never talk to them again. As a parent I never want my child to feel any sort of shame. I hope I will be the parent who will love my children - no matter what.

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