Why Are There So Few Resources for Gay Muslims Online?

An attendee of Istanbul's LGBTQ Pride Parade. Photo via Wikimedia user Alexandra Zevallos-Ortiz

Over a year ago, I told my coming out story on a popular LGBTQ YouTube channel called I'm from Driftwood. In the video, I talked about how difficult it was for me, at age 26, to come out to my Muslim, Palestinian father, despite the fact that I'm not Muslim, was born in Iowa, and came out to most family and friends by age 20.

I was surprised by how many people reached out after the video was posted, relating to what I felt was a wholly unique—almost isolating—experience. But what struck me most were two specific emails I received from viewers: one from a closeted Palestinian-American who said my video was the first time he heard the words "gay", "Muslim", and "Palestinian" from the same mouth, and another from a gay Middle Eastern man who called me "a role model for gay people from Muslim backgrounds."

My relationship with Islam has always been limited to my relationship with my father; I've never practiced. To suggest I am a role model for young Muslims due to a mere YouTube video wasn't just surprising, it was a reality check: Few role models exist for gay Muslims searching for answers about their identity online. That's why these two had turned to me.

Google results for "young, gay, Muslim" or "gay Muslim" show it's both easier and harder to be gay and Muslim today than ever before. Great headway has been made in efforts to bring visibility to the gay Muslim community over the past decade, but what becomes clear after surveying the articles and media you'll find is that homophobia remains nearly as entrenched in Muslim communities as ever.

Films like I Am Gay and Muslim, A Jihad for Love, Naz & Maalik or the documentary series Gay Muslims from the UK's Channel 4 relate the struggles faced by gay Muslims, from struggling to come out to coming to terms with "the ambiguity and secretiveness of the life they feel condemned to live," as I Am Gay and Muslim puts it.

Articles relate challenges faced by young, gay Muslims who choose to come out and the plight of those who feel they can't. Some tell of the soul-searching or guilt provoked by the Pulse tragedy. More general articles tell of the immense difficulty faced by gay Muslims to reconcile their faith and sexuality, and of the little progress that has been made in bringing visibility to and changing attitudes about the community.

What becomes clear is that for gay Muslims searching for resources online, at least in the US, progressive efforts like the Trevor Project or It Gets Better have no match. Instead, they'll be met by a disjointed array of articles and films, only some of which provide positive role models and hope that things do, indeed, get better.

Samer, a 25-year-old gay Palestinian living in Maryland, says he "learned to be gay and Muslim through Google and talking to strangers online." He adds that "there are a few resources for adult gay Muslims, but definitely not enough for young gay Muslims."

Tareq, a Lebanese gay man born Shia Muslim who has since left the religion, advocates for taking a global perspective when thinking about how things may be getting better or worse for young gay Muslims. "Lebanon is better off than most in terms of resources," he said. "We have had a gay rights NGO since 2002, but that NGO has had its fair share of controversies. There's now an Arabic word for gay that is not derogatory—'mithly'—and a number of talk shows have discussed the matter, and a number of gay people have come out on them. Yet we still have a long way to go before being gay is tolerated in our part of the world." Both Tareq and Samer refused to disclose their full names for this article.

While Tareq said he would settle for any increase in resources online, Samer wished specifically for a support group of people like him—people with unaccepting families and a crisis of faith brewing within. But if the internet's answer to a support group is a message board, resources available for gay Muslims are bleak.

The first message board I found through Google, Al-Jannah, alleges it's "concentrating on creating a strong community for various types of LGBT Muslims, not just for those who are out, also those who are in closet." The first thread on the page, labeled "Introductions" and updated as recently as last week, is mostly peppered with classified soliciting "MOCs".

MOCs, or marriages of convenience—marriages established for some practical purpose other than that of love or family ties—are still a reality in many parts of the Arab world. One post on Al-Jannah relates a woman's search for a masculine gay man for an MOC, because it would devastate her family should they discover she's a lesbian. Her ideal gay husband would be a great friend, someone who would understand that eventually, they may both find other, same-sex partners.

It's a bleak but representative example of the kind of arrangement many gay Muslims seek out in lieu of coming out. For a young person to stumble upon such a post in the course of naturally curious online research is unsettling, and it's not a far leap to expect they may come to see such arrangements as normal.

Legitimate Muslim LGBTQ advocacy organizations exist, but their websites are difficult to find and tricky to navigate. Several articles cite the Muslim Alliance for Sexual and Gender Diversity as an authority, but their web presence is updated infrequently and contains little actionable information. Muslims for Progressive Values has a more robust web and social presence for LGBTQ Muslims, and should be a guiding light for current and future organizations in the space.

After an exhaustive look at myriad search results, what's noticeably absent from the most accessible news articles and advocacy organizations online are far-reaching campaigns or stories that give LGTBQ Muslims a human voice. Where It Gets Better and the Trevor Project have succeeded is in their ability to humanize gay people and start a loud conversation about issues like bullying and suicide that were once only whispered about. Janet Mock launched a hashtag, #girlslikeus, in 2012 in pursuit of trans visibility. It still trends today.

With more resources like those—those which seek to humanize the lives of gay Muslims—young people might see that they aren't condemned to the closet. "I think sharing your story is the biggest responsibility a LGBTQ person has," said Nathan Manske, the founder of I'm from Driftwood. "It changes lives, it saves lives, and to keep your story a secret is a disservice to the community."

Follow Khalid El Khatib on Twitter.

A New York City Cop Is Facing Murder Charges Over a Road Rage Incident

NYPD at a memorial for Delrawn Small in Brooklyn, New York. Photo by Erik McGregor/Pacific Press/Sipa USA via AP

Just after midnight on July 4 in the East New York neighborhood of Brooklyn, a man grew furious upon determining another driver cut him off on the road. Delrawn Small, who was with his girlfriend and kids, followed an off-duty cop named Wayne Isaacs for about seven blocks, apparently unwilling to let the slight go unspoken.

Eventually, Small got out of his car to say his piece at a traffic light. But Isaacs, who was wearing civilian clothing and was on his way home from a shift, pulled his service weapon from underneath his shirt and let out three rounds, killing Small.

Although the cop claimed he was punched through his car window, surveillance footage from the scene does not support that account. Zaquanna Albert, the girlfriend, has said Small had a short temper and enjoyed three drinks that night at a barbecue. She also told police Isaacs exited his car to shoot at Small—even though shell casings were found inside his vehicle, according to the New York Post.

Despite the conflicting stories, Isaacs was indicted for murder Monday, and the state attorney general's office announced formal charges Tuesday afternoon of second-degree murder and first-degree manslaughter. As his wife sobbed, Isaacs pleaded not guilty, and his bail was set at $500,000.

Governor Andrew Cuomo decided last year that State Attorney General Eric Schneiderman's office should handle all cases where a cop is accused of killing an unarmed civilian in New York—a nod to concerns about local DAs being too cozy with the cops they need to make cases. This is the first time that someone has been prosecuted under the new regime.

Neither of the men in this involved are strangers to trouble. Small has a 19-item rap sheet and has served prison stints for attempted robbery, attempted drug sale to a cop, and a stabbing, according to the Post. Meanwhile, the city was forced to pay a $20,000 settlement last year to a man who alleged that Isaacs beat him along with another cop, one of whom allegedly called the suspect a "nigger."

Video of the incident released by the Post shows Isaacs shooting Small almost immediately upon making contact with him.

The officer's lawyer, Stephen C. Worth, told a judge that his client's involvement in Small's death in no way resembles the seemingly endless number of others who have sparked protests, outrage, and arrests since the Black Lives Matter movement broke through in 2014. Worth specifically cited the case of Peter Liang, the rookie NYPD cop who accidentally shot and killed 28-year-old Akai Gurley in 2014; after being convicted of manslaughter and official misconduct, Liang got off with no prison time.

Justice Alexander Jeong on Tuesday was quick to point out a key difference here is that no one is disputing that the shooting was intentional. As one prosecutor put it, this was "a brutal, deliberate action wherein this defendant fired not one, not two, but three shots."

Follow Allie Conti on Twitter.

When the Government Took My Grandmother’s Home Away

A family deported to the Bărăgan Plains, Romania. Photo courtesy of memorialuldeportarii.ro

This article originally appeared on VICE Romania.

After World War II, the former fascist pro-Nazi government in Romania was replaced with a Soviet regime, which had a very strained relationship with neighboring Yugoslavia. Afraid that ethnic minorities living in the west of Romania near the borders with Yugoslavia would revolt, Romania chose to forcibly relocate these minorities—among them Serbs, Bulgarians, and Ukrainians—to the other side of the country. There was one mass deportation on June 18, 1951, when Romanian authorities deported nearly 44,000 people from the counties of Timiș, Caraș-Severin, and Mehedinți to the Bărăgan Plain—a steppe plain in the southeast of Romania.

My grandmother Iuliana-Zlatinca—now 75 years old—was ten when she, her parents, her grandmother, and other members of the Serbian community were taken from their village Becicherecu Mic near the Serbian border and were brought to the Bărăgan Plain. I asked her about what it was like to see your family removed from your childhood home and to have to sleep under the stars for months.

Iuliana-Zlatinca, several months before being deported. Photo from the author's family archives

VICE: What did your life look like in your village, right after World War II?
Iuliana-Zlatinca: There were three ethnic groups in our village: Romanians, Germans, and Serbs—each with their own school and church. We were all respectful of one another and we got along—while each group had its own language, we all spoke all three. And each group had their own specialties. The Germans were very good craftsmen, for example. They were carpenters or tinsmiths. It was a close-knit community.

What were your first thoughts, when they came to take you away?
Officers came by our house on the night of the 17th to the 18th, of June 1951, and we had no idea what it was about. They had deported the Germans a short while before that, and we didn't know what had happened to them. We were scared that they would take us to Russia.

What did they say?
They woke us up in the middle of the night and told us we had two or three hours to pack our stuff. We could bring only the essentials and some food, and had to leave our homes at dawn. They sealed the doors to our houses, and we could only use one cart to carry our belongings.

Did you ask where you were going?
Yes, but they said they weren't at liberty to tell us. I remember an office telling my father to "stop asking so many questions." They were just soldiers—they didn't know much either. They took us to a train station, where we spent a couple of days, waiting for them to prepare the train. We slept on the grass in the heat.

I was ten years old at the time, and two years earlier, my parents had bought me a baby carriage and a beautiful doll. I always played with it and so did all the children in my street. I wanted to take it with me, but the soldiers didn't let me—one of them just flung it over a fence behind the station. The night after that happened, I climbed over the fence without telling my parents and got the carriage and the doll back. I was scared, but the doll was so beautiful. I had it for years after, even your mother ended up playing with it. I remember what it looked like to this day.

The documentary "Tales of Bărăgan" narrates the era of the mass deportations from southern Romania.

What did your family bring?
Two beds, a wardrobe, clothes, bed linens, pots, a stove, a table, two chairs, and a canvas tarp—plus two horses, a cow, and a pig, I think. We had to fit all of that, plus ourselves, on a freight train carriage.

Did anyone run away or protest?
No, everyone kept quiet and accepted it. You know—before, they would just take you quietly in the night. The Communist regime once took your grandfather's father and beat him up because he didn't want to join the collectivization.

How long were you on that train for?
The trip took a full week, and the conditions were inhumane. There weren't any rations; we could only eat what we had brought. They gave us some water, that was it. We were locked in a carriage with our animals, and we had to relieve ourselves there, too. And then, after a week, the train just stopped, and they said: "Now you get off."

Did you know where you were?
No, we had no idea. Other soldiers were waiting for us at that station, who told us to unload and took us out to the fields where sticks demarcated different pieces of land. They assigned a piece of land to us and told us to build a home there out of adobe bricks—a building material made of earth. We didn't even know what that was.

What did the locals think of you?
We ended up in Dâlga, Călărași County in the southeast of Romania, and the people there figured we were brought there because we were bad. But later, once they saw what we were like and the kind of homes we built for ourselves, that mentality changed.

How did you live before your new house was finished?
We slept in the open field and had to pull ourselves together and figure out what we needed to do to get by. At night, the youngest among us would go to a farm nearby to steal food for our animals. We would look for dry wood at the edge of the forest to build fires. After a while, our relatives from other villages in southeastern Romania who hadn't been deported were allowed to send us care packages. Those came with letters, but our packages were checked before we received them, and the letters our relatives wrote were seized.

How long did it take to build the house?
It took about three months. That didn't come too soon, because it was already way too cold to sleep outside by October. Our house had one bedroom, a kitchen, and a small veranda. The toilet was a hole we had dug, and we built a stable for the horses and the cow behind the house. We spent five years there. After a bit, everyone came together to build a school, and when the school year started, children who had gone to high school became our teachers. They taught Romanian and Russian, and a German woman was a teacher there, too.

So if you were forced to live there, was it guarded?
No, it wasn't, but we were too afraid to run away. And how could we have run? My ID showed I lived in mandatory residence—I couldn't just run off. And if they'd caught me, I'd have been sent to prison.

A soccer team made up of deported men. Photo courtesy of memorialuldeportarii.ro

How did people earn their living?
There was a state-owned farm in the area, with cotton fields as far as the eye could see. Everyone worked there, including the children. We'd each get an apron, and we had to collect the cotton—they paid us according to how many kilos of cotton we had collected. They gave us soup for lunch. There was a horse farm in the area where a cousin of mine worked as an accountant and at about two miles from our town. There was a turkey farm. I worked there for about a year, when I was 14.

At some point, my father sold a horse. But right after that, the national currency changed. They switched to other bills, and we couldn't change ours. We lost everything: the money we had brought with us and the new money we had made. It was a huge blow for my parents. I don't know how they managed to survive.

After about five years, you were allowed to go home, right?
Yes, the Serbs were the first ones who were allowed to go back because the Yugoslav leader Tito and the Romanian leader Gheorghiu-Dej had made up. About a month after us, the Germans came back, too.

An improvised farm in Bărăgan Plains. Photo courtesy of memorialuldeportarii.ro

Was your house still there when you returned? In what state did you find it?
It was. Our house had been used as the officers' mess hall. They had turned half of one room into nothing but a stove, and they had kept pigs in a smaller room at the front of the house.

They had made a latrine of the basin in the front of the house, where we used to collect the rainwater. My parents got me to clean it up, because I was small and skinny, and the basin was cramped. They tied a rope around my waist, lowered me into the basin, and gave me a bucket. I filled the bucked and emptied it—it was awful. We couldn't move into the house right away because all the windows were gone and replaced with plastic sheets. We slept at our neighbors' for a while. It took us about two years to fix the damage the soldiers had done to our house.

How did your old neighbors treat you?
They were very nice to us. But I remember that when I went to their houses, I recognized a lot of our stuff in their homes. They had either stolen it from us or bought it from someone, who had taken it from our house. I remember visiting one neighbor, seeing a lamp they had and saying, "That's ours."

Did you gain anything positive from your years in the Bărăgan Plains?
It gave me so much respect for my parents. The bond we created was quite something.

The Men Who Fetishize Mentally Ill Women

Illustration: Tiana Dunlop

"Think of it this way," writes Plenty of Fish user JPD0414. "If you have a girl who's already happy and confident, there isn't much for you to improve, and you won't affect her life as much. But if she's depressed or has a crappy home life, you have the chance to be one of the few good things in her life and she'll like you more."

This anonymous internet nice guy goes on to explain that he has a real thing for girls with mental illnesses like anxiety and depression. You see, their mental ill health works in his favor! This white knight can stride in on his big shiny horse and rescue them from the depths of their own minds. He is there to save them from themselves, for that is his gift: He is a special man with a real passion for manipulating women.

In response, other users agree that "crazy chicks are the wildest in bed."

If you've had a long-term mental illness, you might be aware of the kind of men who look to women to satisfy their white knight fantasy. If you haven't, you only need to look to the internet for proof: Scour forums, and you'll find male teens asking questions like, "Why do I think suicidal girls are hot?" and young women wondering, "Why is this boy hitting on me more when I'm sad?"

There was even a study conducted in 2012 by researchers at the University of Texas at Austin that found, in general, men are more likely to go after you if you look "psychologically vulnerable"—but only for short-term involvement.

So what do you do when you find yourself trapped with a partner who thinks your illness is the most attractive thing about you?

The problem, of course, is that these relationships don't tend to start as transparently as that. At the beginning, the attention paid to your mental illness might well be reassuring; finding someone who will openly say your depression is "fascinating" can almost seem like a relief—it's a sign they won't ignore you when you're sad or leave you because of something you can't control.

"I felt like I was being accepted," says Rachel of her first boyfriend, Chad, who would fetishized her depression and requested that she cut herself to prove she truly loved him. "I felt like finding someone who would not turn their back on me for my mental-health problems, especially at 17, would be impossible. In the beginning, I saw it as someone accepting me for who I am, flaws and all. And the fact that he found my flaws attractive made me feel like we had a deeper connection."

Yet, really, the connection is superficial. You become the manic pixie dream girl. As the girls I speak to point out, your sickness is there to give the guy's life a sense of meaning and depth—which is exactly what he craves, granted you're not too overbearing, and, you know, he actually has to look after you too much.

"Ultimately, Chad was a narcissist in its purest form," explains Rachel. "I think he was drawn to girls who had mental-health problems because that was a reflection of himself. He also liked to assert his male dominance a lot, which meant he looked for broken birds that he could bend to his will. I don't think these guys want to save us—they want us to stay on the floor, so they're always above us."

Trying to make some sense out of why certain men would behave like this, I reach out to practicing psychologist and therapist Eliana Barbosa.

"It's hard to understand completely, because each case is a case," she says. "But I think you can mainly split this behavior between men who are sadistic—who get pleasure off seeing a woman in pain—and men who are emulating the cultural aspects of misogyny by dominating these women through their low self-esteem to assert themselves. Depression sometimes can make you destitute of your own desires, so girls who are struggling can end up submitting themselves to another, in order to feel some type of desire. It's not a conscious decision that these girls, or boys, who end up in manipulative relationships are making. These types of men take advantage of something that is lacking in these people's lives."

Lisa's relationship with her ex started as any would: They were happy for a while, she told him about her past traumas and disclosed her struggles with major depression and generalized anxiety disorder. He sounded sympathetic, making it clear that—due to his vast previous experience—he would know what to do and how to act if she experienced a depressive episode or a panic attack. It turned out he didn't at all.

"All his exes were also mentally ill," says Lisa of her ex-boyfriend. "He wouldn't exactly brag about it, but he would make it sound like all of them were still somehow in love with him and that any past breakups destroyed these girls' mental health even further. He even implied that one of them got so much worse after they broke up that her fatal bike accident was probably her killing herself over him. Later, I found out she wasn't even driving and was in a new relationship at the time."

A person who actively seeks out someone who is mentally ill as "easy prey" to their manipulation is clearly someone trying to feel powerful. And, of course, once they progress into the relationship, in many cases—sadly—they will end up exerting a huge amount of dominance over their partner, which can make it very hard for that partner to break things off. But it does happen.

"Girls who were able to end things were still able to lay out boundaries," says Barbosa. "Regardless of how much abuse they endure, there comes a point where they go, 'No, this is enough,' which means there's still some strength left."

Lisa's boyfriend had a habit of being abusive by referring to her mental illnesses whenever she would display a negative emotion. "He would start fights over text, and several times he said, 'Go get yourself some treatment' in a pejorative way, even though he used to discourage me from going to my psych appointments," she says. "Whenever I said I liked him, he'd call me a liar. I broke up with him once and that made the emotional abuse come down harder. Any word and I was a crazy, hysterical, unloving bitch."

After a close friend shared her experience of previous emotional abuse, Lisa cut things off for good.

Dealing with mental illness in relationships is never easy, but now Lisa and Rachel are with people who respect them as partners and have stuck with them through difficult periods without being awful. Which is—surprise, surprise—a perfectly doable thing when you see your partner as an actual person and not just an ingredient in your own personal narrative.

"The difference between my ex and some other guys who fetishize mental illness is that he wanted to make me worse," says Lisa. "Most fetishists believe they will be a cure, the answer to all the problems. Those become even more abusive when they realize they're not."

To any women who might currently be dating men with white-knight syndrome, or men who want you to be worse so they can feel better, Rachel has some pertinent advice.

"Those guys will eat at you, very subtly, until there's nothing left and you won't even notice when everything is gone," she says. "It's important to try to think about the parts of yourself that you think are worth noticing, and think of why he isn't looking. Most of the time, it's because he's too busy looking at himself. Be strong, ask for support, and just fucking leave."

Follow Biju Belinky on Twitter.