For National Coming Out Day, guest speaker speaks about leaving his former life behind
In celebration of National LGBT History Month, the LGBT Resource Center invited an internationally known LGBT activist to UH for the first time Thursday, the day before National Coming Out Day.
The speaker, Faisal Alam, with his presentation, “Hidden Voices: The Secret Lives of Muslims,” has traveled to more than 100 universities and colleges, including Texas A&M University.
Lorraine Schroeder, the LGBT Resource Center Program Director, said she invited Alam because although LGBT equality is progressing, there are some communities, such as the Muslim community, where LGBT individuals still face discrimination and struggles.
“What I know is that between 5 and 10 percent of any population is going to be LGBT,” Schroeder said.
“The fact that I don’t have 5 to 10 percent of the Muslims on campus coming to the resource center tells me that they’re totally in the closet or just denying their sexuality or sexual orientation, because there’s no room for it within their families and their religious organization. So the struggle is profound because it is about living a life that is not authentic to themselves.”
Schroeder hopes those individuals will see that they are not alone, be true to themselves and accept who they are.
Dozens of students, including students from Global and Gamma Rho Lambda, two UH LGBT groups, gathered at Agnes Arnold Hall to hear Alam, dine on cookies and fruit and get information from off-campus LGBT religious organizations like Dignity Houston.
Students like hotel and restaurant management sophomore Ryan Foley enjoyed having Alam on campus.
“The purpose of Coming Out Day is an event in which it’s okay to come out,” Foley said. “It is about exposure.”
The event also drew former UH students like Farhan Farooqui, 22, who is an LGBT Muslim. Farooqui said Alam’s presentation was amazing and completely powerful, because Alam has shown that there is a balance between being gay and being Muslim. He said Alam was “on point” about a lot of what is going on within the Muslim community.
“Whenever I initially came out to my entire family, the biggest toll they had taken on themselves was, ‘Oh my god, what happened to his religion,’” Farooqui said, “because that was my first thing — ‘Oh, I can’t be Muslim and gay at the same time.’”
Others within the Muslim community do not agree with Farooqui. Civil engineering junior Tariq Muhammad, for example, said although what Alam said was interesting, he can see Alam has different views on Islam than he does.
“One of our religious views is not to be in a LGBT organization,” Muhammad said. “If you’re homosexual, you’re not able to reproduce, and pretty much that is (the) law of nature to reproduce. And with me being a Muslim, we are not for lesbian and gay (people).”
Alam said he once believed the same: that it is impossible to be Muslim and LGBT.
“In the summer of the end of my freshmen year, I basically, what I called, exploded out the closet,” Alam said.
Alam said once he moved from a rural little town in Connecticut to go to college in Boston, he discovered that there were more gay people and he jumped into the LGBT scene.
“So I’m Club Kid Faisal, but I’m also, during the day, Brother Faisal Alam … and these two lives of Brother Faisal Alam and Club Kid Faisal lived completely separately. And I made sure that I did everything in my power to make sure that nobody during the day knew what I did during the night and nobody during the night knew what I did during the day.”
Alam’s double life lasted for six months before he suffered from a nervous breakdown in November 1996. He returned to Connecticut, where he stayed in the hospital for two weeks and lost 30 pounds. His family received calls from across the world inquiring about his wellbeing, but his family was without answers. Alam was not speaking.
“I had to bring these two identities of being gay and being Muslim together. I didn’t know what I was going to do it; I just knew it had to be done.”
He said he made three promises: to find others in the same situation as him, to figure out how to coexist and to never let what happened to him happen to others.
Alam has spent the last 15 years traveling the world to fulfill his promise. Alam has spoken in several different countries, including the United Kingdom and South Africa, and at several national conferences, including two appearances at the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force’s Creating Change Conference. In 2011, President Barack Obama invited Alam to attend iftar dinner, the breaking of the fast during Ramadan, an Islamic holiday.