Why we need more representation of LGBT people of faith in popular culture
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Why we need more representation of LGBT people of faith in popular culture

Last week, we saw plenty of headlines talking about the rumours that EastEnders will debut its first openly lesbian Muslim character.

Reports suggest that the character Iqra, played by actress Priya Davdra, will come out as a lesbian later this summer. This news comes over 30 years after EastEnders featured the UK’s first on-screen same-sex kiss, in a pivotal moment for LGBT representation.

We’re really hoping these reports are true because we need to see more LGBT Muslims on screen, and better representation of lesbians.

Currently, LGBT people are often under- or misrepresented in mainstream media, and the full diversity of the community is rarely acknowledged. Very few TV shows and films have looked at the artificial divide between faith and LGBT communities in any depth. Skins was a notable example with the storyline of Anwar and Maxxie.

But there’s still a myth being perpetuated that people of faith can’t be LGBT. At Stonewall we work with lots of LGBT people of faith and faith leaders who are passionate about LGBT equality. We need the TV we watch to reflect this reality and showcase the diverse experiences of LGBT people of faith.

Greater and better representation not only ensures that LGBT people of faith see themselves reflected in what they watch, it also increases acceptance and understanding. This is vital. Statistics show LGBT people of faith often face discrimination from the two communities that are core to their sense of self.

Our Home and Communities Report found that one in eight LGBT people of faith (12 per cent) have experienced discrimination from the LGBT community, while one in four lesbians, gay men and trans people of faith (23 per cent, 26 per cent and 25 per cent respecitvley), one in three bi women of faith (34 per cent) and two in three bi men of faith (64 per cent) aren’t open about who they are to anyone in their faith community.

Raising awareness of and celebrating LGBT people of faith feels more urgent than ever. Recently, a video circulated on social media of anti-LGBT abuse at Waltham Forest Pride, where a woman was verbally abusing Pride attendees. It was later reported that the same individual was responsible for directing abuse at members of Imaan, a charity for LGBTQI Muslims in the UK.

While this abuse was perpetrated by one individual whose views are not those of all Muslims, this instance was used by some groups to justify and further inflame Islamophobic attitudes.

Writing about the incident, Faizan from Imaan, pointed out the double challenge of being subject to abuse like this. They spoke about how it felt to receive anti-LGBT abuse from within the Muslim community, as well as unpacking how situations like this are often used to push Islamophobic and racist narratives, or to further the false assumption that a person can’t be both Muslim and LGBT.

Faizan explained, ‘Incidents like yesterday give ammunition to the racists and Islamaphobes, who we also battle in our fight as an LGBTQI Muslim community.’

That’s why it’s so important that we stand together to condemn all forms of hate. We need to challenge racism and Islamophobia. We need to understand the complex challenges faced by LGBT people of faith, black, Asian and minority ethnic (BAME) LGBT people and LGBT people of colour. We need to understand the power we have beyond passive solidarity to amplify such voices that have always been here.

And we can’t underestimate the role that things like soap operas have in explaining these complexities, or the impact that visible role models can have on communities.

This is why a lesbian Muslim character in EastEnders, one of the country’s best loved soap operas, is so exciting.

We’ll be watching with interest - we hope you do too. We can all be allies to LGBT people of faith and resist in defiance of those who seek to divide us.

There’s lots more work to do, and we’re committed to doing more together.