Saskatchewan

Navigating LGBT challenges as a Muslim immigrant to Regina

Iris Akbar has had to be cautious most her life as a Muslim woman and a lesbian in Singapore — and that continued after she moved to Canada.

Iris Akbar part of multi-faith panel discussion at Wesley United Church on Friday

Iris Akbar said while she was openly out in Singapore, which she describes as conservative, she has played it a little closer to the chest in Saskatchewan. (Nichole Huck/CBC)

Iris Akbar has had to be cautious most her life as a Muslim woman and a lesbian in Singapore — and that continued after she moved to Canada.

It was an identity that took time to make its way to the open, said Akbar, who hadn't come out until she was in her mid-thirties.

"It was only until I was able to support myself, be independent, that I had to courage to actually come out to, at least, my immediate family," she told CBC Radio's The Afternoon Edition.

Akbar said that courage came from relationships she had in her twenties and while she was living in Australia, where she said she had a bit more freedom to be who she really was. 

When she moved back to Singapore, Akbar said she became distant from her family, but realized that she was loved by her partner's family.

"My parents took a long time to understand how it was," Akbar said. "It wasn't good."

She said her parents suggested she see a psychologist or get counselling.

Akbar said she hasn't spoken to her parents or her siblings for a while now, adding they're still grappling with her sexuality.

Conservative about being open

Akbar said while she was openly out in Singapore, which she describes as conservative, she has played it a little closer to the chest in Saskatchewan.

Although Singapore still has a law that criminalize consensual sex between men, Akbar said there was still a sizeable and open LGBT community.

"I thought that coming to Canada, I can be as open as I am, but I realized that there's a huge Muslim community here," Akbar said.

"I'm very cautious about being out to other people within the community about my identity."

Akbar explained that there are a lot of risks with being openly gay and an immigrant, which is why they may not be particularly visible.

For newcomers from family-oriented cultures, coming out sometimes means cutting ties with family and the supports that had been there in the past, she said.

"Some family may not react well. They can be pretty aggressive," Akbar said.

Akbar said a lot of newcomers experience barriers, whether they be Muslim, Hindu or from another background. 

Akbar will be part of a multi-faith panel discussion taking place at Wesley United Church in Regina at 5:30 p.m. CST on Friday.

With files from CBC Radio's The Afternoon Edition

now