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Orlando shooting: 'LGBTQ Muslims in a vulnerable position'

El-Farouk Khaki founded Toronto's first LGBTQ mosque. He's been doubly impacted by the mass shooting in Orlando as both a Muslim and gay man.
It was an emotional scene outside police headquarters in Orlando. (Steve Nesius/Reuters)

After a gunman opened fire earlier today at a gay night club in Orlando, Fla., members of the LGBTQ community are reacting. El-Farouk Khaki founded the Toronto's first LGBTQ mosque with his partner. He spoke with Checkup guest host Asha Tomlinson about the effects this tragedy will have on his communities.

Caller on Orlando mass shooting June 12. 6:28

El-Farouk Khaki: There are a lot of contradictions in this community. We acknowledge those Muslims, that are prone to radical or violent perpetuation of Islam, are only a small percentage. We also acknowledge the notion of mental illness. I don't know what the medical qualifications of the shooter were, but we have to be certain that there were no mental health issues before we say it was a case of radicalization.

I think in a time like this we need to be really careful and we should not fall into the trap of having a closed heart. We should be looking at creating the most broad and inclusive of narratives and spaces so that we can deal with the violence that affects every single one of us.

Asha Tomlinson: I can imagine that this news has hit you twice as hard. What were your thoughts when you read the headlines? When you heard about what happened?

EFK: I woke up to a text message from a friend of mine who is a gay man but not Muslim. He said something about how terrible this shooting was and how he couldn't stop crying. I had to ask, "What shooting are you talking about?" And then I looked up what happened. It's interesting because my friend's concern was first for the terrible loss of those lives and the many more who are still critically injured and it still unclear of the possibility of survival.

But also he was concerned about the repercussions and the backlash because the shooter has a Muslim name. Islam has been brought into this and with it the entire Muslim population. We've seen in the past that the actions of a few isolated individuals have resulted in a backlash, and more mistrust and more anger and more hatred, and more frustration from all parties. We need to be careful not to give in to that.

AT: Many people will decide that this was an act of terrorism fuelled by hate on the part of the shooter do you think there may be other factors that were at play in this massacre?

EFK: I read in the media that the shooter's father has talked about the shooter being upset seeing two men kiss. I thought, "What is going on that you're so traumatized and so upset by that?" It made me wonder what was going on inside this person and in his mind. Obviously there were issues and I can only speculate what those issues were. To me that would suggest that the had some unresolved trauma to deal with.  

AT: How do you feel this will affect the LGBT community and LGBTQ Muslims?

EFK: Well I think we're living in a time of increased stereotypes and hostilities towards Muslim people generally. LGBT Muslims walk this line between two communities, that are ironically almost equally stigmatized and marginalized in many places. Something like this can only foment mistrust and prejudice, if we're not careful.

This also leaves LGBTQ Muslims in a vulnerable position between two communities. But maybe in that liminal space there is a potential that we can act as bridges and ambassadors between the two communities but both communities have to be willing to do that.

AT: We heard U.S. President Barack Obama talk about Pulse being not just a nightclub but a place of solidarity and empowerment and you see the big events like the Toronto pride parade. Now there's a discussion around security and possible attacks that people are fearful of. What are your thoughts there?

EFK: I think that's quite reasonable. This is where all levels of society—politicians, our police forces, as well the community groups come together in order to ensure not only safety of people but also to ensure that people's rights and dignity are also preserved. So that people, Muslims for example, are not endangered in spaces that they don't become victims of a backlash.

I think no matter how awful stuff like this is, maybe we have no other choice but to try to find how we can move forward together and hope that there is some reconciliation for the future.

El-Farouk Khaki and Asha Tomlinson's comments have been edited and condensed. This online segment was prepared by Ayesha Barmania.

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