British Muslim Festival bans gay Muslims

Festival says gay Muslims 'give offence'

January 23, 2005

LONDON — The Festival of Muslims Cultures, whose Patron is HRH Prince Charles, has announced that no event involving gay Muslims will be accepted as part of the Festival Programme.

The year-long festival – which opens on 24 January in Sheffield – is one of the world's largest ever Muslim cultural events.

Despite claiming in its promotional publicity that the festival will feature the "diversity and plurality" of Muslim cultures, the Festival has rejected a request to stage a photo exhibition, conference and film screening featuring the lives and experiences of lesbian and gay Muslims.

The ban on gay Muslim participation has been confirmed by Festival Director, Isabel Carlisle, in a letter to Aaron Saeed, the Muslim Affairs spokesperson of the gay human rights group OutRage!

Mr Saeed had written to Ms Carlisle proposing a lesbian and gay Muslim contribution to the festival programme.

The ban clearly contradicts the inclusive commitment of the Festival Guidelines.

In her letter, Ms Carlisle justifies the exclusion of gay Muslims on the grounds 'we are not prepared to present works that will give offence to significant numbers'.

Ms Carlisle has since claimed that the request for gay Muslim participation was rejected because the festival does not want to feature "political" themes.

"This is not what her rejection letter states," said Aaron Saeed, Muslim Affairs spokesperson of OutRage!

"It says we have been turned down because gay Muslims would 'give offence'. Our proposal was not political. It was for a series of cultural events about the lives and experiences of lesbian and gay Muslims. We planned to organise these events in conjunction with gay Muslim individuals and organisations beyond OutRage!. These were never envisaged as OutRage! events. We made that clear.

"This ban is straightforward homophobia.

"It is deeply offensive to suggest that gay Muslim people are not a valid part of the Muslim community. We are shocked that a gay Muslim event is deemed unfit for inclusion in the festival.

"The organisers say they want to reflect the diversity and plurality of Muslim culture, yet gay Muslim culture is being excluded.

"Sponsors of the Festival of Muslim Cultures include the Home Office, Foreign & Commonwealth Office, British Council, Arts Council of England, BT, Christies, the Corporation of London and Westminster City Council.

"The ban on a gay Muslim event is clearly contrary to the equal opportunity and diversity policies of these institutions. It is quite shameful that they are sponsoring a festival that discriminates.

"We wrote to the organisers, offering to stage a photo exhibition, conference, seminar or film screening. Our aim was to celebrate the lives and experiences of gay Muslims, within the UK and globally, as part of the official festival programme.

"We were told that gay Muslims don't belong in the Festival of Muslim Cultures.

"It is appalling that a registered charity is allowed to discriminate against gay Muslims.

"Lesbians and gay men are part of Muslim faith and society. We are not going to be silenced or victimised any more. We are out and proud, as both gays and Muslims. It is time the conservative leadership of the Muslim community got used to the fact that gay Muslims are here to stay and here to fight. We demand our rightful place in mosques and in Muslim organisations and events," said Mr Saeed. – Issued by Outrage!

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