Can i be queer and
written by Ejel Khan
My name is Ejel Khan, and my pronouns are he/him. I was born and raised in Luton, England. My formative years were in the 1980’s, when the world was completely a different place. Section 28 was still in force, which prohibited the teaching or promotion of homosexuality in schools. Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher proudly proclaimed that children did not have the ‘inalienable’ right to be gay at the time. I was 14 and still in school when Section 28 was on the statute books. The government’s response was in juxtaposition to the prevailing mood of hysteria regarding Aids. Gays and lesbians were being vilified in the media. At the time I was going through puberty and conflicted in regards to my sexuality. I would watch news reports on protests against Clause/Section 28. Luminaries, such as Ian McKellen, Peter Tatchell and Michael Cashman, were prominent opponents of the bill. Paradoxically; I would later go on to meet and work with my idols – Tatchell and Cashman.
Eastenders was a popular soap of the era and Cashman was involved in the first ever gay kiss on British television. It was even debated in the House of Commons. I vividly remember watching it at the time and experiencing a frisson of sexual excitement. Something I would subsequently dismiss due to the prevailing homophobia of the time. Mine’s was a working class immigrant’s experience lived vicariously through my parents, who were Muslim migrants from South Asia. Although not practicing, they were culturally Muslim, as was I. Growing up my family were more concerned about what the neighbours thought than the wrath of Allah. Luton has a large Muslim community, which was close knit. Everybody would know your business, or at least that’s how it felt. My friends were local sex workers, the rent boys. They were a mix of Transexuals and gays. I would regularly hang out with them during my teenage years. However, the backlash I would subsequently receive would prompt me to change my modus operandi in future.
Not wanting to be ‘the talk of the town’; life in my twenties was one of conformity. The events of September 11th, 2001, would change all of that. My relationships with my non-Muslim friends would also change. One by one they stopped answering my calls. Was the world changing, or was I just paranoid? This crisis prompted me to eventually reconcile my faith and sexuality. I would eventually come out at the grand old age of thirty. Something I have not regretted since, but wish I had done earlier. However, I feel this was my personal journey. To reconcile one’s faith and sexuality is deeply personal. Only you can do this – nobody else. Along the journey I have lost and made new friends. My horizons have been broadened and I am now the coordinator of the Muslim LGBT Network. The organisation I founded is an advocacy, support and campaign group for LGBTQ+ Muslims and allies. My experiences have taught me to help others in a similar predicament. Today I’m an out and proud activist in my community.