“The thing about conservative communities is that you have to figure out who is gay. A good way to tell, though, is by their shoes. Like my wife—she wore really gay shoes,” said activist Ify Okoye last Friday, Nov. 6, at the Queer People and Faith panel sponsored by Lawrence University’s Gay, Lesbian or Whatever (GLOW) club.
The panel offered atheist and religious viewpoints from Judaism as well as different sects of Catholicism and Islam. By creating a safe space, the panel aimed to dissect the conflicts that can arise between faith and a queer identity.
“[The goal] is to talk about the intersection of faith and the queer identity,” highlighted sophomore and GLOW Secretary Brittany Neil.
The panel began by stressing that the focus of the discussion was personal accounts, not sweeping generalizations about entire religious establishments.
Okoye joined the panel as GLOW’s special guest and described her experiences converting to Islam at 18, while identifying as queer.
“I don’t feel the need to justify being queer and Muslim,” began Okoye.
While some panelists shared positive experiences—like coming out as transgender in their synagogue—others highlighted the clear reality of some conservative communities.
“There are few that understand [my sexuality] and the ones that don’t will shoot me,” said Nebal Maysaud.
Panelists also recognized the struggle of participating in a familiar space with an open queer identity.
“I built relationships and a community as straight,” said Okoye, who is now married. “Now I want to navigate authenticity.”
Another panelist recalled her church having a Sunday sermon mourning the legalization of gay marriage in June of this year.
Despite this, panelists were just as eager to bring attention to the positive outcomes of their queer identities in a religious setting.
“Muslim communities are hyper-segregated between males and females,” said Okoye. “Being queer, I love hanging out with women,” she said.
Regardless of the loopholes, the panel asserted, these communities are a work in progress and navigating these spaces should be inclusive.
“It is important to remember that queer spaces can be equally exclusive and aren’t always accepting. I think it is important to push the boundaries on what is inclusive,” concluded Okoye.