Uncovering Our Stories: Urooj Arshad

I grew up in Pakistan, a country with one of the largest Muslim populations in the world. Unlike most Pakistani women, I had access to a great education, and supportive parents who treated me and my brothers equally. However, as I grew up I was troubled by the way women were treated in Pakistan, and this worry was fueled by growing up during one of the harshest military regimes in Pakistan. The oppression started to seep into my soul.

When I was 16, my parents immigrated to the U.S. Like many immigrants, I thought that I would start a new and happier life away from Pakistan. But it was not that easy. Islamophobia and racial profiling affect immigrant youth in many subtle ways. I was just so different from my fellow suburban white teens. Trying to forget who I was and where I was from didn’t bring me happiness either. By the time I got to the University, away from home and family for the first time, I had become very isolated.

When I came out and entered the LGBTQ community, I saw that as a queer Muslim person of color, the issues I faced were vastly different from those affecting my white LGBTQ peers. In 1999, I met Faisal Alam, the founder of the Al-Fatiha Foundation dedicated to LGBTQ Muslims. I began organizing work specific to the LGBTQ Muslim communities. This has been my mission for the last decade.

As a community, we have changed the discourse that looks at LGBTQ Muslims as if they are non-religious, somehow outside the realm of mainstream Muslim life, not impacted by Islamophobia, not quite able to be both LGBTQ and Muslim. I am proud of how much the movement has grown. It truly reflects the diversity within LGBTQ Muslim community. I am proud of all the work we have done to bring people together. Like me, many felt isolated and alone — felt that if they were LGBT the love of Allah was no longer with them, and they were cursed to go through this world unprotected and unloved.

My story is not unique. It is hard to claim a space for people like me, who identify as LGBTQ and whose original homes might not provide the opportunity to live with safety and dignity. Our immigrant lives here are constantly defined by our “status” according to immigration policy. For many in our community, the fear of deportation and possible persecution back home is always there. The legalization of undocumented immigrants is necessary to ensure our communities can live with dignity. Preventing racial profiling in immigration enforcement would also help end the fear and isolation faced by many of us, regardless of immigration status. This is why I support immigration reform.