Orlando Florida shooting, gay club.jpg
A handout photograph made available by Univision Florida Central showing a view of the general scene of a shooting at Pulse Nightclub in Orlando, Florida, USA, 12 June 2016.
Photograph: EPA/UNIVISION FLORIDA CENTRAL

Shehzad Ukani first heard about the massacre at a gay nightclub, he went out to buy markers and made a sign: "LGBT Muslims mourn the loss of their LGBT brothers and siblings in Orlando, Florida."

Within hours of Sunday's news, he brought the sign to a gay pride festival in downtown Washington, where he spent the day talking with community members and festival goers about the shooting, in which 49 people dead.

"A couple of individuals came up to me and said 'I wish you guys didn't have to make this sign, but we appreciate it anyways,'" said Ukani, a Pakistani who lives in Washington.

Ukani, who is both Muslim and queer, said living at the intersection of the LGBT and Muslim communities in the United States means he bears the "burden of representation" for both.

In Muslim circles, LGBT people constantly need to explain to family members skeptical about Western ideals that their gender or sexual identity will not compromise their cultural values, he said.

In the LGBT community, gay and transgender Muslims are sometimes held responsible for explaining all parts of the Muslim identity.

"We don't just have to explain to the LGBT and non-Muslim communities how we are separate from those type of people who are radicalized by extremists' form of Islamic interpretation," Ukani said. "But we also have to constantly apologize and explain our immigrant identity when families may not have all the exposure to LGBT lives."

LGBT Muslims and their supporters held a vigil Monday in Washington for the victims in Orlando, standing in solidarity with other members of the LGBT community. Pieces of paper with the names of all the dead were laid out, as guests left flowers and candles at the gathering on DuPont Circle, in the North-West district of the capital.

Ilana Alazzeh, a queer Muslim activist from Washington who spoke at the event, said she was celebrating Ramadan at a queer club the night of the Orlando attack. When she read the news, she not only thought about her own safety, but about how people would interpret the event.

"When I heard that the shooter was Muslim, I thought, 'That could have been any homophobic asshole I've encountered in the [mosque] or church or science lab,'" Alazzeh said, "I knew people were going to again try and pit my Muslim communities against my queer communities."

Palmer Shepherd, a gay Muslim also from Washington, said gay Muslims sometimes feel they have to serve as "mediator" between their two identities, when people on either side cannot understand the other parts of their identity.

"Of course, there's a lot of fear for the safety of members of the gay community, with Orlando and an increasing number of anti-LGBTQ hate crimes," he said, "But this also adds to the heightened anxiety over what's going to happen to Muslims in the [United States]."

Shepherd said LGBT Muslims already have to balance their identities and how they present themselves in different contexts, but people viewing their religion and sexual identity as "at odds" will increase.

"This isn't an us-versus-them issue. We're all minority groups in the United States, and we should be working together," Shepherd said. "People are trying to pit the two groups against each other, and that shouldn't be what this is about."

As the LGBT community mourns those lost in Orlando, he said, it also needs to make the community a more inclusive space.

"More visibility and outreach needs to be done to show that LGBT Muslims exist. We exist, we are members of this community, and we are seeking authenticity in these spaces," Ukani said.

"We need to see more inclusion and diversity than tokenism in LGBT spaces."

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