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Crime & Justice

Orlando shooting: Members of LA's LGBT, Muslim communities speak out on safety, faith

File: Congregants at All Saints Church in Pasadena shake hands, June 13, 2016, during a Eucharist and prayer against homophobia and gun violence held in reaction to the mass shooting at a gay nightclub in Orlando, Florida.
File: Congregants at All Saints Church in Pasadena shake hands, June 13, 2016, during a Eucharist and prayer against homophobia and gun violence held in reaction to the mass shooting at a gay nightclub in Orlando, Florida.
Robyn Beck/AFP/Getty Images

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LGBT communities across the nation reacted on Sunday to the news of the Orlando shooting with strength and solidarity.

Online, members of the gay community posted photos and messages of support with #gaysbreaktheinternet.

In Los Angeles, the Pride parade and festival carried on in a show of support for victims and their families. For some, it was also a show of defiance toward the violence.

Lorri Jean, CEO of the Los Angeles LGBT Center, said that safety can be a dice roll for LGBT people in L.A.

"We are safe sometimes, and sometimes we are not," she said.

She cited a recent L.A. city report on hate crimes, which shows that hate crimes against LGBT people have increased by 14 percent in the last year.    

"Not only that, but the level of violence has reached a height that is unprecedented for 13 years. So even in Los Angeles, many of us can be in danger — and especially, transgender women of color have been impacted. We've had several murdered in Los Angeles in the last year, and a couple of dozen around the country. So we have to be careful," Jean said.

For people like Ramy El Etreby, who identifies as a gay Muslim, Sunday's shooting brought on complicated feelings.

"Yesterday was sort of spent reading news, and then bursting into tears, and reading more news, and just trying to make sense of it all," he said.

June is celebrated as Pride month, but it's also Ramadan this year.

"Fasting is usually a quiet, introspective experience," he said. "You tend to not be engaging on a super emotional level with things. You tend to be a little bit removed. You're able to sort of get distance and perspective on whatever it is you're dealing with in your life, and yesterday, that was really challenging. It was really challenging to be in this sort of distant, emotional state, but then also have your emotions peak."

Interview highlights

Ramy El Etreby

Reactions to the weekend’s shooting

Every time there is a shooting like this it’s really hard to stomach, but this one hit close to home.

It is Ramadan, the holiest month in the Muslim Calendar. How would you usually spend this time as a Muslim? 

My first reaction was that I really didn’t know who to advocate for in that exact moment. In some ways, I know that these shootings tend to manifest themselves into a highly anti-Islamic sentiment, and so my first instinct is to get out there and defend my identity as a Muslim. But then the victims are also my distant LGBT community, and I could have easily been in that club on a Saturday night had I been in Orlando. To think that I and so many of my LGBT Muslim brothers and sisters could’ve also been in that club and killed by someone who calls themselves a Muslim, it was all really a lot to digest. I feel pulled in completely different directions right now.

There are some concerns that this paints Islam as a homophobic faith — what are your thoughts? 

I think, in general, most religions will traditionally paint homosexuality as being a sin. But I know firsthand that there are Muslims who are God-loving, abiding and pious and hold love in their hearts, but who are also identified as being LGBT. A lot of us don’t have conflict owning the spectrum of identities that are between faith and sexuality. But it’s a challenge, because so many of the imams in the communities we are raised in are either entirely silent on the issues of homosexuality — thus there’s no real, clear discussion around it — or people do talk about how it’s a sin or that homosexuals are diverting from the "straight path," as they call it. 

So you’re saying that it’s a common theme among religions, and not just Islam? 

Yeah, for sure. I think you see that in radical right-wing Christianity, as well. 

Just a few months ago, our community faced the shooting in San Bernardino. As a Muslim, do you constantly feel the pressure to explain what you’re faith is about when violent acts are connected to the faith? 

I do feel pressure. I always feel like I have the obligation to explain. I do feel pressure to let people know that this isn’t the Islam that I was raised with and this isn’t the true Islam that I, and so many people I know, practice. We operate with peace and love. Those are two basic tenants of the faith.

As a man who lives at the intersection of faith and sexuality, do you think this shooting will prompt any positive conversations about Islam going forward? 

I’ve seen some positivity already, which is that a lot of leading Muslim scholars and Muslim organizations are coming out and showing solidarity with the LGBT community. A lot of that has never happened before. We’ve seen Muslims say positive things around LGBT brothers and sisters, or LGBT Muslims, just in the last 24 hours that I’d say many LGBT Muslims in this country have been wanting to hear for a while.