UK: Festival of Muslim cultures refuses to allow gay event

The Guardian
A national festival to promote Muslim culture which is being partly funded by the government has refused to stage an event designed to highlight the lives and experiences of gays and lesbians.
Prince Charles will open the Festival of Muslim Cultures in Sheffield tomorrow and over the next 18 months events will take place across the country to promote understanding of the Islamic faith. Promotional publicity states that the festival will feature the "diversity and plurality" of Muslim cultures, but gay Muslims say they have been refused permission to present an event.
Aaron Saeed, Muslim affairs spokesman for the gay rights group Outrage!, said he offered to stage an event to celebrate the lives and experiences of gay Muslims in Britain and across the world. But he said the organisers did not want him to take part. "We were told that gay Muslims don't belong in the festival of Muslim cultures," said Mr Saeed. "It is appalling that a registered charity is allowed to discriminate against gay people ... It is time the conservative leadership of the Muslim community got used to the fact that gay Muslims are here to stay and here to fight."

In her letter to Mr Saeed, the festival's director, Isabel Carlisle, said: "We have sought to go beyond sectarian, ethnic or other group divisions so we do not enquire into the sexual orientation, gender or ethnicity of the artists ... equally, at this difficult time for Muslims living in this country we are not prepared to present works that will give offence to significant numbers."

Ms Carlisle told the Guardian: "The festival is "non-ideological and non-political and non-sectarian ... we don't want to be subverted by any other agenda and that is principally why we turned Mr Saeed down."

Muhammad Yusuf, a member of the Interfaith Alliance, said it was a "matter of regret" that a festival aiming to reflect the diversity of Muslim culture was not prepared to take on board a facet that was different by reason of sexual orientation.

Sandra Laville
Monday January 23, 2006