Growing up in a small town in West London, I always thought I had to go far to celebrate who I am, in terms of location and myself. I thought I had to hide my culture to celebrate my identity, and hide my identity to embrace my faith and culture.
My hometown didn’t feel safe to me, which was weird because I grew up there. It was the place where I had my family and friends. But it was also the place where I heard so much negativity towards LGBTQIA+ identities.
I never heard of any LGBTQIA+ people in my area, nor was it part of my education. I especially didn’t hear about or realise there were LGBTQIA+ people of faith and/or Brown. I felt I was the only different kid, and I hid my differences until my late teenage years.
I joined Just Like Us, the LGBTQIA+ young people’s charity, as an Ambassador to be the representation that young LGBTQIA+ Muslims need so they don’t feel the loneliness I felt. To educate young people, and staff, on how to be allies to their peers, and make their classrooms inclusive. And this led me to receive the honour of speaking at Middlesex Pride.
This event was founded by Sharan Dhaliwal and Sabah Choudrey, and has a fantastic team with Vaneet Mehta, Mehek Seth, Anji Suri, Anisah Nawaz, and Manvinder Kang. Together, for 2023, they organised the first ever in-person Middlesex Pride in Osterely Park. And it was an absolute pleasure to have been part of the crowd.
Everything about this event was Bollywood, Asian and LGBTQIA+ rolled into one. It couldn’t have been more perfect for someone like me: Brown, Muslim, Asian, and LGBTQIA+. It made West London feel like home again.
Middlesex Pride was hosted by the amazing Miss Asia Thorne and Mahatma Khandi with performances from Kaajel, Shiva Raichandani, DJ Ritu, DJ Kaspa, and many more. Performances from LGBTQQIA+ POC and it felt like a warm embrace. My culture and my identity were safe in this space, and it made me feel more comfortable sharing my personal story on the stage.
There were stalls from great organisations such as the Mosaic Trust, Brentford FC, Osterely Park House, Gunnersbury Park Museum, and awesome food from vendors like Big Mum’s Samosas.
When it came time for me to go up on stage, the Middlesex Pride team helped me keep calm and gave some helpful advice. They are the greatest people I have ever met.
My speech was about my story as an LGBTQIA+ Muslim, where my life changed when I met my best friend who inspired me to join the Just Like Us Ambassador Programme. My story reflected on my experiences as a Muslim and an LGBTQIA+ person, facing prejudice in both communities. It also expressed how Just Like Us became like my family. Fellow ambassadors help and support each other with school talks, and with life.
Despite being soaking wet by the end of the speech – thank you, English weather – the atmosphere was buzzing with warmth and joy. The crowd was kind, the team hugged me, and people were commenting on my speech, how powerful it was.
This is what Pride is about. Being visible as your full self, connecting with people with similar experiences, and making friends.
I can’t thank Middlesex Pride and Just Like Us enough for giving me the opportunity and space to talk about my experiences as an LGBTQIA+ Muslim. To be myself. They gave me something I fought for a long time: accepting everything about me, which includes my transness and sexuality, my culture, and my faith.
If you are 18 to 25, you can become a charity ambassador for Just Like Us, the LGBT+ young people’s charity – find out more.