This article first appeared in Attitude issue 302, November 2018.
It’s one of the most moving messages I’ve ever received.
In his Muslim household, when he was younger, “Gay was a proper scary word,” the stranger wrote.
But his parents had watched me, as a gay man, oppose anti-Muslim prejudice on TV, and it challenged their perceptions.
“It gave me the courage to come out,” he told me.
I’m not sharing this as an act of self-congratulation but because there’s an important point here. Muslims today are under siege.
The most powerful man on Earth gained off ice partly by whipping up hatred against Muslims, even promising to ban them from entering the United States.
The Far Right are on the rise across Europe, too, and just as they once demonised and made scapegoats of Jews, now it’s the turn of Muslims. And there’s a striking similarity between how Muslims are treated and the experiences of LGBT+ people.
Are we not the long-standing targets of media outrage, stereotyping us, making crass generalisations about us, portraying us as deviants, threats to public health, sexual predators, and a menace to children?
Today, Muslims are routinely picked on by the press, generalised as extremists, potential terrorists, an enemy within — as well as the groomers of children. Anti-Muslim hatred stalks our streets, but, like with us, most incidents aren’t reported to the authorities.
Is it not our own bitter experience to have abuse yelled at us in the streets, to be spat at, threatened, made to feel ashamed of who we are? Have we not long endured being the punching bags of mainstream politicians trying to climb into high office by tapping into the rich seam of bigotry against us?
Witness Boris Johnson’s grubby bid to become Prime Minister by comparing veil-wearing Muslim women to “letterboxes” and “bank robbers”, knowing how well it goes down with the grassroots.
Indeed, the Tories have traditionally been soaked in anti-gay prejudice. Baroness Warsi — the Tories’ most senior Muslim woman — says Islamophobia is widespread in the Conservative Party, right to the very top.
Our experiences are so similar: baited, feared, hated and victimised. The same people who want to beat up gays want to beat up Muslims, too.
There will be those reading this who ask: where are all the Muslims speaking up for us? It reminds me of the film Pride, when LGBT+ activists campaigned in favour of striking miners, but many of those they were trying to help were resistant because of endemic homophobia in mining communities. But the activists had a message of “an injury to one is an injury to us all”, and their act of solidarity transformed attitudes.
Today, London is the only major Western city to have a Muslim mayor, and Sadiq Khan has voted for LGBT+ rights, including equal marriage, and faced death threats for doing so.
Having suffered prejudice and bigotry for so long, we have a responsibility to stand by those who endure the same. That’s what frightens the bigots: solidarity among their victims.
By speaking out, we can change attitudes – as happened with the parents of the young man who wrote to me so movingly.
Owen Jones is a political commentor and author of 'The Establishment' and 'Chavs: The Demonisation of the Working Class'. Follow him on Twitter.