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British Muslim drag queen braves backlash to inspire gay community

24 August 2015, 08:49

London - Death threats are nothing new for Asif Quaraishi, but the gay Muslim hopes that a documentary about Muslim drag queens will encourage gay British Asians to come out of the closet rather than provoke a backlash against Britain's "hidden" community.

The film "Muslim Drag Queens" follows the lives of Quaraishi and two other performers and explores the clandestine nature of Britain's gay Asian - or "Gaysian" - community.

The police have promised to protect the drag queens and their families amid fears that the film, which airs in Britain on Monday, could fuel abuse and violence towards gay Muslims.

"I am constantly worried and fearful, but we (gay British Muslims) have the right to be heard, share our stories and not be ashamed of who we are," said Quaraishi, dubbed Britain's first Muslim drag queen, who goes by the name Asifa Lahore.

There are as many as 150 Muslim drag queens across Britain, seeking to reconcile their sexuality with their faith, while challenging homophobia and taboos within Islam and attempting to gain acceptance within their communities.

"I'm Pakistani, I'm British, I'm Muslim, I'm gay, and I'm a drag queen... people say these things shouldn't fit together but here I am - this is me," he told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

Also read: Gay man bites of lover's lip for being denied sex in Lagos

Since the trailer for the film was released last week, Quaraishi said he had received hundreds of messages on social media, from young gay Muslims who were unaware of the "Gaysian" community as well as those in their fifties and sixties.

"There is a whole hidden community living in Britain... now is the time to come out."

Just as drag queens led the fight for gay rights in Britain in the 1960s, Quaraishi uses his performances to campaign for "Gaysian" rights today - but his activism comes at a cost.

The documentary opens with the 32-year-old, from Southall, west London, reading several abusive and threatening emails.

"You call yourself a Muslim? You should be ashamed of yourself, and killed," one says. "You think I don't know where you live? You think I don't know who your mum is who your dad are? Carry on and you will be killed," another reads.

But Quaraishi is unperturbed as he acts as a mentor and friend to other gay Muslim drag queens throughout the film, which culminates with him receiving the LGBT award at ceremony hosted by British magazine Attitude.

As one of the most high-profile figures and leading activists in the "Gaysian" community, Quaraishi said he wanted to speak to British Prime Minister David Cameron about issues facing gay Asians who are often ostracised by their communities.

"I want to see more funding for charities that support gay Muslims and more public debates and roundtable discussions featuring faith leaders at government level," Quaraishi said.

- Reuters

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