Kamal Al-Solaylee is erasing borders | Cultural Festivals | Halifax, Nova Scotia | THE COAST

Kamal Al-Solaylee is erasing borders

The author and journalist is using his own life to break down stereotypes about being gay and Muslim.

click to enlarge Kamal Al-Solaylee is erasing borders
Gary Gould
The author and journalist is coming to Halifax for Pride.

Evening Speaker Series: Kamal Al-Solaylee
Wednesday, July 26, 7pm
Maritime Museum of the Atlantic
1675 Lower Water Street

A gay man who grew up in a Muslim community, Kamal Al-Solaylee says he's lived his life as two separate narratives. But those narratives, and those communities, must intersect.

The author and journalist is scheduled to give a talk for Halifax Pride's evening speaker series on July 26 about what it means to be both gay and a person of colour. Al-Solaylee will connect themes from his first book, Intolerable, a memoir about growing up gay in the Middle East, with his second book, Brown, a meditation on the political and economical meanings of brown skin.

"At the end of the day, I want to prove that these are not things that can be lived separately," he says. "There are a lot of gay people who are also Muslim and who want to have both."

When Al-Solaylee came out 30 years ago, he had to choose between his sexuality and his culture. Born in Yemen, and raised in Beirut and Cairo, he moved to England, then Canada to find a safer, more accepting society.

But he still struggles with his identity. After a self-radicalized Muslim man opened fire last year inside the Pulse nightclub in Florida and left more than 50 people dead—many of whom were black and brown queer men— Al-Solaylee stopped going to gay bars.

"I don't feel safe," he says. "Not because I feel like somebody will come in and storm the club, but I just don't feel, looking the way I do, that I'd be welcomed in a gay space."

Media coverage is partly responsible for the overarching stereotypes about the Muslim community, he says, such as the stereotype that all Muslim people are homophobic.

At the same time, there is also a stereotype that all LGBTQ+ communities are accepting and diverse. Racism within the LGBTQ+ community has been evident in the past, says Al-Solaylee—such as when people responded negatively to the involvement of Black Lives Matter in Toronto Pride, or when there was outrage over adding brown and black stripes to the rainbow flag to represent people of colour.

"It was quite an eye-opener for me," Al-Solaylee says about the anger from white LGBTQ+ people. "Adding black and brown to the flag is just meant to include more people. It's a symbol, and symbols can change."

He says the media shouldn't settle on these broad stereotypes of the LGBTQ+ and Muslim communities. There are groups on both sides that are trying to perpetuate change, and there is still much ground to be covered.

"There are a lot of other communities who still haven't reached equality on the same level," says Al-Solaylee. "As a gay man, I can say that we have a responsibility to help others. We have a responsibility to make sure others share the rights that we have fought for."

Amidst the celebrations, Al-Solaylee wants to remind people that Pride was—and is—a human rights march rooted in activism. He encourages people to "party [their] pants off," but much like the intersection of identities, Al-Solaylee believes the intersection of Pride and politics should not be overlooked or forgotten.

"Rights can be won, but rights can be lost as well," Al-Solaylee says. "Please remember that you have to stand on guard for your rights, because there are people who are willing to take them away from you."

Halifax Pride's evening speaker series will take place at the Maritime Museum of the Atlantic from July 24 to 27.

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