Blair Imani gets real about queer Muslim representation, shares exclusive "The Bold Type" clip

On June 9, 2017, I came out very publicly on Fox News as a black queer Muslim woman.

I've known that I was queer since I was in ninth grade, but my mom knew well before I did. One day I sat my mom on the living room couch and said to her: "Mom, I'm a lesbian." She smiled and said flatly, "Honey, no you aren't," and then went on to explain that I've always had crushes on boys, so maybe I just also like girls. But I didn’t know if it was ‘okay’ to feel like this.

Lesbian rock stars Tegan & Sara helped me (and countless other LGBTQ youth) feel affirmed instead of ashamed with their hit song ‘Closer.’ The song acknowledged queer relationships in a way I hadn’t heard before. It made me feel like I could be myself.

Later on, I learned what bisexual meant and I began identifying as such. I dated women, men, and non-binary people but I never spoke about it publicly. The only time I was vocal about being part of the LGBTQ community was in the context of my advocacy work.

I converted to Islam in 2015, and I quickly learned about the discrimination Muslims have been enduring first hand. Later on, as I began to wear hijab, my visibility as a Muslim woman seemed to “invite” harassment. Thanks to xenophobia, it was assumed that I did not speak English and that I was not from America. In the wake of the mass shooting at Orlando's Pulse Night Club in 2016, thanks in part to sloppy and opportunistic journalism, it was also assumed that I was homophobic and that queer Muslims could not and did not exist. I tried to push against the rhetoric, but I ultimately took a step back from being out and became very quiet about my queer identity.

That is until I came out on that night in early June. I had hastily decided to appear on Fox News to discuss safe spaces as a method of community-based alternatives to the surveillance and policing of Muslim communities. I made the point to Tucker Carlson that many communities need these safe spaces including black people and LGBTQ community members. He pompously told me that I was not a representative for black people nor for LGBTQ people and in that moment, I corrected him: Well, I actually am a black queer woman in addition to being a Muslim.

Within seconds of the broadcast I was receiving hate email from Tucker Carlson’s vitriolic viewers across the country. I realized immediately that I had done something fairly profound: be myself.

Amidst the hate mail, I received heartwarming messages from queer Muslims around the world in Bahrain, Qatar, Toronto, and London. These messages filled with joy, hopefulness, and affirmations made me optimistic about my spur of the moment decision to come out on national television.

I did not anticipate the emotional rollercoaster that would ensue, however. I was bombarded with questions about why I have a male partner but identify as queer and how I was able to ‘reconcile’ my queerness with my religion. I was uninvited from community events and chastised for alienating elders in my community. At the same time, I was welcomed with open arms into the LGBTQ community by people like Eliel Cruz, Ani Zonneveld, Mahdia Lynn, and Broderick Greer. I was even honored when many of my followers began privately coming out to me in the days following the show.


Photo credit: Freeform


Photo credit: Freeform


Photo credit: Freeform

During this chaotic time, support also came from an unexpected source: The Bold Type on Freeform. I could never have anticipated being able to witness a queer Muslim woman prominently featured in the storyline of a major television show, especially not in this political climate. The Bold Type’s Adena El Amin is a “proud Muslim lesbian,” portrayed by Nikohl Boosheri. She is real, complex, and gives me a mirror to myself. She is not one-dimensional. Like Tegan & Sara and their anthem ‘Closer,’ she gives license to LGBTQ youth to be themselves, to love, and to feel. Like me, she wears hijab and is confident in her faith and queer identity, yet her very existence is politicized.    

Nothing is bolder than celebrating who you are in a world that does not always accept you. Characters like Adena remind me of this and expose the world to the lived realities of people like me.

Check out an exclusive clip below of next week’s new episode of The Bold Type when Adena shares a special moment with Kat (Aisha Dee). Tune in for the full episode, Tuesday, August 29 at 9/8c on Freeform and join the conversation with #Kadena!

Blair Imani is the founder and Executive Director of Equality for HER, a nonprofit educational platform for feminine identifying individuals and a GLAAD Together movement partner. You can see more of her work at blairimani.com.