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Orlando tragedy brings Muslim, LGBT communities together

CEO of Equality Illinois Brian Johnson (left) and Dalila Fridi, former board chair of Equality Illinois, spoke at a Monday press conference about the Muslim and LGBTQ communities standing together in the wake of the massacre at a gay nightclub shooting in Orlando. | Jacob Wittich/For the Sun-Times

In the wake of last week’s shooting in Orlando that left 49 dead and another 53 injured in a gay nightclub, leaders from the LGBT and Muslim communities called Monday for a joint commitment to civil rights.

“If one is targeted, we are all targeted. If an injustice befalls a community or individual, it befalls us all,” said Ahmed Rehab, executive director on the Council on American-Islamic Relations in Chicago.

“Not despite our religion, but because of it, we must stand and we do stand with those who face suppression, oppression and these violent acts of hatred. We stand with the LGBTQ community.”

Omar Mateen, the 29-year-old U.S. citizen who committed the shooting pledged his allegiance to the Islamic State group during the attack. Though Mateen identified as Muslim, Rehab said the killer’s beliefs do not represent those of the Muslim community.

Leaders from CAIR as well as LGBT organizations Equality Illinois and Lambda Legal joined Rehab at a news conference Monday to condemn efforts by politicians such as presumptive Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump and other media to divide the LGBT and Muslim communities by blaming Muslims for the shooting.

Rehab referred to Trump’s comments that Muslims should have to register themselves and be prohibited from entering the country or that mosques should be surveilled as dangerous.

“We have seen many leaders in politics and the media attempt to link the tragedy to the Muslim community,” said Brian Johnson, CEO of Equality Illinois. “We call on all Americans to reject efforts to divide Americans and instead join us in support of the Muslim-American community.”

Johnson said he hopes this will be an opportunity for the groups to meet on a regular basis to discuss issues of common ground. While CAIR plans to continue meeting with LGBT leaders, Rehab said they have worked together in the past to promote civil rights in Chicago. He and Jim Bennett, Midwest regional director of Lambda Legal, served as board members for RefugeeOne.

“There is never a time to divide Americans, and that is especially true at a time of deep national tragedy,” said Jim Bennett, Midwest regional director of Lambda Legal. “The person who committed this act of hate in Orlando was not one of us, and he was not family to any of us in any way.”

Dalila Fridi hopes the shooting will bring Muslims and LGBT people together to support each other.

“Being a member of both communities [Muslim and LGBT], I was hurt twice,” Fridi said. “This tragedy will bring both my communities together. This conversation will continue, and we should not let this opportunity go by.”