Monday, January 18, 2010

Religion vs. Sexual Orientation with a Shot of Hypocrisy

Filmmaker Parvez Sharma with Rev. Lea Brown

More than 100 mostly white gay men squeezed into San Francisco’s historic Metropolitan Community Church (MCC) in the Castro for a screening of "A Jihad For Love" on Jan. 16, 2010. The film is a breathtaking, landmark documentary about some religious Muslims who are lesbian and gay, and who are balancing their religion and their sexual orientation. Or as director Parvez Sharma put it without much subtlety, “It is about who you fuck and where you pray,” which drew nervous laughter from the throng.

MCC Church has been at its 150 Eureka Street building for 40 years, and the screening is the first of a series of events to mark that anniversary in 2010. The building was built over a creek with an originally questionable foundation, and when a wall shifted a while back the congregation had to evacuate to the San Francisco LGBT Community Center. An extreme rental situation brought the congregation back to 150 Eureka after a building reinforcement.

Numerous church members long for a new building at its present location — the site of notable historic community events including the welcome of gay Cuban refugees in 1980, and the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence fundraising bingo games. Multiple joinings and later marriages of same-sex couples, and also too many celebrations of life happened in the MCC Church sanctuary. A food program and sleeping areas for queer youth, meetings space for LGBT Democrats, and outreach to the Buddhist, leather, and recovery communities were and are some of the projects of the church.

Rev. Lea Brown welcomed the audience to the screening, and spoke warmly about MCC Church as a place for free spirituality
and as a center of love in the Castro for 40 years. The well-attended screening was the first of a series of events in 2010 to
celebrate the anniversary. More anniversary events are listed at

Filmmaker Sharma spoke about the film’s popularity worldwide and that 8 million people have seen it in a year. Copies have been shown at secret screenings in Saudi Arabia, Iran, and in other countries where it would not be allowed to be shown in public. And these are countries where brave gay Muslims have been arrested for attending same-sex marriage ceremonies and parties.

One of the most surprising moments of the evening was when
Sharma spoke about two wild gay parties that he enjoyed in Tehran that he said outdid anything he had seen in San Francisco or New York City, where he lives. Sharma spoke about the hypocrisy that exists in homophobic societies in the Middle East, where lesbians and gays are persecuted but there is rampant, secret, same-sex coupling occurring among straight-identified people.

Muslim lesbians and gay men were introduced in the film in several countries, and they spoke intensely about their lives. Arrests and trials, whippings, public humiliation, rape, and death were a fact of life for them if they were exposed in their native countries. A remarkable feature of the film was the on-film meeting of the lesbians and gays with fundamentalist religious leaders. The shocking responses of the leaders to questions about the compatibility of Islam and homosexuality is enough reason to check out this admirable documentary.

Another example of the hospitality extended by the church was a bountiful Lebanese buffet provided by Ilyas Iliya. The evening ended with conversation and cruisy glances over the Middle-Eastern cuisine and one-on-one discussions with the filmmaker.

For more information on "A Jihad for Love," visit

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