Australia's only openly gay imam starts the country's first LGBTQ mosque.

It's a difficult to be gay anywhere, even in a country where marriage equality was just legalized. But for a lot of gay Muslims who already face xenophobia all over the world, it gets a lot harder.

An imam in Australia is trying to change that by opening the country's first mosque for LGBTQ Muslims.

The proposed mosque, announced this week, is the brainchild of Nur Warsame, the only openly gay imam (worship leader) in the country. As a mentor to young people in his community, he's received heartbreaking daily calls for years from young LGBTQ Muslims seeking help — and often protection from their family and community members.


He knew he had to do something. “If you come out you will be ­excommunicated, you will be ostracized, you risk losing even your life, at times, in different parts of the world,” he said in a 2016 video interview with Australia's television program "The Project."

Warsame's solution is an entirely new kind of mosque, set to be established in Melbourne, that can serve as a safe space for young LGBTQ Muslims — a second home, where they can find support and resources along with a place to worship. The site is also in close proximity to Prahran Market Clinic, an LGBTQ-dedicated medical center, another hospital, and a police station.

“One of the most essential things that our young people need is safe, affordable housing,” Warsame told Australia’s ABC network. “For young people to transition safely they cannot be in the environment that is causing them trauma.”

Image by Alisdare Hickson/Flickr.

Warsame ought to know: He's frequently opened the doors of his modest apartment to LGBTQ Muslims who don't feel safe staying with their own families.

In more conservative schools of thought, homosexuality is considered a sin against Islam. A lot of Islamic scholars also believe that homosexuality is incompatible with Islam, often citing the story of Lot found in both the Quran and the Old Testament. The story claims that God destroyed Lot's tribe for allegedly engaging in gay sex.

But that's only one interpretation. Another reading of Lot's story claims that God destroyed the tribe because the people of Sodom and Gomorrah failed to help the poor and needy and refused to stop inflicting sexual assault (of all kinds, not just homosexual) upon each other.

Some of these beliefs are incorporated into certain Muslim-majority countries. For example, in Morocco and Egypt, homosexual acts are illegal. In some theocracies like Saudi Arabia, homosexual acts are even punishable by death.

It's important to note that not all countries that criminalize gay relationships are Muslim-majority. However, in countries like Jordan, Turkey, and Indonesia— which is the most Muslim country in the world — there is no (official) crime in being gay.

Unfortunately, some of these hard-line views on homosexuality seep into the family dynamic. There are horror stories of children disowned by their parents after coming out to their parents or fleeing their homes to escape domestic violence. These experiences often leave young LGBTQ Muslims without a home or a place for shelter.

That's where Warsame steps in.

“I had seven people housed at my one-bedroom apartment [...] because it was life or death for them,” Warsame added. “They had to leave [their family home] that day, then and there.”

Warsame told ABC in Australia that he is collaborating with local police to ensure that his new mosque and the community worshipping there is established in a safe and secure area.

Image by Jpl.me/Flickr.

Warsame is all too familiar with what it’s like to be outcast as an LGBTQ Muslim.

The Somali-born imam led one of Melbourne’s largest mosques and has been an imam for about 13 years. He is the one of two Australian Muslim leaders to gain the hard-earned title "hafiz." (An hafiz, which translates to “guardian” in Arabic, is someone who memorized the entire Quran.)

Things all changed in 2010 when Warsame first publicly came out as gay. The Muslim clergy in the country severed ties with him as a result. The imam also said that he receives death threats from people who believe homosexuality is against or incompatible with Islam.

“It's disgusting, because you suffer from Islamophobia, from both the mainstream non-Muslim community and even some in the LGBT community, and homophobia from both,” he told The Project.

Warsame believes LGBTQ Muslims have it hard considering that, in addition to homophobia, they also have to endure Islamophobia as Muslims in Australia.

Image by "ABC Australia."

The mosque announcement comes on the heels of a rapidly growing global movement dedicated to creating safe and inclusive mosques for LGBTQ Muslims and women.

In Germany, where burqas are banned, a “progressive” mosque dedicated to welcoming LGBTQ Muslims and offering mixed-gender prayer services opened in June 2017. In November 2012, Europe’s first “gay-friendly” mosque opened in Paris.

In the United States, non-profit organizations like Muslims for Progressive Values are creating LGBTQ-friendly mosques across the country. And in Washington, D.C., Daayiee Abdullah — the U.S.’s first openly gay imam — marries same-sex Muslim couples in the Islamic tradition and also offers funeral services for gay Muslims who died from AIDS.

The fight for LGBTQ rights and inclusivity goes well beyond the mosque.

For example, Islamic scholars like Reza Aslan have written in support of gay rights. Pakistan, a Muslim-majority country, legalized marriage licenses for transgender people in 2016 and officially recognized “transgender” as a third gender for passports — something the U.S. has yet to do.

And while homophobia is certainly an issue within some of the more conservative and fundamentalist communities, Muslims aren’t universally anti-gay, either. For instance, according to Imam Dayiee, the Islamic Ottoman Empire decriminalized homosexuality in 1858 — about 100 years before any Western country did.

If the world was ready then, we should find it within ourselves to push for progress now.

Watch Nur Warsame talk about his experiences of being an openly gay imam below:

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When Sue Hoppin was in college, she met the man she was going to marry. "I was attending the University of Denver, and he was at the Air Force Academy," she says. "My dad had also attended the University of Denver and warned me not to date those flyboys from the Springs."

"He didn't say anything about marrying one of them," she says. And so began her life as a military spouse.

The life brings some real advantages, like opportunities to live abroad — her family got to live all around the US, Japan, and Germany — but it also comes with some downsides, like having to put your spouse's career over your own goals.

"Though we choose to marry someone in the military, we had career goals before we got married, and those didn't just disappear."

Career aspirations become more difficult to achieve, and progress comes with lots of starts and stops. After experiencing these unique challenges firsthand, Sue founded an organization to help other military spouses in similar situations.

Sue had gotten a degree in international relations because she wanted to pursue a career in diplomacy, but for fourteen years she wasn't able to make any headway — not until they moved back to the DC area. "Eighteen months later, many rejections later, it became apparent that this was going to be more challenging than I could ever imagine," she says.

Eighteen months is halfway through a typical assignment, and by then, most spouses are looking for their next assignment. "If I couldn't find a job in my own 'hometown' with multiple degrees and a great network, this didn't bode well for other military spouses," she says.

She's not wrong. Military spouses spend most of their lives moving with their partners, which means they're often far from family and other support networks. When they do find a job, they often make less than their civilian counterparts — and they're more likely to experience underemployment or unemployment. In fact, on some deployments, spouses are not even allowed to work.

Before the pandemic, military spouse unemployment was 22%. Since the pandemic, it's expected to rise to 35%.

Sue eventually found a job working at a military-focused nonprofit, and it helped her get the experience she needed to create her own dedicated military spouse program. She wrote a book and started saving up enough money to start the National Military Spouse Network (NMSN), which she founded in 2010 as the first organization of its kind.

"I founded the NMSN to help professional military spouses develop flexible careers they could perform from any location."

"Over the years, the program has expanded to include a free digital magazine, professional development events, drafting annual White Papers and organizing national and local advocacy to address the issues of most concern to the professional military spouse community," she says.

Not only was NMSN's mission important to Sue on a personal level she also saw it as part of something bigger than herself.

"Gone are the days when families can thrive on one salary. Like everyone else, most military families rely on two salaries to make ends meet. If a military spouse wants or needs to work, they should be able to," she says.

"When less than one percent of our population serves in the military," she continues, "we need to be able to not only recruit the best and the brightest but also retain them."

"We lose out as a nation when service members leave the force because their spouse is unable to find employment. We see it as a national security issue."

"The NMSN team has worked tirelessly to jumpstart the discussion and keep the challenges affecting military spouses top of mind. We have elevated the conversation to Congress and the White House," she continues. "I'm so proud of the fact that corporations, the government, and the general public are increasingly interested in the issues affecting military spouses and recognizing the employment roadblocks they unfairly have faced."

"We have collectively made other people care, and in doing so, we elevated the issues of military spouse unemployment to a national and global level," she adds. "In the process, we've also empowered military spouses to advocate for themselves and our community so that military spouse employment issues can continue to remain at the forefront."

Not only has NMSN become a sought-after leader in the military spouse employment space, but Sue has also seen the career she dreamed of materializing for herself. She was recently invited to participate in the public re-launch of Joining Forces, a White House initiative supporting military and veteran families, with First Lady Dr. Jill Biden.

She has also had two of her recommendations for practical solutions introduced into legislation just this year. She was the first in the Air Force community to show leadership the power of social media to reach both their airmen and their military families.

That is why Sue is one of Tory Burch's "Empowered Women" this year. The $5,000 donation will be going to The Madeira School, a school that Sue herself attended when she was in high school because, she says, "the lessons I learned there as a student pretty much set the tone for my personal and professional life. It's so meaningful to know that the donation will go towards making a Madeira education more accessible to those who may not otherwise be able to afford it and providing them with a life-changing opportunity."

Most military children will move one to three times during high school so having a continuous four-year experience at one high school can be an important gift. After traveling for much of her formative years, Sue attended Madeira and found herself "in an environment that fostered confidence and empowerment. As young women, we were expected to have a voice and advocate not just for ourselves, but for those around us."

To learn more about Tory Burch and Upworthy's Empowered Women program visit https://www.toryburch.com/empoweredwomen/. Nominate an inspiring woman in your community today!

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Over the past six years, it feels like race relations have been on the decline in the U.S. We've lived through Donald Trump's appeals to America's racist underbelly. The nation has endured countless murders of unarmed Black people by police. We've also been bombarded with viral videos of people calling the police on people of color for simply going about their daily lives.

Earlier this year there was a series of incidents in which Asian-Americans were the targets of racist attacks inspired by the COVID-19 pandemic.

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Photo courtesy of Macy's
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Did you know that girls who are encouraged to discover and develop their strengths tend to be more likely to achieve their goals? It's true. The question, however, is how to encourage girls to develop self-confidence and grow up healthy, educated, and independent.

The answer lies in Girls Inc., a national nonprofit serving girls ages 5-18 in more than 350 cities across North America. Since first forming in 1864 to serve girls and young women who were experiencing upheaval in the aftermath of the Civil War, they've been on a mission to inspire girls to kick butt and step into leadership roles — today and in the future.

This is why Macy's has committed to partnering with Girls Inc. and making it easy to support their mission. In a national campaign running throughout September 2021, customers can round up their in-store purchases to the nearest dollar or donate online to support Girls Inc. and empower girls throughout the country.


Kaylin St. Victor, a senior at Brentwood High School in New York, is one of those girls. She became involved in the Long Island affiliate of Girls Inc. when she was in 9th grade, quickly becoming a role model for her peers.

Photo courtesy of Macy's

Within her first year in the organization, she bravely took on speaking opportunities and participated in several summer programs focused on advocacy, leadership, and STEM (science, technology, engineering and math). "The women that I met each have a story that inspires me to become a better person than I was yesterday," said St. Victor. She credits her time at Girls Inc. with making her stronger and more comfortable in her own skin — confidence that directly translates to high achievement in education and the workforce.

In 2020, Macy's helped raise $1.3 million in support of their STEM and college and career readiness programming for more than 26,000 girls. In fact, according to a recent study, Girls Inc. girls are significantly more likely than their peers to enjoy math and science, to be interested in STEM careers, and to perform better on standardized math tests.

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