Dr. Momin Rahman's research focuses on the understudied intersection of queer and Muslim populations, a topic that requires care and consideration of how to communicate about the lives of LGBTQ Muslims to the communities they inhabit.
Advocating for LGBTQ Muslims around the world
In 2016, Professor Rahman, Trent sociology professor, was invited to a private conference in Geneva to speak about his research on LGBTQ rights in Muslim communities. The conference was effectively a lobbying campaign targeting UN diplomats ahead of a vote to establish a UN Independent Expert on Protection against violence and discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity. After a fraught campaign, the vote passed, and the Independent Expert position was established.
The role plays an important part in gathering data and informing UN member states about global LGBTQ issues.
“Every single Muslim majority country voted against it, and religious countries and religious organizations like the Vatican voted against it. The position has been controversial, but it has also established an annual report to the Human Rights Council in Geneva on issues for queer populations,” said Prof. Rahman. “That means UN diplomats—no matter the religious and cultural communities they represent—receive a report each year outlining the vulnerabilities of, and violence towards, LGBTQ people around the world.” Prof. Rahman has continued to support the UN, participating recently in an expert consultation for the Independent Expert in March 2023, as the official prepares his report to the Human Rights Council in May.
This kind of contribution to the global progress of LGBTQ rights is why Prof. Rahman was named the 2023 Eminent Scholar by the International Studies Association (ISA) LGBTQA Caucus. The award recognizes scholars who have made a significant impact on international relations research on LGBTQA politics, queer theory, or sexuality studies in global politics, and considers the contributions of scholars in teaching, mentorship, service, and activist work.
Because of the divisive conversations surrounding LGBTQ issues around the world, diplomatic strategy for promoting LGBTQ rights requires a nuanced approach tailored to the needs of particular communities. It is important for diplomats to be sensitive and not impose a Western or Canadian version of these understandings around the world. For this reason, Prof. Rahman has consulted with the Canadian government on these issues as well.
“Canada is certainly a champion of queer rights but is also trying to navigate the complexities of cultural differences. We want progress, but it takes time—broadening out ways to discuss LGBTQ lives publicly and therefore, hopefully, individually in those communities,” said Prof. Rahman. “In working with one of our embassies in a Muslim-majority country, I've seen how they have to be sensitive about promoting LGBTQ rights because of the potential dangers for local community groups.”
Lived experiences of LGBTQ Muslims in Canada
A first of its kind, Prof. Rahman’s latest research project—funded by the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council (SSHRC)—studies the lives and experiences of LGBTQ Muslims in Canada. In a similar vein to his global efforts, the knowledge developed through this project will help nuance LGBTQ rights strategies within Canada by providing policymakers and community workers with important data on this underrepresented group.
By detailing the life experiences of queer Muslims in Canada, Prof. Rahman and his team has been able to show how LGBTQ rights strategies would benefit from recognizing the complexity of experience in racialized communities and those with cultural difference. One core theme from his research is that pressure on people from multiracial heritage to come out as publicly queer is often a negative pressure.
“In fact, coming out can be a much more difficult pathway for queer Muslims to navigate because of cultural tradition—they might not be experiencing the same level of public normalization of queerness that non-Muslim Canadians may assume all queer people are,” said Prof. Rahman. “Coming out is fundamental. You can't articulate for rights or have people accept you unless you come out. It's quite difficult for us in Canada to take a pause on that and consider the social, cultural, religious, and economic realities of coming out in a vulnerable community.”
Taking this research a step further, Prof. Rahman is working with colleagues at Laurier University on another SSHRC-funded project to create pathways to dialogue between queer Muslims and their families. Improving family dialogue was shown as a priority for those involved in his study, as they often feel isolated from or have tension with their families. In response, Prof. Rahman’s team are developing practical tools—workshops and discussion points—that acknowledge the tensions and communicate research relevant to the conversation. In particular, around how the sense of belonging to family, and especially for racialized ethnic minority populations in Canada, that community belonging is important for well-being—for feeling welcome, for career success, for having culture represented, and so on.
Teaching students to navigate complicated social issues
As faculty in the Sociology department and the new Interdisciplinary Social Research PhD at Trent, Prof. Rahman is able to incorporate his research specialization into his curriculum and supervision. By introducing students to difficult social issues like international LGBTQ rights he’s able to show them the value of truly interdisciplinary research. In exploring the variations in traditions of gender and sexuality, including Muslim and non-Muslim communities, class discussions draw on not only sociological understandings but also on international relations, human rights, politics, and international development.
“Students always find this work challenging,” Prof. Rahman said, “because it feels like an impossible set of problems. We're not going to solve these problems in our course, but we're teaching students the skills, the contextual knowledge, and helping them build the confidence needed to dive into an impossible problem. And to say: there is a way—we're going to be able to figure this out. That’s one of the things I really enjoy about teaching. Students feel much more confident at the end of the course than at the beginning. They see that these problems aren't as overwhelming as they thought, or as impossible as they thought, whilst being realistic that social issues take time to really investigate.”