The following is an exclusive excerpt from Kaleidoscope, a podcast featuring conversations on religion with the people often left out of conversations on religion and politics hosted by Deborah Jian Lee. As each new episode is released, Religion Dispatches will be featuring special remarks from the show’s guests that reveal how their worldview has changed in this new era.
Mahdia Lynn is a disabled bisexual transgender Shi’a Muslim woman. She is the Executive Director of Masjid al-Rabia, a women-centered LGBTQ affirming mosque, and is heavily involved in Chicago’s faith and justice communities, with a focus on police accountability, prison abolition, trans liberation and disability justice.
This episode explores Mahdia’s life and work. Deborah and Mahdia talk about hard times—addiction, mental illness and a brutal encounter with the cops. But they also get into the good stuff, like the freedom felt when you’re finally safe and what it’s like to do work that offers that freedom to others.
Deborah asked Mahdia the same question posed to all of Kaleidoscope’s guests (read the other responses here):
What is one of the biggest transformations that has occurred for you in this new era?
Since the 2016 election, I’ve become more hopeful.
Doing all the work that I do—building this mosque from the ground up, being an educator and an advocate fighting for police accountability and prison abolition—we need to do this work. It doesn’t work unless you believe that you will win.
The other thing that happened in 2016 was the Pulse shooting in Orlando. And that was the first time queer and trans Muslims were an idea in the public consciousness. There’s just a big change in the way that we perceive our community and the way the outside world perceived us. And so it was like the one-two punch of Orlando—suddenly all cameras are on us—and then (the election) a few months later affirmed the thing that we’ve been saying for years: that there is this violent insidious nihilistic white supremacist cult still right there in the middle of America.
It was just a very catalyzing year. We realized just how much work there was to be done. In the last year, after the years of work building up to this and especially after 2016, this snowballing momentum came. We’ve been kind of batting a thousand. I have applied for conferences and I get in. I’ve been able to fly [to] the different parts of the country to talk. I will receive grant money for our outreach. And none of these things would have happened if we didn’t believe that we deserved it and earned it and put in the effort.