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Nurul realised she was gay when she was 6. It took her decades to say it publicly.

Nurul Huda was six when she realised she was different.

She was watching The Donny & Marie Show, and while her female cousins wouldn’t stop talking about Donny Osmond, she found herself with a crush on Marie.

It was the same after Grease. Danny Zuko? No, she was interested in Sandy.

Nurul will appear on SBS Insight’s Coming Out With Faith episode tonight. Post continues below video.

Video via SBS

As a child Nurul didn’t have the vocabulary to explain exactly how she was different, she just knew she was.

“Did someone teach you that you’re supposed to like Donny? You feel like you didn’t get the memo,” she explained to Mamamia.

“You’re just constantly wondering why you’re not like everybody else.”

Malay Singaporean Nurul, now 50, comes from a Sunni Muslim family and grew up observing the rituals and practices of the Islamic faith.

As a teenager she hid her crushes, because again, they were different to everyone else’s.

Nurul developed a cognitive dissonance towards her religion, but in her 20s had what she described as “an Islamic renaissance”, of reading the Quran and trying to find out where and why it referred homosexuality.

Nurul on SBS Insight's Mardi Gras episode. Image: SBS.
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The word homosexuality doesn't exist in the Quran. But orthodox Muslims have interpreted the stories of Prophet Lot to refer to homosexuality.

"There's also enough in there, enough of the science, to make me still believe," she said.

"I thought that 'okay, if God is going to punish me, we are going to have a conversation because God can't send me to hell when God made me gay'. Because one of the many attributes of God is being very compassionate and just."

After moving to Australia at age 27, Nurul found her "lesbian identity". She had her first relationship with a woman, made friends and found a safe and inviting space among people she could relate to at a weekly lesbian discussion group.

"After I broke up with my girlfriend, I was still in denial about telling myself that I am a lesbian. And also I was looking for others.

"You know the movie Ice Age? And the mammoth was looking for his tribe? I felt like I was the last mammoth looking for my tribe."

After stumbling upon the discussion group, Nurul felt confident to embrace her full identity.

"That was the first time I said publicly what my orientation was," she explained. "It was as if my world became more stable. I knew now my whole definition was complete."

In 2016, the Pulse nightclub shooting in Orlando, Florida - in which a man killed 49 people and wounded 53 others in a mass shooting inside the gay nightclub - spurred Nurul to form a formal representative group for queer Muslims.

She wanted to help others who were in the same situation she was in years before to find their tribe.

She established non-profit organisation Sydney Queer Muslims, which became incorporated in 2017.

The group offers counselling services, support groups, group therapy, information about family violence, HIV education and support and a direct link to Imam Muhsin Hendricks, the first openly queer Imam (religious leader) in the world, who is based in South Africa.

The group's purpose is to offer a safe space, where queer Muslims can learn they're far from alone.

"Their stories are not unique, unfortunately. It can be isolating and lonely, and when they come to the support group you can see the stress in their eyes. But then they come a few times and you can stress the stress is gone.

"When you’re in the closet, all your milestones are not celebrated. Your first love, the first time somebody says 'I love you' back, those things are not celebrated because you can't share it with anyone. In this group you can find people with similar stories and share that kind of stuff... It does help with their mental health, feeling like you can share that part of your life."

Nurul said that although queer Muslims are not always 'loud', there are thousands of them who can find solidarity with one another.

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"You need to carve out a bit of the world that suits you and find people that appreciate you for all of who you are. We've been through it, and you learn to manage those who only accept parts of you... We don't normally wave a flag saying 'I'm queer and Muslim', but there's thousands of us out there.

"You just need to take that first step, find us and become part of the tribe."

It's important for Nurul to point out that Islam and being queer are not mutually exclusive, and allies must keep this in mind when offering support.

"The thing that you should not do is tell them to give up their religion. Most people think because they're Muslim and they're queer, that's why you have this issue, this problem. And telling them to give up one is not the solution because it's not the religion itself but the interpretation of the stories of Prophet Lot.

"Religion is something that ties their family, their whole social network together so you can't throw that away.

"We've had people who have come to us telling us they gave up the religion 20 years ago and they're starting to feel the pullback and they want to reclaim their identity back."

This Mardi Gras, Nurul's main concern is the Religious Discrimination Bill, which if passed will mean statements of religious belief will not be found to breach other discrimination laws.

As a result, this could lead to potentially unsafe workplaces and schools for women, the LGBTIQ+ community, single parents, people with a disability and more and as Nurul explained, a step back for all of us.

Nurul's ideal Mardi Gras parade float would look a bit different to those we've become accustomed to seeing float down Sydney's Oxford St, fabulously bright and sparkly.

"For me, the difficult thing about Mardi Gras is, what we want to tell the Muslim community is we’re just like normal people. Just like average Joe down the street, but the nature of Mardi Gras is it's a celebration, it’s everybody's expression of freedom.

"So if I had my version of Mardi Gras for the Muslim community, it would be like float after float of people in business casual, you know? To tell them we're just like you, we have the same aspirations as you, we're just not attracted to the same people you're attracted to and that's the only difference.

"And if you continue to equate the stories [in the Quran] of Sodom and Gomorrah to homosexuality, you're just creating oppression for thousands and Muslims are always called upon to stand up against oppression. The people of Lot were destroyed because they practised temple prostitution, raped men as a means of subjugation, robbed and killed travellers, not sharing resources. It is not about homosexuality at all."

Nurul will appear on SBS Insight's Coming Out With Faith episode airing Tuesday, 25 February at 8.30pm.

Feature image: Supplied/SBS.