Kate Arnott for Newsline
Coming out as gay, lesbian or transgender can be a traumatic and difficult experience.
But it’s made more complex by the presence of religious beliefs and values.
Australian woman, Alyena Mohummadally is a Muslim, who struggled with reconciling her faith and sexual identity for years.
"As a young child, I would take 10 showers a day trying to scrub my skin dry with soap," she said.
"I was washing myself, towelling myself dry, trying to clean myself of these thoughts of same sex attraction."
Alyena said she didn’t feel she could be “queer and Muslim”.
A struggle to reconcile faith and sexuality
"When I tried to choose one or the other I wasn’t happy," she said. Born in Pakistan, Alyena spent all of her teenage years there.
When she was 15, she remembers watching the Winter Olympics on television in Karachi and being mesmerised by German figure skater, Katarina Witt.
"I just thought ‘Wow, she’s so beautiful I want to marry her.’”
“But in the next same breathe I thought ‘I’m a girl and you don’t marry girls’,” Alyena said.
Now at the age of 37 she lives in Melbourne with her partner, Catherine Roberts. They have two children.
For Catherine, coming out wasn’t a big struggle. She had a supportive family in Melbourne and wasn’t tied to a religion.
"It was just a kind of this realisation that it was a better fit for me," she said.
For Alyena though, it was a big struggle. Strict interpretations of Islam forbid homosexuality.
When she started her first same-sex relationship at university in Canberra in 2000, there seemed no place for her religion alongside her personal life.
So, she renounced her faith.
"For a couple of months, for a couple of weeks I was happy and then it all came crashing down and I realised faith was really important to me," Alyena said.
"I realised faith was really important to me"
After a long and difficult journey, her family came to accept her for who she is and she decided she could reconcile her faith and sexual identity.
"Islam teaches us that no-one who identifies as Muslim is allowed to judge another Muslim," she said.
The complexities of being torn between religion and sexuality are explored in a report called “Growing Up Queer” by researchers at the University of Western Sydney.
Sociologist, Kerry Robinson said same-sex attracted people from strong religious backgrounds faced particular hurdles and heightened levels of personal conflict, anxiety and confusion.
"They quite often feel like they are sinful, they are going to bring shame on their family and they’re going to be discarded from their communities," she said.
Professor Robinson said the consequences of families abandoning these people can lead to homeless, physical and emotional abuse as well as suicidal tendencies.
Alyena Mohummadally said she made a promise to herself when she was young, that if she was ever able to live both lives, she would like to help others in her position.
And that’s exactly what she’s done, by setting up an on-line support group called “Queer Muslims in Australia”.
It provides a safe space for people to share their experiences and seek advice on where and who to go to for specialist help.
The group has been a lifeline for some, giving them the strength to come out.
But Alyena says there have also many heart-breaking stories including from people who have been rejected by their families or are searching for a marriage of convenience because they’re too scared to come out.
"As a parent, I never want my child to feel any sort of shame," she said.
"I hope I will be the parent who will love my children no matter what."