Homosexuality in the Islamic culture was the centerpiece of a discussion held Oct. 19 at Nashville's New Hope Community Church.

ACT! for America of Middle Tennessee hosted acclaimed speaker and author Nonie Darwish, an Egyptian-American human rights activist, whose work focuses on the serious injustices occurring in the region.

Darwish was born and raised as a Muslim in Cairo, Egypt and the Gaza strip. She holds a Bachelor's Degree in Sociology/Anthropology from the American University in Cairo, and was a journalist and editor at the Middle East News Agency. Her father headed the Egyptian military intelligence in Gaza and the Sinai in the Fifties when Gaza was under Egyptian control. He was killed in Gaza in a targeted assassination in 1956 when she was just 8 years old.

For nearly thirty years, Darwish endured the hardships related to the tumultuous environment of the Middle East. Witnessing the persecution of minority populations, and in particular homosexuals, in her homeland had a profound impact on Darwish.

"As a teen I didn't understand what it meant to be gay. I saw these men suffer this humiliation, and I felt so horrible," she said. "They would be put inside a cage and would have their head in their hands. They were ashamed. For this culture, it was considered an honor killing to murder a homosexual."

Darwish's emigration to the United States in 1978 gave her the opportunity to educate herself on civil right issues and advocate for the minority groups in the Islam culture.

"I learned so much after I became a Christian," she says. "When I came to America, and when I escaped from the law that I left behind, I really learned how to respect other people. I really discovered how humans lived. Because of my experience I saw the mistreatment of these victims. It wasn't right."

As she continues her speaking engagements across the country, Darwish hopes that audiences learn from her stories of discrimination in the Middle East. She encourages all Americans to keep an open mind about their fellow neighbors.

"Waking up from all of this, it takes a time. It's hard when you don't know how bad it is," Darwish says. "I don't care what happens in your bedroom. I care about who you are as a person. It's important to have compassion and respect and be a good, decent person."

This article has been republished from Out & About Nashville, and was part of a series of first-person pieces written by the late Bobbi Williams.

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