Methods: Participants originated from the Middle East (n = 25), North Africa (n = 4), and Central and South Asia (n = 5). They resided in Austria (n = 19) or the Netherlands (n =14), and ages ranged from 18-53 years old (M = 30). Twenty identified as gay, 5 as transgender female, 3 as lesbian, 3 as bisexual, 2 as queer or gender nonconforming, and 1 as transgender male. Semi-structured interviews were conducted to examine participants’ religious experiences before, during, and after migration. Thematic analysis was used to analyze the data (Braun & Clarke, 2006). To enhance methodological rigor, we engaged in memoing to monitor our biases, participated in peer debriefings to refine and refute themes, and used negative case analysis to identify unexpected patterns in the data (Padgett, 2017).
Results: We identified the following four themes: Internalizing religious messaging: shame, self-blame, and suicidality; ‘I only had God’: drawing strength and solace from one’s faith; reclaiming Islam in one’s own way; and rejecting organized religion. Participants struggled to reconcile the conflict between their religious and LGBTQ identities in their countries of origin; however, understanding of their intersecting identities in the host country differed. For some, religion supported them through the difficulties of migration and resettlement; they were able to reconcile their faith and sexual orientation or gender identity by adapting their religious practices. Others outright rejected their religious backgrounds and identities.
Conclusions and Implications: To our knowledge, this is the first study to demonstrate how refugees’ intersecting sexual, gender, and religious identities shaped their experiences of faith in their countries of origin as well as in the European Union. Accounting for sexual orientation/gender identity, migration status, and how LGBTQ refugees experience their religious identities in host countries allows for a more nuanced perspective of their lived realities. This study demonstrates how leveraging religion as a source of support for LGBTQ refugees may be beneficial. However, findings also show that providers must first understand the dynamics surrounding religion for each individual before assuming that all LGBTQ refugees still practice their faith or practice in the same way that they did in their countries of origin.