In his bid to become the first Somali-American state legislator in Minnesota and possibly the country, Mohamud Noor is explaining to some voters why his Islamic faith is not in conflict with his support for LGBT rights.
Noor is one of five DFL candidates who will face off in a primary election next Tuesday, Dec. 6, to replace former Sen. Larry Pogemiller. Last week, Noor was endorsed by Stonewall DFL, the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender caucus of the party. On his website, he argues “marriage is a basic right.”
Noor, a former state worker, is courting voters in Minneapolis neighborhoods with heavy East African concentrations, including the Cedar-Riverside area. Many Somalis, but not all, are socially conservative on the marriage question due to religious beliefs.
Some Somali-Americans have questioned him directly, or indirectly, including in at least one spirited debate on Facebook, about his position against the constitutional amendment to ban same-sex marriage.
What does he say in response?
“I have good friends, neighbors, and co-workers who are LGBT. They don’t have the same basic rights as my wife and I do,” he said in an interview. “It’s more explaining the issue — we are all in the same boat. How will they feel if their rights are taken way? It’s about informing them, educating them. I’m not trying to push them at this stage.”
Noor says every voter will be pushed plenty enough as the state ramps up to the ballot question next year. But one thing he can do now, Noor says, is encourage dialogue within the Somali-American community, where sexual orientation is rarely discussed. “In Somalia, if you say you’re gay, you will be stoned to death,” he says.
He says the Somali and LGBT communities actually have a lot in common, including clashes between youth and their parents, resulting in teen runaways and homelessness.
The marriage question, however, isn’t the highest priority for most Somali voters, Noor contends. “They don’t talk about the stadium or the gay-marriage issue,” he said. “Their concern is just basic one: How can we survive? How can we make sure our children have a better future?”
Noor ran unsuccessfully for the Minneapolis school board last year. But another Somali-American, Hussein Samatar, was elected, and became the first Somali-American to hold public office in Minnesota and likely the nation.
The other contenders in the DFL primary are Peter Wagenius, Jacob Frey, Paul Ostrow, and Kari Dziedzic. All of them say they oppose the marriage amendment. Republican Ben Schwanke has also filed for the seat, and will advance to the general election on Jan. 10.