Last week, the St. Paul City Council offered a nod to the 50th anniversary of the Stonewall riots, approving a resolution recognizing June as Pride Month. All council members sponsored the move and took a photo by a big rainbow flag… except one.
Councilman Kassim Busuri joined the meeting minutes afterward. He later said he hadn’t known about the resolution until a few minutes before it was presented, but a few social media users – including Human Rights and Equal Economic Opportunity Commission member Tyler Blackmon – thought he had some explaining to do. And not just because of his absence.
“Hey, @KassimBusuri,” he tweeted. “I’d love to hear an explanation for why you didn’t sponsor the Pride/Stonewall resolution today for the City Council. I was 100% willing to give you the benefit of the doubt, but now I’m… concerned.”
Along with the tweet, Blackmon posted a couple of screenshots allegedly taken from Busuri’s Facebook account several years ago. One, posted in 2014, included a link to an article about the president of Uganda criminalizing homosexuality.
“That’s why I am going back to Uganda,” the post read.
Another, from 2013, was about Pasta Barilla being boycotted because the CEO supposedly vowed to never include a gay couple in advertising.
“I have to go buy some Pasta Barilla now,” was Busuri’s response.
Blackmon wasn’t the only one demanding an explanation. OutFront Minnesota, an advocacy organization for the queer and trans communities, says it reached out to Busuri “in hopes of hearing an apology or an interest in moving forward.”
“No apology was received,” the group reported on Thursday, “And he reiterated his anti-LGBTQ views while admitting that he may just need more information.”
Busuri didn’t respond to interview requests. In an interview with the Pioneer Press, he said that his “religious beliefs are very clear about homosexuality,” but that he hadn’t discriminated against anyone because of them.
“Those who are attacking me, I see it as Islamophobic, attacking me for my religious beliefs,” he said.
He also addressed his absence on Wednesday, but one would likely be hard-pressed to describe it as apologetic.
“It is true, I did not take a picture with some of my colleagues and a rainbow flag, nor did I vote on or speak for or against resolution recognizing the 50th anniversary of Stonewall,” he wrote. “What is also true is that I am Muslim and believe in the dignity of all human beings and that no one should be persecuted for their faith, values, beliefs, or who they are.”
He went on to point out that he is the only Muslim and the only black man on the council, and that he has “put [his] life on the line” for his community and his “fellow human beings,” no matter what “sexual orientation they claim.
“Ask yourself what kind of leader you do believe our community should have? One who wraps themselves in a rainbow flag, a person-of-color flag, or whatever the flag-of-the-day is for political gain, or one who acts in the best interest of humanity and is willing to give of their life for another.”
A lot of people commenting on the Neighbors for Busuri Facebook page weren’t exactly impressed.
“As a queer person of color, I expect and rely on our elected officials to do the right thing to support our marginalized communities,” one commenter said. “Shame.”
“…As a young Muslim women this is not what a ‘community leader’ does,” another said. “This is not Islam, this is bigotry. It will certainly not stand.”
Others went with quicker responses, such as “this is disgusting” and “resign.”
Busuri, the council’s youngest member and its first Somali-American, was appointed to his seat after the retirement of member Dan Bostrom. At the time, Busuri vowed not to run for office in November, when the remainder of Bostrom’s term expired. He has since changed his mind, saying many people had encouraged him to go for it.
But some commenters say they’ll remember this moment in the fall, when it’ll be up to them to decide if Busuri can really represent everyone in his ward.
“Polish up your resume!” one warned.
Here's Busuri's statement in its entirety.