A trans woman who recently converted to Islam has criticised elders at a Wiltshire mosque for refusing to acknowledge her gender identity, although the mosque has denied this allegation and say she is welcome to return at any time.
Wilts and Gloucestershire Standard reports Lucy Vallender, 28, converted to Islam in September last year, when she became wed to a man she met online and started attending a mosque in Swindon, Wiltshire.
She has now spoken out against the mosque claiming they asked her inappropriate questions and attempted to force her to pray with the men. She also said police have not helped her to address this discrimination.
Ms Vallender said: “At first at the mosque they didn’t ask any questions about my gender. But after a while they asked what my boob size was and whether I had periods.
“They said I was swearing and abusive, but I wasn’t. They also said they didn’t want me to pray with the women because I was looking at them. They said I had to pray with the men. It was demoralising. I said I was a woman, and then I left.”
The Broad Street Mosque has denied they ever asked Lucy, whose Islamic name is Layla, inappropriate questions. They also said she was never banned from attending the mosque.
A spokesman from the mosque said: “Layla joined our Islamic (Tajweed) ladies class at the end of last year as she wanted to learn Arabic.
“She did not know any Arabic when she joined our school but over the months made brilliant progress.
“She participated in class and was welcomed by all the women until her departure in June this year. We had no idea of gender reassignment.
“Layla did not declare her change on the school submission form, we only learned of this when she wanted to get married.
“Unfortunately she was not happy to submit her document such as passport or birth certificate required as per the process for the Islamic marriage (Nikah).
“Apparently, Layla also had the same issue with other administrations, nevertheless we offered to help but she found the request offensive.
“She took a very aggressive approach towards her teacher with intimidating SMS and personal harassment after classes.
“We understood she had a similar issue with other institutes and previous employers. We had outlined the zero tolerance policy for abuse towards the volunteers and a formal consultation was conducted.
“Needless to say that Layla had accepted her conduct and apologised to the volunteer teacher and had stated that she is moving to London for marriage and would most likely not return to the classes.
“Layla was not banned from the mosque or asked to join the men for prayers. We respect the rights of women and wouldn’t even consider such an action.
“On the contrary we had wished Layla all the success in her marriage and new beginnings with her move to London.
“We appreciate Layla’s article detailing her struggles and challenges in life complicated with both the gender change and then conversion to Islam. It must have been tough for her to share this experience publicly and we admire her courage.”
When asked whether she had sent aggressive messages to her teacher, Ms Vallender said she had only asked about why the mosque was asking about her breast cup size and whether she had periods.
She also said that a birth certificate or passport was not necessary for Islamic marriage, and the mosque was only requiring them to establish whether she was a man or a woman.
A spokesman for Wiltshire Police said: “We can confirm that we have been looking into the welfare of this individual following concerns raised by a partner agency.
“The woman involved has been offered full support by Wiltshire Police throughout this process.
“At no stage has she been told that she will be arrested if she attends her local mosque.
“It would be inappropriate to comment any further.”
By the time Ms Vallender was 10 she already knew she wanted to be a woman. Identified by her parents as male from birth, she said she had a difficult childhood living inside the wrong body.
“It’s quite hard,” she said. “You don’t know who you are. You’re somewhere and your mind’s somewhere else and you’re in the wrong body. I knew at a young age that I was in the wrong body.”
In 1998 when she was about 13, Ms Vallender came out to her parents and told them she wanted to have a sex change.
She said: “As the years went by I realised I wanted to have the operation.
“My family were sad. They were sad because it meant they wouldn’t have grandchildren and they couldn’t get their heads round it. It was hard enough to get my head around it let alone everybody else.
“They were upset. It’s a taboo. It’s all like, you grow up, and you have a kid and everything. You have to fight your sexuality.”
Much of her family, who live in Cirencester, are still at odds with the news, and her older brother, Soren, has not spoken to her for seven years, but Lucy’s mother and stepfather have now come to accept the change.
She said: “My mum has accepted it and my step dad was brilliant. You should just be what you want to be. That’s what he said.”
“My brother doesn’t talk to me and the rest of the family. Some people agree but some people don’t.”
In 2011, Ms Vallender first considered Islam after trying Buddhism and Judaism.
She said: “I went to Oxford for the day and then I saw the stall. That’s when I decided I wanted to be a Muslim.”
Seven months later, Ms Vallender started attending classes at the mosque on Broad Street.
She added: “There are a lot of transsexual Muslims but they haven’t come forward. I was just looking for something different. Islam is just so lovely and peaceful. I was searching for a direction and a point to life. I love it.”
Ms Vallender started attending lessons at the mosque to start learning more about her new religion and the Qur’an.
Although she no longer attends the mosque, she continues to be a practising Muslim and still prays at home.
The mosque have said Ms Vallender has not been banned and she is welcome to contact them to discuss her return at any time.