by Mike Andrew -
SGN Staff Writer
If Hisam Goueli wins a seat on the Seattle City Council, he'll not only be the first Gay Muslim elected but the first candidate to quote the Sufi poet Rumi on his campaign website.
When I pointed this out to him, he exclaimed, 'I appreciate you noticing! How can I not? Such beautiful words! They say everything that I'm about. Some of my friends say my website is too artsy, but it's exactly the way I want it.'
Gay, Muslim, Arab-American, a performing artist as well as a doctor, and married to Roberto, a previously undocumented Peruvian immigrant, Goueli has many counts against him in Trump-era America.
'When we saw all the policies come,' Goueli tells me, 'everything Trump was attacking was everything that we are.
'It's easy to vilify groups of people,' he continues, 'but the bad names - that's not who the people are.'
Goueli is an observant Muslim. He goes to mosque, prays at the appointed times, gives 2.5% of his net worth as zakat - charity to help the poor - won't drink alcohol or eat pork, and he sprinkles his conversation with 'Thank God.'
Reconciling his sexual orientation with his religion has been difficult, he says.
'I used to think being Gay was God's test for me,' he explains. 'Then I accepted that God made me this way, and there was more to me than who I sleep with.'
Although he was born in Minneapolis and grew up with a modern American outlook, his parents were born in Egypt and are very conservative.
'When I came out to my family, my parents stopped talking to me,' he remembers. 'My mom was coming to visit, and I felt I had to tell her, 'You know I live with someone. And it's a man.'
'She decided not to come. It was two years before she started talking to me again. That was the lowest moment of my life. It was the hardest thing. But after that I knew nothing could break me. Now things are better but still not the same.'
One of the reasons he decided to make his first foray into politics was to represent the many parts of his identity.
'Very few Muslims run for office,' he explains. 'Even fewer Gay Muslims.'
A well-known performing artist and an equally respected doctor, Goueli admits he's not known at all among the city's political class, but he insists he can win the City Council seat he's after.
'If I didn't think I could win, I'd be wasting time, and I'm not about wasting time,' he says flatly.
While many candidates find it difficult to call and ask friends for campaign donations, he says he finds it inspiring when friends contribute to his campaign.
'Most of my friends are artists. They don't have money,' he explains. 'When I ask them for money, I'm asking them not to eat. And people are willing to not eat to help me. That's a gift.'
Goueli moved to Seattle from Atlanta, seeking the right spot to settle with his partner.
'Roberto was undocumented,' he says. 'That's one reason we moved here. R-74 had just passed, so we knew we could get married, and also he could get a driver's license.
'Thank God, when I got here, I was able to reach out to the gay community and the artist community. They made me feel at home.'
Now his communities are challenged by rapidly rising housing costs.
'All my artist friends are moving out of Seattle. They can't afford to live here,' Goueli says. 'They're the whole reason I live in this city. We have to ask ourselves, 'What will Seattle be like for us?' This election has the potential to set a new course for Seattle.'
Goueli then starts to reel off a list of policy positions.
'Build more affordable units,' he says. 'Expedite the design process so we can get them started quickly. Give vouchers to low-income people so they can get into new units.
'And focus on livability - not just affordability. People need homes, not just houses. People also need parks, art spaces, restaurants...
'If we do it now, supply can keep up with demand and the cost of housing goes down. The longer we wait, the more expensive it gets. If we do it and aggressively manage it, we can do it.'
Asked if there was one thing he'd like SGN readers to remember about him, Goueli replied, 'Look at the things I've done. Every day I work with patients, sick people, old people, poor people, mentally ill, social workers...
'I actually work with the groups everyone talks about. I'm living the experience. That's what they should know.'
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