It’s hard to pull up a chair and talk sex or fly imams over closed borders for gender training in a pandemic. But Imam Muhsin Hendricks wasn’t about to let COVID-19 destroy his carefully crafted Islamic training programme – he’d faced down too much else in his 53 years. One of the first imams to come out as gay, Hendricks is a pioneer, known continent-wide for pursuing dialogue with fellow Muslim leaders about a topic many don’t want to discuss. Same-sex relations remain a taboo across much of Africa and in much of the Muslim world. Seeking to smash those taboos, pre-pandemic Hendricks held workshops, hosted talking circles for select imams and comforted Muslims anguished by their sexuality or gender identity. Once the virus struck, he refashioned his programme for the times: virtual workshops for those who could not travel, and safe, socially distant meet-ups for those who could. “It is such a challenge to give hope when people are experiencing loneliness, financial loss and low self-esteem in the time of COVID,” said Hendricks from his mosque in Cape Town. “But we had to pull it off,” he told the Thomson Reuters Foundation, given the influence these religious leaders could have in their thousands-strong congregations.