It’s 2014, you’re a young gay Pakistani looking for love and you’ve found your safe haven in technology. According to Ahmad (not his real name), a member of Pakistan’s Gay Rights Movement, if you’re a gay man looking for sex, you’ve come to the right place [Pakistan]
“These days you have apps that pick up your location and match you to gay people in your community. It’s accessible and it’s easy.”
An unfortunate twist – you log into one of these apps hoping to find love, to be matched with Muhammad Ejaz. He’s a paramedic, married with 2 children, and things seem to going well. The reality? Muhammad Ejaz took 3 young men out on dates, only to engage in sexual intercourse before murdering them. Muhammad Ejaz claims he wanted to send a message about the ‘evils’ of homosexuality. Shortly after, apps like Majam which were once popular safe havens for Pakistan’s gay community had to close its doors.This is the reality for the gay community of Pakistan. In a country where homosexuality is a federal crime, even the intangible and secret world wide web could no longer provide comfort.A year later, as the United States joins dozen’s of other countries to celebrate the right for same-sex marriage, Pakistan’s socially and politically elite caused an entire nation to question it’s religions stance on fundamental human rights.“I’d rather be black & white than rainbowed #antiLGBT #moreaids #socialcorruption #deathofsanity” posts Ismail Khan, lead singer of Peshawar’s most popular band Ismail & Junaid, and resident of a city that has the highest volume of searches for gay pornography in the entire world.Further south of Pakistan, a post pop ups “I am sorry but I am disappointed at the people in Pakistan celebrating a behaviour which is taboo even in animals.” That was Actor/Director Hamza Ali Abassi posting an open letter to his 2.2m supporters about why he does not support marriage equality. He talks about how a law passed “in a land so far away has generated a debate about a topic which is irrelavant in Pakistan”. Pakistan Defence, with a twitter following of over 72K retweeted and showed their support towards Abbasi’s view by adding to the trending hashtag #WeSupportHamzaAliAbassi.Perhaps Abbasi, like Ismail Khan is ignorant to the fact that homosexuality is deeply sewn into Pakistan’s social fabric. After all, he does appear to be uninformed about plenty, talking about homosexuality in the same context as incest, and claiming homosexual tendencies do not exist in the animal kingdom.It would be easy to ignore these views, but with over 80,000 likes per post, Abbasi and Khan epitomise an opinion that is all too common in the country. The Pakistani Penal Code groups homosexuality under an article titled “Unnatural Offences” and makes sexual intercourse between same sex couples as immoral and illegal as sexual intercourse between a human and an animal. It then comes as no surprise as to where people like Abassi and Khan inherit their views from.I spoke to Ahmad about what this means for the gay community in Pakistan.
“There is a lot of guilt associated with being gay. Not necessarily religious guilt – which a lot of us have reconciled, but guilt that Pakistan is not where the United States is. We have real issues of poverty, a crumbling economy, corruption…we always wonder whether it’s our [gay community’s] time yet?”
While it is not uncommon for many homosexual Pakistani’s to denounce their religion of Islam, unable to reconcile it with their sexual orientation, there has been also been growing popularity in alternative interpretations of the Quranic verse which deems homosexuality permissible. Muslims for Progressive Values believe that equality is rooted in the values of Islam and are hopeful that over time more Muslims may also find meaning in the gender neutral verses when the Quran speaks of marriage.To Pakistani’s like Abassi, the religious interpretation is not as fluid.
“If you do not believe in a religion or God, please feel free to support and celebrate gay marriage. Its not a grey area in religion, its either black or white. Make your choice.”
And choices are made. In favour. In support. People like Ahmad refuse to be silenced, and while their focus is on rebuilding Pakistan as an economically stable and politically moral nation, their eyes are on the prize of equal rights.
“We are hoping for the next generation of Pakistani’s to be more focused on love and acceptance, than hate and ignorance. More pride, less Abassi’s”