Since the legalization of homosexuality in our sister country, the debate for LGBT+ rights has started generating buzz in Pakistan. The queer community of Pakistan is slowly starting to politicize, with the simple desire to be decriminalized, if not necessarily legalized. In a country where the chosen UN official refused to recognize LGBT+ rights as basic human rights on a massive international platform, and where individuals are forced to hide themselves in order to survive, even the appearance of this community is something of significance, let alone their realization that they might be deserving of rights.
Before we get into the legalization discussion, however, it would be smart to understand exactly who the LGBT+ community consists of. The acronym stands for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transsexual, +, with the plus encompassing all other sexualities. Medically and psychologically, it is considered normal to be of any sexuality and, more importantly than any of this, these are people, probably the men you saw on the street yesterday, or the girl who just doesn’t seem interested in boys and romance. The community is larger than you or I expect, although of course exact numbers can’t be obtained, as these individuals live hidden lives, usually keeping their selves veiled from even their family, to avoid being treated as completely abhorrent, if not a criminal. In the educated youth, there appears to be the widest berth of acceptance for non – straight individuals, whereas in older or less educated segments of society, most old values are fairly deeply integrated. As a result, most queer people cannot come out to their families, and live in constant threat to their life. In 2014, one NGO alone (Neengar society) documented 145 cases of familial violence towards non – heterosexual individuals. Families (generally parents) find homosexuality to be a threat to the family and religious system, and, bolstered by the criminalization of homosexuality, threaten, beat and abuse gay or lesbian etc. individuals in an effort to make them comply.
Rape and gang violence cases are also common within this subset of society, who are often forced into situations they have no legal help against. On the contrary, they fear going to law authorities due to the harassment, discrimination and criminalization they face based on their sexual identity. In April 2014, a Lahori serial killer was caught and admitted to killing three men due to the fact that they were gay, and was depicted as “the epitome of righteousness” by Pakistani news channels (Al Arabiya News).
Legally, no laws exist to protect individuals who identify as queer in any way. On the contrary, the death penalty or a life sentence are the prescribed punishments for not being straight, and hence, victimized individuals cannot seek help from any law enforcement agency, and NGOs are few and far between, along with usually very difficult to reach. Even in the educated sector, gay, bi or lesbian individuals are subject to everything from beatings to “conversion therapy”, a cruel, inhuman “therapy” consisting of electric shocks, indoctrination, and forced conversion. As a result, queers learn that they will be victimized, and cloak their identity to the degree that many of them develop dysphoric disorders. In simple terms, this means that the clash of the person they really are and the person they are required to be is so severe that they develop mental and sociological illnesses, or simply lose themselves entirely. Apart from 1 to 3, there is no organization that is working towards the betterment of such individuals, so, at best, they repress themselves entirely until they are forced to marry someone they feel nothing for and, at worst, they are thrown into jails after facing years of abuse to wait for the noose.
Whether or not homosexuality is okay is simply not for any of us to say. If we speak of biology, 200+ types of mammals, 150+ species of bird, 16 species of fish, 32 species of reptiles, 50+ types of insects, and multiple invertebrates display homosexuality. Religiously, meanwhile, it must be borne in mind that, although Pakistan is an Islamic Republic, its people are not all Muslim, and the country was founded on the basis of free, unoppressed living for all. Although it must be conceded that mainstream Islam considers homosexuality a sin, it also preaches the ‘live and let live’ mentality, whereby believers are encouraged to introspect and find their own failures in belief before pointing fingers. Simply put, none of us have the right to determine how someone chooses to live, as long as he or she is entailing no harm to us, and, as a result, it just makes sense to decriminalize homosexuality, so that these individuals can, at the very least, live their own lives as they wish.