If you are gay and Muslim, “change your sexual orientation!”
I was shocked when I read the recent news story about a Muslim family living in Germany who wanted to arrange the marriage of their 18-year-old homosexual son against his will with a Lebanese girl. The son told the media that his family threatened to slit his throat and burn him alive if he did not change his sexual orientation. Eventually, the court intervened and saved the young man from the brutal punishment from his family.
This news reminded me of an acquaintance, Azam*, who runs a delicatessen in New York. He told his mother that he was gay when they were visiting Pakistan to find a bride for him. The news left the family heartbroken and angry. To teach him a lesson, the family confiscated his passport so that he could not go back to the US. They physically, verbally and emotionally abused him for bringing shame on the family and vowed more serious sexual abuse in the event he did not change his sexual orientation. It took him months, through the help of the embassy, to get his passport back and travel to the US and live his life as he wanted to.
One of my teenage patients, whose parents immigrated from the Indian Punjab, is currently struggling to come out to her family as a homosexual. She is afraid that her family, based on cultural and social traditions, will reject her. She is going through therapy to accept her sexual orientation as well as trying to keep a healthy relationship with her family. This fine balance is hard to negotiate and is causing personal conflicts, affecting her academic performance in school as well.
In the 2010 US National Survey of Sexual Health and Behaviour, seven per cent of women and eight per cent of men identified themselves as gay, lesbian or bisexual.
There is no such survey in Pakistan but one can assume that the same or a lesser percentage of the Pakistani population belongs to the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer (LGBTQ) community. Pakistan is a conservative and patriarchal society where members of the LGBTQ community must live secret and self-confined lives to avoid discrimination, stigma and abuse. Under the weight of homophobia, heteronormativity and genderism, they are forced to adopt a lifestyle according to society’s assigned gender roles and expectations.
Almost a year ago, in Lahore, a man confessed to the brutal murder of three gay men he met online after having sex with them. He took the self-assigned role of a moral policeman and claimed he wanted to teach the victims a lesson. His morality, if it existed, did not stop him from being involved in sexual acts with his victims. It raises the thought in his case that a deeply-closeted homosexual can often have violent impulses towards others because of his psychological and social conflicts.
There is no conclusive evidence to describe what causes homosexuality but many studies have shown that it is a product of biological and environmental factors; not a lifestyle choice. And it should be pointed out that there is no evidence that links childhood sexual molestation with being a homosexual later in life. According to the American Psychological Association, homosexuality is not a mental illness and homosexual men are not more likely to sexually abuse children than heterosexual men are. The Child Molestation Research and Prevention Institute reports that the majority of child molesters are men married to women and therefore are not gay people. Reparative or conversion therapy to change sexual orientation has no scientific evidence to prove its effectiveness. But it has led to higher rates of depression, suicide and alcohol and drug abuse in men who have been subjected to it.
Last year, Pakistan casted a “no” vote in the United Nations Human Rights Council when a resolution was presented to stop violence and discrimination against individuals because of their sexual orientation and gender identity. It is the duty of the state to protect its citizens regardless of race, gender, colour and sexual orientation, and in this case, Pakistan failed.
It is time to educate parents and families that being gay, lesbian, bisexual or a transgender is a form of normal human behaviour and marrying their LGBTQ children in a traditional way is not a way to cure them. People do not adopt these behaviours from others. Members of the LGBTQ population are subject to more bullying and harassment in the society than others. Parents and family members should provide support and comfort to their children and accept them for what they are.
*The name has been changed to protect the identity.
The views expressed by the writer and the reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of The Express Tribune.