Pakistanis should no longer live in fear of other Pakistanis!
Imagine having to wake up every day and being afraid of going to school. Afraid that other students will harass and torment you because of your – perceived or actual – sexual orientation, gender expression, ethnicity, disability, or just because.
That is the reality that many Pakistani students face every day. Kids in schools today are harassed because of perceptions related to their sexual orientation and are bullied because of their gender expression. The world community, including the media, general public, opinion leaders and policy makers will commemorate International Day against Homophobia and Transphobia this year on May 17th; but who in Pakistan will speak out against the stigma and discrimination our LGBT youth face in this country?
There are many stories about the plight of our LGBT community that should put us to shame. But is doesn’t. Khurram, a homosexual from Rawalpindi tells us the stories about bullying stemming from homophobia and transphobia which causes those different in their appearance or preferences to drop out of school or even end their lives! He says,
“Going to school was an ordeal. I was treated as if I was an object with no feelings. I did not think education was worth all the taunts, jeers and threats I had to face on a daily basis.”
Gohar, an effeminate homosexual from Lahore, says,
“I could not tell my parents what was happening at school. I had no support and felt alone. Even my teachers would join my class mates in calling me by derogatory names and laugh at me with them.”
Schoolchildren endure stress and misery as homophobic abuse and name-calling is continually ignored.
The tools and tenor of bullying are different and more dangerous today than they were in the past. Our children grow up watching reality shows where boorish behaviour is rewarded and insults, taunts and racist remarks hike ratings and create stars. And nothing is off-limits for criticism on countless reality TV programs. Your clothes, your voice, your cooking, your weight – judges find faults with everything, while contestants try not to cry. Nowadays it’s easy for bullies to enlist allies who can just post something nasty – even anonymously – online, instead of risking an unpleasant confrontation face to face. And it’s hard for victims to hide from insults delivered 24/7 on their cell phones.
The disdain and discrimination that many gay or gender non-conforming youth receive from their parents has the potential to do far more damage than hostility they experience from others. The evidence is abound – kids lacking parental support for their sexual orientation are at higher risk for mental health problems, drug use and unprotected sex. And the risk isn’t minor – those who feel rejected by their families are eight times more likely to have attempted suicide or run away from home once in their lives.
Dua, a queer woman from Karachi, confesses,
“My family made sure I knew that I was a huge disappointment and cause of much embarrassment to them when I refused to marry a guy like most girls. They would say, ‘we wish you were never born’. And I would think that if I killed myself all their problems would be resolved.”
The biggest problem for people like Dua, and many other LGBT persons, is when their parents and relatives refuse to accept them.
Experts believe that bullying is one of the leading causes of suicide among kids and adolescents worldwide. Victims of bullying are more than twice as likely as other kids to contemplate suicide and about 2.5 times as likely to try to kill themselves, according to a new study that quantifies the emotional effects of being teased, harassed, beaten up or otherwise harmed by one’s peers. According to the study, children and teens who are taunted by cyber bullies are especially vulnerable – they are about three times more likely than other kids to have suicidal thoughts.
Previously, studies had reported that cyber bullying could be just as bad as traditional bullying. But recently, the researchers discovered that cyber bullying is actually worse. Being bullied in person increases one’s risk for suicidal ideation by a factor of 2.16, while being bullied via email, text messages or in videos posted on the internet raises the risk by a factor of 3.12. This might be because with cyber bulling, victims feel they’ve been denigrated in front of a wider audience, and as material can be stored online, this causes victims to relive the denigrating experience more often.
A research study conducted by Warwick University and Duke University to demonstrate the far-reaching and damaging consequences of bullying showed that serious illnesses, struggling to hold down a regular job and poor social relationships are just some of the adverse outcomes in adulthood faced by those exposed to bullying in childhood. Another study found that LGBT people living in communities with high levels of anti-gay prejudice experience a life expectancy 12 years shorter than those living in more supportive communities.
A clinical psychologist from Lahore working with sexual and gender minorities said,
“The problem of juvenile delinquents targeting women and sexual minorities for disorganised expression of aggression is very serious in Pakistan. The discriminating, stigmatising and violent attitude of society towards LGBT is symptomatic of a community struggling with serious mental health issues. At no level in Pakistan, be that government, civil, social or academic, would you see an initiative teaching people to respect others.”
We can no longer continue to dismiss bullying of our LGBT community as a harmless, almost inevitable, or acceptable part of our cultural beliefs. We need to change this mind-set, acknowledge this as a serious problem for both the individual and the country as a whole, and be more accepting of diversity. Schools should take every effort to reduce and prevent bullying of any kind. Introducing anti-bullying programs in public and private schools to promote empathy and respect for those who don’t fit in is a good option.
The media can also play a crucial role in promoting equality and respect for all by no longer depicting the LGBT community in a negative light. We also need tools to help health professionals identify, monitor, and deal with the ill-effects of bullying. The challenge we face now is committing the time and resources to these interventions to try and to put an end to bullying and harassment of sexual minorities. Pakistanis should no longer live in fear of other Pakistanis.
*Names have been changed to protect their identity.
The views expressed by the writer and the reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of The Express Tribune.