To Pakistani media: Stop spouting homophobic hatred

Published: May 30, 2011
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The News report "Homosexuality, emerging threat to health, norms in Pakistan" reeks of bigotry, colossal ignorance.

Right from the outset, I want to state in no uncertain terms that homophobia infuriates me to no end. Whether or not one agrees, it is a natural proclivity and/or a conscious choice, the state has no business regulating sexual expression and practice between consenting adults. There are far more pressing matters for the government to spend its budget on than policing what people do in private.

Having said that, I understand that lawmakers in Pakistan will not remedy homophobic laws because the majority of the citizens would oppose such a move. I’m not naïve enough to believe we’ll follow suit on the precedent set by Delhi last year when it de-criminalised sodomy by reversing bigoted laws set by the British colonials. Not any time soon at least.

But what excuse does the so-called independent and free English media have for spouting such hatred?

The problem is not that there are people who are anti-homosexuality; there is enough literature to enrich such a debate, theocratic or otherwise. I can even concede, hesitantly, that it is entirely rational to be opposed to homosexuality if one follows Islam strictly. Literal interpretations of the scripture would demand such a blanket disagreement with acceptance of homosexuality.

The problem is when journalists and medical doctors get their facts blatantly wrong, twist conclusions, conflate several issues and misrepresent a correlation completely. In a country where personal freedoms are easily violated, especially if the suspect is poor and voiceless, this is downright criminal.

The piece I’m referring to appeared in The News recently and quoted a certain Dr Abrar Umar. Right from the first line, it is reeks with bigotry:

“Homosexuality is fast spreading in the country putting health and social norms at stake and if the issue is not duly addressed, the situation may lead to the epidemic of AIDS. In an ethnographic study of men who have sex with men (MSM) in twin cities, a public health professional working on prevention of AIDS and Assistant Professor of Community Medicine in Islamabad Medical College Dr Abrar Umar alarmed that homosexuality, if not duly addressed may lead to the epidemic of AIDS.”

Let me spell it out for you: homosexuality does not lead to AIDS.

Having unprotected sex increases the risk to sexual infections as serious as AIDS. This is a perfect example of when correlation does not mean causation. It is a well-documented fact all over the world that by itself, the act of two men having sex does not increase the risk of becoming HIV positive. Having sex without adequate protection, however, will lead to an increase risk of contracting diseases whether you have sex with a man or a woman.

Betraying colossal ignorance of basic facts about human biology, the writer states:

“Like other parts of the country, the homosexuals are multiplying in twin cities of Islamabad and Rawalpindi.”

Newsflash: it is physically impossible for gay men to multiply as they cannot get pregnant or give birth.

Heterosexual reproduction is what one means by multiplying. If the writer is upset about the alarming rate of population growth, I’m with him. Lord knows we need fewer bigots around us.

Although the numbers are disputed, several studies suggest that approximately five per cent of the population in any place is gay. Evidence of that is reproducible with a simple Google search. A study done at the UCLA just last month indicates that an estimated 3.5 per cent of adults in the United States identify as lesbian, gay, or bisexual. Moreover, an estimated 8.2 per cent report that they have engaged in same-sex sexual behaviour and nearly 11 per cent acknowledge at least some same-sex sexual attraction.

This means that at the very least, one person out of every twenty people you know is likely to be a gay dude or a lesbian and you can do nothing to change that.

While condemnation of, and discrimination towards gay people is fairly recent in history, there is plenty of recorded evidence of acknowledgement, acceptance and even appreciation of homosexual behaviour in every civilization in history – each and every society, be it the Ottomans or the Romans.  It is by no means a new “phenomenon” that requires immediate redress and recourse.

If it is still not obvious, let me clarify by saying gay people exist under every religion, regime, reign and renaissance. I apologise for sounding like I’m talking to a four-year-old but the article in The News beseeches such condescension.

I can try and ignore the horrendously biased language used in the piece:

“For example: In Islamabad, many fashion and production houses are “stormed” with gays and homos in closet.” (Emphasis is my own)

But what gets me foaming at the mouth in anger, is when it casually discloses popular locations where gay people allegedly meet and socialise.

Do we really need to endanger people who are already deeply marginalised and forced to be closeted because of the potential shame and brutal violence they can face on the streets?

It is because of this moral and social policing those gay men cannot be open about their activities. And if you haven’t made the connection already, it is because of this forced seclusion they do not have access to adequate protection and are at a much higher risk of getting infected. If safe sex could be appropriately discussed and addressed, many of these diseases could be tackled in the professional and ethical manner they deserve to be treated with.

“Rape, theft, drug trafficking and blackmailing are also associated with the phenomenon.”

Just like they are connected with most marginalized groups. And I repeat, it is not a “phenomenon!”

Did all editors at The News just blindly approve this? Who fact-checked this piece?

More conflation of different terms follows in the piece:

“To a query, Dr Abrar said that about 80 per cent of Haijras (eunuchs) are basically gays who have turned into Haijra identity for better acceptance in the society.”

While it is true that some men resort to cross-dressing and queer gender performance to escape social exclusion and physical violence, hijras and khwaja-siras have somewhat, more social acceptance in Pakistan while having zero economic acceptance. This is not the case for many gay people who either don’t want to or can’t just adorn various identities. This also profoundly confuses the umbrella term of ‘trans’ which includes far more gender and sexual variation than just castrated men. In short, anyone who doesn’t identify with the gender or sex (two very different terms meaning two very different things) they were born with is ‘trans.’ And ‘trans’ is an adjective just like beautiful is. Not a noun like man or woman. But I digress.

Just when I’m about to give up completely, there is some acknowledgment of the actual issues.

“Poverty, broken families, uneducated parents, absence of sex education and drug addiction drag the children to unprotected environment outside the family.

He, however, added that to have a better analysis of MSM we have to be very specific about their gay and other identities. There is a marked behavioural difference between the two. All the gay subjects in the study except one who is considered fake gay by the others have strong perception that they are gays by birth.

Dr Abrar said that the study reveals that most of the MSM are blackmailed and threatened by the police. Due to insecurity, many MSM enter the transgender while some of them get castrated. The gay segment of MSM faces a lot of pressure from family and the gays who marry are victims of marital disharmony thus problems are replicated.

He added that general rejection by the society and insulting behaviour of the general people put MSM into isolation. Due to homosexuality being a taboo in society and stigma associated with it, MSM are reluctant to go to physician and tell the right history of the ailment. Eventually they cannot get right and in-time treatment, he said and added that most of the MSM are living at high risk of having sexually transmitted diseases especially AIDS. Preventive measures are generally not being practiced by them in spite of awareness among them, said Dr Abrar.”

Yes! Finally! Issues and problems we really need to talk about!

This piece had the potential to discuss serious concerns faced by the gay community in an objective way. Except, it flushed all hope down the toilet with its undisguised homophobia, deliberate dishonesty in how the facts were presented and a total disregard for privacy concerns of its subject. It turned out to be nothing more than a space for violent condemnation of gay men with unwarranted paranoia and supreme hypocrisy.

Well done Dr Abrar Umar and The News for allowing and supporting such bigotry in the most unethical way possible.

This post was originally published here.

Rabayl

Rabayl

The author wishes to remain anonymous

The views expressed by the writer and the reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of The Express Tribune.