We’re here, we’re queer, deal with it!

Published: July 1, 2011

I condemn the words of Zamir Akram and stand as a proof that there are many in Pakistan who dream of an egalitarian and gay-friendly nation here.

In 2003, Brazil brought the case for homosexual rights on the United Nations table, only to be derailed at the last minute by Muslim and African countries. Instead, amendments were introduced and approved for the removal of any reference to discrimination based on sexual orientation.

My country, Pakistan, was the captain of Team Homophobe. It distributed a memo to the member states declaring that the approval of the recommendation would be:

“A direct insult to 1.2 billion Muslims around the world.”

This year, thanks to three abstentions, China being absent, Libya’s suspension and the efforts of South Africa to table the resolution again, it was approved. This is the first time UN has officially condemned homophobia and commissioned a study into the plight of the Lesbian Gay Bisexual Transgender (LGBT) community, so that they may be reviewed and discussed later on in Geneva.

But then what?

How long will China be absent?

How long will Libya remain suspended?

Ironically the states which sat there, disapprovingly eyeing the resolution, are the ones with the worst human rights violations – be it freedom of expression, religious minority rights or any other democratic principle for the essential working of a modern and open society.

Who are they to vote on “fundamental” human rights when their own record reeks with violations?

Frankly, it seems like a joke to allow these countries to cast a vote on human rights.

I am here to inform the world and Zamir Akram, Pakistan’s envoy to UN, that homosexuals do exist in Pakistan and that we demand our right to love people of our own gender or even change our gender when we feel necessary to do so.

It is our body – the state and the ordinary mullah on the street, must keep out of our beds.

We, the Pakistani queer people and our straight alliances, disapprove of the statement by Mr Akram that the resolution has nothing whatsoever to do with the “fundamental human rights.”

Quite the contrary, LGBT rights are as much of incontrovertible human rights as the rights of women and a religious minority. It’s only the rampant homophobia of the aggressively hetrosexist society which has come to believe and make us believe otherwise. It is the fundamental right of a homosexual, bisexual or tansgender man (or a woman) to love, to marry, to form a family, and to work without discrimination in a workplace of his choice and be unapologetic.

It might seem like an elite concern to heterosexuals but this is a basic right for those demanding the right to love.

As a Pakistani, I condemn the words of Zamir Akram and stand as a proof that there are many in Pakistan who dream of an egalitarian and gay-friendly nation here.

Some rights are “fundamental” and need to be defended against the face of notoriety and odds. Queer rights are one of them. Full stop. Nothing to be apologetic about it.

This time we got lucky. But, what of the future? There is no way Muslim and African countries are giving in to approve LGBT rights. They must be pushed to do it, by the international community, just as we would want to push them towards greater application of women’s rights and freedom of expression (or any other human right for that matter).


Nuwas Manto

A Pakistan based LGBT youth activist and the founder of Pakistan Queer Movement, the aim of which is to seek respect,equality and freedoms for LGBT community in Pakistan.

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

  • http://tightdhoti.wordpress.com TightDhoti

    “A direct insult to 1.2 billion Muslims around the world.”

    The only insult to Muslims around the world was using them as a bargaining chip to make sure that undeniable rights are witheld from individuals.

    This ugly homophobia shows that conservative America and conservative Pakistan have alteast one thing in common. Recommend

  • http://kmlgl.wordpress.com/ Komal

    It is articles like this that make me feel conflicted about the idea of ‘queer’ activism in Pakistan. Although I applaud Mr. Manto for asserting his rights and those of the rest of us, and I fully believe that it is time for LGB rights in Pakistan, there are still problematic aspects of the idea of ‘queer’, and the activism that often comes with it.

    In the West where the ‘queer’ movement has already taken sway and established itself in various cultures (e.g. here in Canada), there are major points of conflict between feminists and queer activists, for a number of very good reasons. I side with the feminists in those conflicts, despite being a lesbian and a supporter of the rights of LGB people in Pakistan (and elsewhere). I’m afraid if a ‘queer’ movement starts in Pakistan, I cannot give it my wholehearted support. I am not a ‘queer’, but a feminist and a lesbian. However, if there is pro-LGB feminist activism in Pakistan (especially if it is radical feminist), I would be happy to support that.

    I will leave with an example: “… or even change our gender when we feel necessary to do so.”

    HUGE can of worms you just opened there. Sex/gender distinction, the problematic nature of gender roles from a feminist perspective, etc., etc. I could go on but this isn’t the place, and I don’t feel like starting my day with a Feminism 101 lesson!Recommend

  • hasan ali

    What a nice article ! Hope we can one day all live as equals in Pakistan without the fear of violence. Recommend

  • Jack Fertig

    Thank you so much for this article, although I do disagree with the final statment:

    “There is no way Muslim and African countries are giving in to approve LGBT rights. They must be pushed to do it, by the international community…”

    There is certainly a role for the international community to say that oppression of GLBT people is not acceptable, but real acceptance of our rights only come when enough of us are out to our friends, colleagues, and families so they understand that GLBT people are among their friends, colleagues, and families; and part of the natural spectrum of a diverse humanity International conversations can open that up, but the substance of liberation in Pakistan has to be the work of GLBT Pakistanis taking the risks, coming out, and making it easier for more to do the same.

    I can only hope that in doing so they will build a queer community that is in many ways consistent with local cultures and not aping the crude commercialized sexuality of America, a lens through which we too often see the gay community. Recommend

  • Nuwas Manto

    @Jack Fertig:
    I do agree with you and let me clarify that was CERTAINLY not what the message was. What I said is that although it would be the work GLBT people in Pakistan to bring about change, let international community rescue those whose lives are in danger. Recently US embassy fiasco was created by how US bluntly stated it would support Gay rights in Pakistan. If that is the case I want to know how many fleeing homosexuals have been given asylums in US and how many underground small groups are funded by US administration? THAT is where the real work is. I am sorry if the message was conveyed in wrong tone but that was certainly not what i meant.Recommend

  • Baqar

    What a shame…it not the question of equality instead its a question of changing cultural norms. Things that have remained in the closet should remain there. LGBT rights in Pakistan!! next there will be a resolution to legalize prostitution and later who knows there might be rally to allow gay marriages in pakistan.

    Its a non issue at this point in time…LGBT rights and issue of this sort are the sport of nation that doesnt have economic problems. First solve the issue of education, health and poverty before thinking of going over to LGBT rightsRecommend

  • Kabir

    Islam considers homosexuality to be immoral and to be a sin. The mainstream idea is “love the sinner, hate the sin”.

    We are not going to have any success in Pakistan if we are seen as being “anti-Islam”. On the other hand, there can be no LGBT rights in Pakistan until and unless the country becomes secular. Religion has its place and Orthodox Muslims are free to disapprove of homosexuality and to live according to their religion. However, that shouldn’t stop LBGT citizens of Pakistan from being protected by the state–one of the major duties of any state is to protect its citizens. Recommend

  • anon

    Radical Feminism? Lol, you have a lot in common with fundamentalist Christians. As a lesbian and womanist, there are some aspect in this article that I feel conflicted about, but it has nothing to do with transgendered folks as you’re implying! it’s LGBT not LGB! You have a problem with the term “queer”? That’s how I identify. Do you want to jump on the bandwagon and oppress me as well, just as others are doing to you?!Recommend