- Ian Mungall
For the first time in Pakistan, the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) community members and their allies publicly commemorated the International Day against Homophobia and Transphobia (IDAHOT), 17 May 2014.
A range of activities were organized by Naz Male Health Alliance (NMHA) in five major cities across Pakistan (Lahore, Karachi, Rawalpindi, Larkana and Hyderabad) to strengthen local LGBT community groups, engage in advocacy on human rights issues and advance their work on HIV prevention, care and support services for men who have sex with men (MSM), hijra and transgender people.
The social, cultural and legal environment for LGBT people in Pakistan is one of the most restrictive in the region. Under Pakistani law, which is based on the legal system of British India and in combination with Sharia Islamic law, same sex relationships and sexual acts are criminalized with punishment ranging from fines, imprisonment up to 10 years to death by stoning. Stigma and discrimination in society drives the LGBT community to hide their sexual orientation and gender identity, and acts as a barrier to access to health care, particularly for the key HIV-affected populations of MSM and transgender people.
In this restrictive environment, NMHA has been a pioneer in empowering the LGBT community, advancing LGBT human rights, addressing the HIV epidemic and promoting sexual health of key populations in Pakistan. Their work is supported through the Multi-Country South Asia Global Fund HIV Programme*, a regional grant aimed at reducing the impact of HIV on MSM and transgender people funded by the Global Fund to fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria.
On the occasion of IDAHOT, some 420 LGBT activists and allies took part in the activities, which included participatory discussions, speeches and powerful theatrical re-enactments of lived experiences. Discussions concentrated on human rights violations, community empowerment, strengthening inter-community support and challenges faced by the LGBT community with regards to the legal environment in Pakistan. Community members gave personal accounts of stigma and discrimination encountered, of personal motivation and courage and strength.
Awareness around different homophobic and transphobic scenarios in Pakistani society was emphasized through re-enactment performances. In Lahore, IDAHOT participants acted out a scene of discrimination experienced by a transgender woman at the hands of her boyfriend. According to observers the performance was so emotional it moved most in attendance to tears.
“We are proud to have been able to organize these landmark activities in Pakistan on the occasion of the International Day against Homophobia and Transphobia,” said Qasim Iqbal, Executive Director, NMHA. “It is a significant step towards reducing stigma and discrimination in Pakistani society and much needed strengthening of community-based organizations working on LGBT human rights and health issues.”