For the first time ever, activists in Pakistan came together to publicly commemorate the International Day Against Homophobia and Transphobia this year. Actions around May 17 took place in five cities in the country (Lahore, Karachi, Rawalpindi, Larkana and Hyderabad). The recent murder of six gay men in the country served as a harsh backdrop for community mobilisations this year.
Actions were co-ordinated by Naz Male Health Alliance (NMHA), and held at its six local service centres in the five different cities. According to NMHA, over 400 LGBTI people and allies participated in community actions this year across the country. The events offered an opportunity to discuss the human rights situation for LGBTI people in Pakistan and to evaluate the legal challenges they face, in a country where any sexual acts outside of marriage are illegal, and same sex relationships are criminalised.
During the events, NMHA facilitated discussions around human rights violations, community empowerment, strengthening inter-community support and the legal challenges faced by LGBTI community in the Islamic Republic. Awareness around different homophobic and transphobic scenarios in Pakistani society was emphasized through reenactments.
Local activists report that in Lahore, one such reenactment about discrimination faced by a trans woman at the hands of her boyfriend was so heart wrenching that most in attendance were moved to tears. In addition to that, community members shared their personal experiences and stories of personal motivation, courage and strength.
A small memorial for the six gay murder victims from Lahore was also organized at each location and provided the LGBTI community members an opportunity to mourn the tragic loss of some of their own.
The legal system in Pakistan is a conglomeration of Sharia and colonial laws, entailing not only the outlawing of sexual acts outside of marriage, but considerable stigma and discrimination from society. Local activists report that, for many, invisibility, social isolation, violence, harassment and stigma are daily realities.
In Lahore, there was also a trans specific event where community members of the Khawaja Sira (transgender) gathered around a stage performance showing the effects of transphobia on society but also the victories in the struggles for transgender rights. In Pakistan, despite official recognition of people who identify as third gender, the Khawaja Sira community face significant social stigma.
NMHA’s initiative to observe IDAHOT in Pakistan was widely appreciated by LGBTI community members and hailed as a significant step in the direction of community empowerment and mobilization. The active participation of local communities at all the six NMHA service delivery centers ensured that these events were a remarkable success, and landmark Day for LGBTI community empowerment in the country.