Saturday, March 30, 2013

Madhu Lal Shah Husain Urs: LGBT Celebration in Pakistan?

"The nights are long without my beloved".
Shah Husain
Devotees of  the sixteenth century Muslim Sufi Saint Shah Husain believe he was in love with Madhu Lal, a Hindu Brahmin man. The two men, whose attraction to each other may well have been platonic,  are buried next to each other in a famous Lahore shrine where there is an annual three-day celebration by hundreds of thousands of followers of the famous mystic.

Called Mela Chiraghan  or the Festival of Lights, the three-day celebration of Madhu Lal Hussain started today in Baghbanpura Lahore. The event's name comes from a large fire, alao, at the shrine where people throw candles, oils and terra-cotta lamps (chiragh) after making wishes,  according to a report in The Express Tribune. The fire remains lit for the entire duration of  the urs.

Reporting on the same-sex relationship of Madu Lal and Shah Husain, NPR's The World quoted Pakistani-American Professor Taymiya R. Zaman of  University of San Francisco as saying: " You can't  look at something that already existed and there is a shrine devoted to it and say it was unacceptable ".

Drag Queen Ali Saleem (aka Begum Nawazish Ali)

Anyone who's spent time in Pakistan knows that lesbians, gays, bisexuals and transgenders (LGBT) exist in the country, though this fact is not openly acknowledged or discussed for fear of backlash from conservatives. This has begun to change, however, with recent Supreme Court decisions acknowledging the rights of transgender community as equal citizens under Pakistan's constitution.  The nation's highest court has ordered the Election Commission of Pakistan to ensure that transgenders are registered as voters and be allowed to contest for parliament in the upcoming elections.

Other than transgenders who are in the open, there are groups of gays and lesbians who meet secretly, according to the New York Times. There are anti-LGBT colonial era laws on the books, but such laws are not enforced. In fact, there is no active state-sponsored witch-hunt of such groups in Pakistan. Their situation is more akin to the US military's "don't ask, don't tell" policy which began in the Clinton Administration and remained in force until recently.

Pakistan is in the midst of big social changes internally. But, as the New York Times reported recently, anny attempt by outsiders to influence it invites a severe backlash. Here's an excerpt of the New York Times story:

That clash of ideologies was evident last year on June 26, when the American Embassy in Islamabad held its first lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender pride celebration. The display of support for gay rights prompted a backlash, setting off demonstrations in Karachi and Lahore, and protesters clashing with the police outside the diplomatic enclave in Islamabad. This year, the embassy said, it held a similar event but did not issue a news release about it. 

“It is the policy of the United States government to support and promote equal rights for all human beings,” an embassy spokeswoman, Rian Harris, said by e-mail when asked about the backlash. “We are committed to standing up for these values around the world, including here in Pakistan.” 

Well intended as it may have been, the event was seen by many in Pakistan’s gay community as detrimental to their cause. The 33-year-old activist strongly believes it was a mistake. 

“The damage that the U.S. pride event has done is colossal,” she said, “just in terms of creating an atmosphere of fear that was not there before. The public eye is not what we need right now.”
Despite the hostile climate, both the support group and O continue their work. O is currently researching violence against lesbian, bisexual and transgender Pakistanis. 

“In a way, we are just role models for each other,” the 30-year-old said. When she was growing up, she said, she did not know anyone who was gay and she could not imagine such a life. 

“For me the whole activism is to create that space in which we can imagine a future for ourselves, and not even imagine but live that future,” she said. “And we are living it. I’m living my own impossibility.”

Here's a trailer of "Zunn", a film on Pakistan's gay and transgender community:

Zunn: Showgirls of Pakistan | Official Trailer from ZUNN on Vimeo.

Related Links:

Haq's Musings

Social Change in Pakistan

Turkish Soaps and Schools in Pakistan

Silent Social Revolution in Pakistan

The Eclipse of Feudalism in Pakistan

Social and Structural Transformations in Pakistan

Malala Moment: Profiles in Courage-Not!

Urbanization in Pakistan Highest in South Asia

Rising Economic Mobility in Pakistan

Upwardly Mobile Pakistan


Hopewins said...

^^RH: "...the American Embassy in Islamabad held its first lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender pride celebration. The display of support for gay rights prompted a backlash, setting off demonstrations in Karachi and Lahore, and protesters clashing with the police outside the diplomatic enclave in Islamabad....
...“It is the policy of the United States government to support and promote equal rights for all human beings,” an embassy spokeswoman, Rian Harris, said by e-mail when asked about the backlash. “We are committed to standing up for these values around the world, including here in Pakistan.”

Rian Harris should then be asked to explain why homosexual-marriage does not have the SAME legal status as heterosexual-marriage all over America.

Is that not a violation of "equal rights for all human beings"?

Shouldn't Americans FIRST "support and promote" this right to equality and "uphold these values" in their OWN country before lecturing Pakistan?

Anonymous said...

@hopewins Junior, I suppose the USA and western countries dont have the rich cultural traditions to overcome these kinds of societal contradictions. (I may be wrong here and subject myself to such ignorance being exposed)

In Hinduism we treat these as exceptions rather than the norm. Our gods represent certain subtle concepts and are considered as a life forces rather than life forms, allowing each person to select a force that he is comfortable with. For eg a person who sees divinity in children can connect with the "Little Krishna". A person who sees divinity in death can connect with Shiva the destructive force. But at the same time people who connect with shiva are taught to understand that they can only destroy evil and this is emphasised by a lot of stories, songs, hymns, etc. That is why Hinduism has a lot of gods and godesses leaving it to the individual to continue creating new gods and goddesses.

I am facinated by the general concepts of sufism and would like any readers here to comment how transexuals are treated in sufism.

Hopewins said...

^^RH: "@hopewins Junior, I suppose the USA and western countries dont have the rich cultural traditions to overcome these kinds of societal contradictions"

This is not the issue at all.

The question was about the double-standard of why the US Embassy is promoting something in Pakistan when the same thing is being fought tooth-and-nail in America itself? Here is the problem with America:

The people who are being posted to embassies and consulates are largely the "liberals" & "intellectuals" of American society. If it were up to them homosexual and heterosexual marriages would indeed be legally treated exactly the same. But they do NOT represent the totality of American society. The US has a huge mass of conservative, religious and illiberal people who are opposed to this LGBT liberalism. Given the nature of democracy, it is not easy for them to impose their "progressive" views on other Americans. Hence the road to "equality for homosexual marriages" has proven long & winding.

The point I was making is that Pakistan is also like the US. It also has it liberal elite and a religious conservative mass. The embassy people may hob-nob with the elite, liberal Pakistanis and both of them may celebrate "LGBT rights in Pakistan", but the fact remains that in BOTH countries there is a large CONSERVATIVE, RELIGIOUS section of society that opposes all these ideas.

So my point was that BEFORE the American Embassy liberals criticise Pakistani society for its conservativeness they should LOOK at their own society and deal with their OWN conserativeness.

SUMMARY: Pakistani society should be reformed by Pakistanis. Americans should focus on reforming their own society and not poke their noses into other societies. That is all I meant.

Riaz Haq said...

Here's a story about the candidacy of a transgender in the upcoming elections:

For the first time transgender people will be able to run for office in Pakistan’s general elections with their gender identity recognised, and, so far, two trans women have applied to stand for positions in their local constituencies.

The 11 May elections will be the first in which transgender people are able to vote and run for office with their gender identity officially recognised, following a 2011 ruling by the country’s Supreme Court that Pakistani people who do not consider themselves to be either male or female should be allowed to choose an alternative sex when they apply for their national identity cards.

Sanam Fakir, a 32-year-old trans woman from Sukkur, announced in February that she wanted to run, and would campaign for equality for members of the trans community.

“It is not our destiny to merely dance for others and hold begging bowls. We have a life to live,” said Ms Fakir.

It has now emerged that she will be joined in the elections by fellow trans woman Bindiya Rana, the founder of trans rights lobby group Gender Interactive Alliance, who is standing for a seat in Karachi

“In the last five years, we have only seen politicians fighting, criticising each other and making false promises. But I promise today, that transgenders from all across Pakistan will participate in the up-coming elections and bring a change,” she said.

Ms Rana said she was moved to take up politics because of her experiences following the death of a trans woman in her community.

“In 2004, a member of our community died and our elders arranged for her body to be sent to her hometown in Punjab which I accompanied. I was shocked at the callous behaviour of the authorities including those at the airport and the police who made fun of my friend and me and asked me how she died and doing what,” she said.

Before the incident she said she “never really cared about the politics in the country. But now I feel the time has come for us common people to also stand up and contest the elections to break this mafia of land owners, businessmen and professional politicians.”

Riaz Haq said...

Here's a Daily Times story of a gay couple in Pakistan:

ISLAMABAD: Qasim and his partner Ali are in love and live together. They talk about going abroad to marry, but the only weddings they attend in Pakistan are arranged unions between their gay friends and unsuspecting women.

Despite that, “it’s actually easier being gay in Pakistan than in the US,” says Qasim, 41, dragging on a cigarette in a smart coffee shop, as he explains how to live under the radar in one of the world’s most conservative countries. “We can hold hands,” says Qasim, reaching for Ali under the table. “We can sit casually like this. Nobody gives it a second thought in Pakistan.” Qasim says he is never insulted in the street, or called names – something that happened when he lived in the United States.

In tribal societies in Pakistan’s northwestern border areas with Afghanistan and in Balochistan on the Iranian border, there is an ancient custom of tolerated, albeit secret sexual relationships between men and young boys. In a society where women are kept to the sidelines and pre-marital sex is a taboo, there are no concerns when it comes to men holding hands or hugging in the street with what is viewed as platonic affection.

Born in Pakistan, Qasim migrated to the United States with his parents when he was three years old. The family owned clothing factories and enjoyed an affluent life with a swimming pool in the garden. They could afford a university education – degrees in fashion and computing, then finally an MBA. Qasim was working for Microsoft when he was diagnosed with HIV in his mid-20s. Under the law at the time, naturalised US citizens had to give up their citizenship if they were HIV positive.

After a fruitless battle in the courts, he renounced his US citizenship and flew back to Pakistan, a country that he barely knew, where homosexuality is illegal. “When I came here it was a culture shock. I wasn’t comfortable. I ran off to Dubai for three or four months, but I couldn’t find a job. Then I moved to Sydney for six months but couldn’t find a job, but now I’m happy here,” he said.

Qasim set up a charity for gay men and transgenders. Under the radar, with no public profile, it is supported by the government. It provides medical care and runs drop-in centres, where young men can relax, listen to music and watch TV. “I get respect. I feel appreciated for the work I’m doing. Hopefully I’m changing people’s lives and making a difference,” he said. Qasim and his boyfriend Ali, 26, live in a flat in a leafy, well-to-do neighbourhood of Lahore, arguably the most liberal city in Pakistan, steeped in the history of the Mughal empire and the British Raj...

Riaz Haq said...

Here's a report on Taan, Pakistani version of Glee:

Gay romance, Islamic extremism and a soundtrack of classic love songs make for Pakistan's taboo-breaking answer to the hugely successful US television series Glee.
Like its smash hit forerunner, Taan follows the lives and loves of a group of young people who regularly burst into song. But this time they attend a music academy in Lahore, instead of an American high school.
Taan - which is a musical note in Urdu - tackles subjects considered off limits in Pakistan's deeply conservative Muslim society, with plotlines including love affairs between two men and between a Taliban extremist and a beautiful Christian girl.

The plan is for the 26-episode series to air in September or October, and while producer Nabeel Sarwar insisted the program was not a "political pulpit", he is determined to take on the tough issues.

"Nobody wants to have controversy for the sake of controversy, nobody wants to have an assignment to violence, nobody wants to push a button that would result in a disaster for anyone," he said.
"But the truth has to come out somewhere. Where are we going to put a line in the sand and say, 'Look, this is what we are'?"
Taking a public stand to defend liberal values like this is rare in Pakistan, where forces of religious conservatism have risen steadily in recent years.
Risque scenes in foreign films are routinely cut by the authorities and the team behind Taan are acutely aware that they must tread carefully with their challenging material.
In one scene the two gay lovers dance and sing in a small room but never embrace - their relationship is suggested rather than overtly shown. The moment is interrupted when a radical Islamist character bursts in.
Director Samar Raza said representing the lives of gay characters was difficult in a country where homosexuality is still illegal.
"Let's say in a certain scene, there are two boys talking to each other, they are not allowed to show their physical attachment to each other," he said.
"So I bring a third character who says: 'God designed Adam and Eve, not Adam and Steve'."
It is not only the sensibilities of the censors the producers must navigate.
While 70 per cent of Pakistan's population is under 35, a huge and potentially lucrative audience for advertisers, it is the head of the household who decides what families watch on TV, explains Sarwar.
"The head of the household during the day is the matriarch and the head of the household at night is the patriarch - they control access to TV," he said.
"You have to find programming that allows the matriarch and the patriarch to join in and participate, but there has to be room for the younger audience."
In a bid to appeal to older viewers the makers of Taan have licensed around 100 classic Pakistani songs, some by legendary artists such as Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan, and have reworked them to suit modern tastes, as Glee does.
"We try to find music that resonates with the older generation which control the access to the TV but we contemporise that music so that the younger audience does not feel left out," Sarwar said.
The show hopes that by taking on difficult issues in a light-hearted way it will both reflect the changing nature of Pakistani society and attract a young audience currently hooked on imported Turkish soap operas.
Local dramas struggle to compete with the likes of Manahil and Khalil and Ishq-e-Mamnu (Forbidden Love) - Turkish serials starring Westernised characters with fair skin and dubbed into Urdu.
Turkish soaps are widely watched across the Muslim world, but the popularity of Ishq-e-Mamnu has prompted a lively debate about the "Turkish invasion" of the small screen in Pakistan, with local production companies complaining that they do not have the resources to rival them....

Read more:

Riaz Haq said...

Here's a BBC report about gay sex in Karachi:

Pakistan is not the kind of place that most people would associate with gay liberation. But some say the country is a great place to be gay - even describing the port city of Karachi as "a gay man's paradise".

Underground parties, group sex at shrines and "marriages of convenience" to members of the opposite sex are just some of the surprises that gay Pakistan has to offer. Under its veneer of strict social conformity, the country is bustling with same-sex activity.

Danyaal, as he's asked to be known, is a 50-something businessman who lives in an affluent part of Karachi, and uses his smartphone to organise Karachi's gay party scene.

"One of the first things I did online, maybe 12 years ago, was type in G - A - Y and hit search. Back then I found a group and made contact with 12 people in this city," he says.

Continue reading the main story

Start Quote

After getting married, gay men will treat their wives well but they will continue to have sex with other men”

Qasim Iqbal
"These days there are smartphone apps that use GPS to tell you how close you are to another gay person with an online profile. There are thousands of gay men online in Pakistan at any one time."

The party scene is big - so big, he jokes, that he rarely gets time to himself.

"If you want sex too, it's a gay man's paradise. If you want a relationship, that may be more difficult."

These invitation-only parties are a rare opportunity for gay men to be open about their sexuality.

Pakistani society is fiercely patriarchal. Pakistanis are expected to marry a member of the opposite sex, and the vast majority do.

The result is a culture of dishonesty and double lives, says researcher Qasim Iqbal.

"Gay men will make every effort to stop any investment in a same-sex relationship because they know that one day they will have to get married to a woman," he says.

"After getting married they will treat their wives well but they will continue to have sex with other men."

Sex between men occurs in some very public places - including, surprisingly, Karachi's busiest shrine.

Families go to the Abdullah Shah-Ghazi shrine to honour the holy man buried there and to ask for God's blessings, but it is also Karachi's biggest cruising ground.
Just occasionally, though, Pakistani parents do reconcile themselves to children entering a long-term gay relationship.

Akbar and Ali are one such couple who have made things work, against the odds.

"Ali's family was run by a matriarch," recalls Akbar.

"His grandmother was the head of the house so I knew that winning her over would mean everything else would fall into place. I took the time to talk to her and convince her that I was a good person. That was first and foremost. It wasn't about 'coming out' in a formal sense. It's more important to convince Ali's family that I'm a good human being.

"She once gave me a hand-embroidered decorative cloth that she had made as a teenager. She said she was giving it to me because she knew I 'take care of things'. It was a kind gesture and a very personal kind of acceptance."

Riaz Haq said...

Couple of stories by BBC on gay life in Pakistan:

Mobeen Azhar investigates life in gay, urban Pakistan. Despite Pakistan's religious conservatism and homosexuality being a crime, he finds a vibrant gay scene, all aided by social media. He meets gay people at underground parties, shrines and hotels and finds out what it's really like to be gay in Pakistan. As one man tells him, "The best thing about being gay in Pakistan is you can easily hook up with guys over here. You just need to know the right moves and with...
Ahmed Asif’s wife is supportive of her husbands work (pictured).

Ahmed has been a masseur for his entire working life. He claims to have slept with over 3000 men but perhaps even more surprisngly, he has 2 wives and 8 children. One of his wives Sumera wears a burka and the nikab, the full face covering. It could be assumed that she is religiously conservative. In fact she’s extremely accepting of her husband’s work and says she wishes more of society would keep an open mind. “I know he has sex. No problem. If he doesn’t work how will the kids eat?"

Riaz Haq said...

Here's a Dawn story on the moral brigade flexing its muscles in Pakistan:

Dawn has reliably learnt that the Pakistan Telecommunication Authority (PTA) has directed all telecom operators to discontinue all kinds of voice and SMS bundle packages, including daily, weekly, fortnightly and monthly packages by the 2nd of September and submit a comprehensive compliance report in this regard.

This ultimatum appears in the form of a letter, signed by Muhammad Talib Dogar, the Director General (Services) PTA, and refers to an earlier directive which classified these bundle packages as “contrary to moral values of society”, recommending that their use be discontinued.

The letter’s content and authenticity, a copy of which has been sent to the regulatory heads of all telecom operators, has been confirmed by Mobilink’s Director Communications, Omar Manzoor. “We are reviewing the notice and will respond within the stipulated timeline,” he said.

It is pertinent to mention here that there has been an ongoing debate in Parliament on this issue for some time now. However, this decision is likely to create ripples across the sector and provide further strain to an industry already overburdened with heavy taxation.

Mobile internet packages are likely to remain unaffected.

Riaz Haq said...

Here's an AFP report on blocking of a gay website in Pakistan:

Pakistan's Internet watchdog has blocked the deeply conservative Muslim country's first website aimed at gay people, saying it was "against Islam".

The site, set up to help members of Pakistan's homosexual and transgender community socialise and share experiences, was shut down on Wednesday.

A spokesman for the Pakistan Telecommunications Authority said they had halted access to the site after complaints from Internet users.

"We blocked the website under the law because its content was against Islam and norms of Pakistani society," said spokesman Kamran Ali.

Homosexuality is illegal in Pakistan.'s moderator, who asked not to be named, said he would not challenge the ban in the courts for fear of a "negative reaction".

"We wanted to provide a platform for people who are being abandoned by society because of their sexual likes," he told AFP.

"I was not hopeful about the future of the website, I was convinced that sooner or later it would be banned."

He said the site had a mix of members, with 44 percent identifying themselves as female and 56 as males.

A recent study by the Pew Research Center found that Pakistan was among the least tolerant of homosexuality among 39 countries surveyed.

In 2011 a gay pride celebration at the US embassy in Islamabad provoked angry reaction across the country.

But in tribal societies in Pakistan's northwestern border areas there is an ancient custom of tolerated, albeit secret, sexual relationships between men and young boys.

Riaz Haq said...

From Daily Beast:

Actor Assad Khan is part of a generation of young men breaking barriers for gays in conservative Pakistan, where homosexuality is punished by prison or worse.

Assad Khan knew he was different from a very young age. As a child at home he preferred playing with his two sisters rather than his two brothers. At school, too, he gravitated toward playing with girls. “In school I was more secure and happy playing with girls than with boys,” says the 23-year-old, boyishly handsome Khan. As a result of his behavior, he says, his family largely ignored him. “I got a terrible complex as my family favored, and gave more attention to, my brothers,” he recalls.

As he grew up in Islamabad, reached puberty and realized he was gay, he suffered even more. “Being a gay in a society like Pakistan is not easy,” Khan says. “For a long time, I was frightened of who I was, so I hid my gay status…I acted 24 hours a day.”

Even so, he was constantly teased and harassed for his appearance and mannerisms, even ostracized. His parents and cousins made fun of him. His parents were ashamed to introduce him as part of the family. “At the mosque during Friday prayers I was teased and stared at,” he recalls. “At school and in college other students shunned me and my small circle of friends.”

Now a successful actor and fashion designer, Khan has lived and worked in the conservative and bomb-terrorized northwestern city of Peshawar for the past three years. “I felt that society was telling me I was not one of them, that I was not a proper person,” he says. “But soon I realized that it’s not my fault that God made me gay. So as a young man I came to accept who I was and to be proud of myself.”

He has flourished ever since he made that realization—succeeding against all the odds in homophobic Pakistan, where the powerful Muslim clergy preaches that homosexuality is prohibited under Islam, and where sodomy is illegal under the civil code and punishable by a long jail term (though the harsh sentence is rarely handed down). In the Taliban-controlled territory of the northwestern tribal agencies, the penalty is worse: death by firing squad or stoning. Even the man on the street seems to have no time for gays. A Pew Research Center survey of 39 countries published in early June found that only two percent of Pakistanis believed that “society should accept homosexuality,” second only to Nigeria, which registered a rock-bottom one percent acceptance rating of gays. (By way of comparison, 80 percent of Canadians said they accepted gays.)

While the Pakistani government doesn’t target LGBT citizens, neither does it have much tolerance for the gay community or its issues....
Although it may be premature, Khan is trying to organize a gay rights movement capable of standing up to the Taliban, the politicians and aggressive Pakistani cops. As a result of his efforts, he has received anonymous, threatening phone calls and has escaped an attempt to kidnap him at a wedding reception not long ago. But he remains unshaken. “We have to defeat the concept of fear and terror,” he says. “Everyone should have the right to live as they please. No one has the right to dictate to us.” He adds: “I want to be a leading voice for gay rights and protection.”

But he quickly emphasizes that his push for gay rights stops short of campaigning for the legalization of gay marriage. “We don’t want to push for gay marriage, only for our human rights,” he says. Most other gays steer clear of any gay rights movement, fearing retaliation. “The Taliban and other extremists will target any gay rights movement,” says Shehzad. “It’s too dangerous to get involved.”

K said...

I must confess to have some reservations over the use of the term LGBT as it comes from a society too different than ours. We must have solutions that fit to our social, religious norms.

Riaz Haq said...

K: "I must confess to have some reservations over the use of the term LGBT as it comes from a society too different than ours. We must have solutions that fit to our social, religious norms."

Whether it’s openly acknowledged or not, the lesbians, gays, bisexuals and transgenders (LGBT) exist in every society. The western societies that openly acknowledge and accept LGBT today did not do so for most of their history, and the religious among them still want to harshly punish this behavior as deviant.

Kaal said...

Riaz, you make good points about the West. They have been able to accept homosexuality only to the extent they have abandoned Christianity, and have accepted Christianity as irrelevant to their personal lives and to administration and management of their societies. Even in India – where religious traditions have never so clearly been anti-gay behavior, RSS and BJP have taken stands against homosexuality.
Yet, the Muadhu Lal Shah Hussain case was/is quite unfortunate. It would not be accepted even by the most liberal LBGT community anywhere. It appears to have been (unless someone corrects us) entirely a case of pedophilia and should be regretted as such. One does not have to be a Muslim to know that this is not what any society should be celebrating – its prevalence notwithstanding.
Those who celebrate homosexuality, inter-religious unity, or whatever else, should be able to find other examples, free from the risk of tainting ‘religion’ with pedophilia.

Riaz Haq said...

Kaal: "the Muadhu Lal Shah Hussain case was/is quite unfortunate. It would not be accepted even by the most liberal LBGT community anywhere"

Pedophilia has been a fact of life along with LGBT through most of human history everywhere. It still is. Hardly a day goes by when we don’t hear of pedophile Catholic priests.

Pedophilia and homosexuality are also an open secret in Pakistan where mullahs, mostly Pashtun mullahs and tribal chiefs, regularly engage in sex with young boys. In Pakistan’s tribal areas and in Afghanistan it’s called “bachabaazi”.

Ras said...

On January 26th, longtime supporters and Friends of Trevor, Yawar Charlie and Jason Miller made history as one of the 33 couples to wed at the Grammy Awards!

Yawar told us about the unexpected Grammy opportunity, “At first, we weren’t allowed to tell anyone anything – including friends and families! The week before the event, we could finally tell everybody. We’re so blessed and honored to have been involved.”

The couple was ecstatic to be part of Macklemore’s iconic song, but the excitement really didn’t sink in until they realized that Madonna sang at their wedding.

“It felt like every single person was there to support us. They didn’t care what gender our partners were. They embraced us, and celebrated the love we all had found. Queen Latifah even signed our wedding licenses!”

Jason, from rural Pennsylvania, wore a tuxedo, and Yawar, from a strict Muslim family in the Middle East, wore a traditional Pakistani outfit. The couple soon began receiving congratulatory emails, tweets, and messages from people around the world who were touched by their cross-cultural wedding.

“I think Jason and I both feel that what our public wedding showed was, there is hope,” shared Yawar. The newlyweds continued with a message for Trevor’s youth, “No matter who you are, no matter what background you come from, no matter what your culture is – you deserve love. It can happen to you.”

The couple will celebrate their marriage with their family and friends, later this summer.

Riaz Haq said...

The arrest of a confessed serial killer who used the Internet to lure his victims has caused alarm among gay men and lesbians in Pakistan, where social media has been quietly used to widen freedoms in a country where homosexuality is illegal.

Police officials in the eastern city of Lahore said the man, a paramedic named Muhammad Ejaz, was under arrest on suspicion of killing three men he had met on Manjam, a social networking website for gay men that has thousands of members in Pakistan.

Investigators said Mr. Ejaz, 28, had made a full confession since being arrested in a police sting operation last week. He told officers that he had met the victims, including a retired army officer, at their homes, drugged them with sedatives hidden in food and strangled them.

News of the arrest caused Manjam to announce on Sunday that it was closing its website to nonmembers in Pakistan until further notice, citing security and privacy concerns.

In an interview Sunday night at the police station where he is being held, Mr. Ejaz confirmed that he had confessed to killing the three men and offered an explanation for his actions. “I tried to convince them to stop their dirty acts, but they would not,” he said. “So I decided to kill them.”

He is expected to face full charges in the coming days.

Speculation about the murders had been coursing through gay circles in Lahore since mid-March, when the first killing took place. “People are quite frightened,” said one gay man, speaking on the condition of anonymity because of the law against homosexuality. “They feel both violated and exposed.”
Police investigators said they traced Mr. Ejaz using his victims’ mobile phone records and, using a false identity, lured him last week to an apartment in Lahore where he was arrested.

In the interview, Mr. Ejaz said he started browsing social networking sites for gay men this year, after getting an Internet-capable mobile phone.

The first victim was the retired military officer, who was in his 50s and lived in an apartment in the city’s garrison area. The two later victims were an information technology worker in his 20s and a student at the Lahore University of Management Sciences, a private college.

Mr. Ejaz admitted the murders were “wrong,” but said he wanted to “give a message to these people and to society.”

Riaz Haq said...

Having already turned heads internationally with his award winning film Chuppan Chupai - a documentary about Pakistan's gay and transgender community - it is clear that director Saad Khan has an affinity for those on the outskirts of an increasingly conservative culture. And he's taking a look at another marginalized population with what appears to be a truly incisive and sympathetic eye in his upcoming effort Zunn: Showgirls of Pakistan.

Showgirls of Pakistan is a documentary feature on the lives of dancing girls in Punjab, Pakistan. It unveils a world of smut theater and strip-shows in small towns and villages through the eyes of the women that are profited from but are never heard. These showgirls are managed by a violent mafia, pimps, boyfriends and promoters who regularly export them to the UAE club scene.

Read more:

Riaz Haq said...

A new upcoming feature length documentary on Punjabi dancers, “Zunn: Showgirls of Pakistan” portrays how dancing girls in Punjab are managed and controlled by violent mobsters, corrupt pimps and boyfriends.
Saad Khan’s new documentary follows the story of three of these showgirls Reema, Afreen and Nadia who are controlled by the violent mafia and have to negotiate their positions within the industry.
Reema is a transwoman who is trying to retire, Afreen, a teenager who dreams of escaping Pakistan and Nadia is a mentally disabled dancer who lives with her promoter, Patrick D McDermott said in his review of the documentary.
The documentary also follows their offstage lives and how they are marginalised in a patriarchal society. Khan’s documentary also unveils the curtain on a concept which is frowned upon in society and in contrast these women are profited from and are exported to the UAE.
Khan’s earlier documentary- Chuppan Chupai- gained momentum internationally as it uncovered the closeted world of Pakistan’s gay and transgender community.
As the documentary goes into post-production, the documentary makers have asked for contributions on a crowd funded portal to take the film to a big screen.
“Your contribution helps finish off a year of filming. It will give voice to women who are otherwise ignored. We hope that eventually our film will inspire those in power to ensure that showgirls in Pakistan are protected by the law,” they state on their fund-raising page.
The preview of the new feature has been given the soundtrack of a Madam Noor Jahan’s classic song which was covered by a contemporary Pakistani-American band- The Kominas.

Riaz Haq said...

A transgender person is running for election in Pakistan’s Khyber-Pakhtunkwa province on Saturday, May 30. Pervaiz Baby, as she is known, is not Pakistan’s first transgender candidate, but candidates like her are rare. Transgender people were banned from voting in the country until a supreme court ruling in their favor made the franchise available to them.

Riaz Haq said...

When a #transgender was buried in an imambargah in #Pakistan #LGBTHM

Legendary Urdu poet Mirza Ghalib had once suggested in one of his verses that he would like to see a Brahmin buried in the Ka’aba.

I don’t know whether the Lund Baloch tribe of Mirpur Khas ever read Ghalib, but they partially fulfilled his wish by burying a Brahmin in their imambargah.

Even though the Brahmin in question had embraced Islam by then, some Muslims residing in the area had objected to the burial of a convert in the vicinity of the imambargah.

Let me recap that for you.

In Mirpur Khas’ Na’ai Parra (Barbers’ Colony) lived a young transgender named Sukh Dev, born into a Hindu-Brahmin family. He was six-feet tall with a broad forehead and big eyes, which shone with kindness. He was a compassionate person, and loved children.

Sukh Dev and his family members would regularly pray at the Hindu temple near their house. Less than a stone's throw away from the temple stood the Shrine of Aarib Shah Bukhari in an imambargah.

After the Partition, Sukh Dev migrated to India with his elder brother, but yearning for his birthplace, he soon returned to Mirpur Khas to take up residence in the Barbers’ Quarters.

Sukh Dev then converted to Islam and assumed an Islamic name, Abdullah. Being uncharacteristically beautiful, the local people gave him the nickname, Sohni. Gradually, the name evolved into Sohni Faqeer (Sohni, the beggar), as did references to his gender.

Childless women would often come to Sohni to get sacred wristbands and talismans. Many women would invite Sohni to marriage and circumcision ceremonies. Sohni Faqeer also named all the newborn babies in the area; and showered blessings upon everyone.

After her conversion, Sohni Faqeer, née Sukh Dev, showed little interest in the Hindu temple but she took it upon herself to look after the imambargah. She renovated the structure and made arrangements for an annual festival over there — the expenditure of which was borne by the local transgender community.

One day, Sohni Faqeer sent for two elders of the Lund Baloch tribe, Chacha Allah Rakhio and Murtaza Lund, requesting a meeting, as she was critically ill. After offering their prayers, the two men immediately left for her house.

Sohni Faqeer asked them, “Do you think I have served the imambargah well?”

“The imambargah is maintained by you and the rest of the Khwaja saras (transgenders),” said Rakhio.

“Is it possible that I be buried in the vicinity of the imambargah after my death?”

Taken aback, both men said they needed to consult with the Baloch community before promising anything to her.

Two days later, Rakhio was informed that Sohni Faqeer had departed from the world. He promptly summoned all the young and old members of the Lund Baloch community to convey to them Sohni’s last wish. Everyone agreed that since Sohni had served the imambargah so diligently, she deserved to be buried in its vicinity.

Riaz Haq said...

In a first, #transgender person becomes news anchor in #Pakistan. #LGBT

In a rare occurrence, Kohenoor News — a private television channel –went on-air on Saturday with a transgender person on the screen as a news anchor.

The news soon went viral on social media with many appreciating the move by the media organisation.

Earlier this month, the Senate passed a key bill to ensure the third gender’s protection against sexual and physical assaults and harassment.

The Criminal Law (Amendment) (Protection of Rights of Transgender Persons) Act 2017 criminalised a host of offences against the transgender persons and provides for awarding stringent punishments to the perpetrators.

In a first, Pakistan to send trans persons as Hajj volunteers

According to the bill, kidnapping, abducting or inducing a transgender person to have illicit intercourse shall be punishable with life imprisonment and fine.

The bill made the denial of the right to admission to an educational institution punishable with up six-month to two-year imprisonment or fine extendable up to Rs300,000.

Depriving a transgender person from inheriting property shall be punished with 5-year to 10-year imprisonment or with a fine of Rs1 million or both.

Unlawful eviction of a transgender person from any place shall be punishable with up six-month to two-year imprisonment or fine up to Rs100,000.

Riaz Haq said...

#Pakistan Passes Historic #Transgender Rights Bill. #LGBT

Pakistan's parliament passed a landmark bill on Tuesday that gives the country's transgender citizens fundamental rights.

The Transgender Persons (Protection of Rights) Act allows people to choose their gender and to have that identity recognized on official documents, including national IDs, passports and driver's licenses. The bill also prohibits discrimination in schools, at work, on public modes of transit and while receiving medical care.

The measure also says that transgender people cannot be deprived of the right to vote or run for office. It lays out their rights to inheritance, in accordance with their chosen gender. And it obligates the government to establish "Protection Centers and Safe Houses" — along with separate prisons, jails or places of confinement.

Mehlab Jameel is an activist in Lahore, Pakistan, who helped write the bill. "I heard about this yesterday morning and I was in a state of shock because I never thought something like this could happen within my own life in Pakistan," she told NPR. "This kind of development is not only unprecedented in Pakistani history, but it's one of the most progressive laws in the whole world."

It's also the result of a grassroots effort that began in January 2017, after a senator drafted a bill that Jameel said lacked input from Pakistan's transgender community. "The definition of 'transgender' in that bill was basically based on genitals," she said. And it outlined a "screening committee" that mainly consisted of "a judge, a doctor, a psychiatrist and a bureaucrat" who would decide if a person were transgender.

"We kept arguing that medical exams are inherently discriminatory in nature," Jameel said. Activists met with the trans community as well as a supportive former senator named Farhatullah Babar to discuss their concerns. "We wanted to give feedback on the bill and ended up rewriting the bill."

Riaz Haq said...

#Pakistan opens state-run school for #transgender students. Established in #Multan by #Punjab provincial govt, opened its doors on the first day of school with 18 students enrolled. #LGBTQ #education

Trans people are considered outcasts by many, especially in conservative areas of Pakistan. They are often sexually abused, assaulted and even murdered. They hesitate to get enrolled in regular schools to avoid discrimination.

“We are grateful to the government for opening this school and for providing free education to our community,” said Ayesha Mughal, a transgender who for years has campaigned for the rights of their community.

In Pakistan, trans people are also often forced into begging, dancing and even prostitution to earn money. However, that started to change in 2019, when the country’s Supreme Court designated transgender people as a third gender. Before, trans people were often been denied treatment because doctors could not decide whether to treat them in a male or a female ward.

Riaz Haq said...

Taymour Soomro: ‘I want to challenge reductionist narratives about Pakistan’

Novelist Taimour Soomro: It’s a novel (Other Names for Love) with a subplot about queer desire. Can you speak about the tension involved in writing about this in a country where homosexuality is punishable by death?
It was important to me to write about queerness in Pakistan for so many reasons, including making visible experiences like my own in Pakistan, and challenging reductive narratives about the country – narratives about Muslim barbarism and homophobia. Homophobia was a Victorian export to South Asia during the empire, that’s when these laws date from. And like so much law in Pakistan, it does not always correspond to custom, certainly not neatly. When I returned to live in Pakistan in my 20s, I returned with prejudices I had learned in England. But when I travelled around the countryside in Sindh, I was surprised to discover how inaccurate they were: people spoke to me about men they knew with male lovers without a great deal of judgment or stigma. That isn’t to say that there isn’t stigma, that there isn’t very real harm or suffering – only that responses and experiences are as various and complex as they are anywhere.

You studied law. How does the writer in you connect with the lawyer?
It’s interesting for me to imagine the kind of writer I would have been had I not studied law. I was a very brief and terrible lawyer, but I taught law in Pakistan and wrote a legal textbook, so there is a way in which the law has remained with me. When I started as a law student, we were taught to remove ourselves completely from the text, that there should be no emotion, and when I came to writing fiction, so often the feedback I got was that “we don’t know how these characters feel”. So, learning how to be a writer was in some ways unlearning how to be a lawyer.

The book is separated into three distinct parts …
I had been writing a lot of short fiction. I shifted to writing the novel as part of a PhD, and my supervisor kept reading the chapters and telling me that they felt like short stories. Her argument, which I still don’t know I completely agree with, is that the energy of a sentence in a short story is different to the energy of a sentence in a novel – that, somehow, the sense of imminent foreclosure in a short story feeds down even to the level of a sentence. I thought, why don’t I separate the novel into parts so they feel like novellas? It also engaged with the way I wanted to tell the story. I wanted to show these men at very different stages of power in their lives.