In June this year, O Pakistan, an organization working for LGBT rights, launched an online campaign on Facebook to provide a platform for expression and discussion of LGBT issues. The description of the page reads, "Messages of support from Queer to Queer!" The format is inspired by campaigns like "I need feminism because..." in which people are encouraged to upload photos containing a message.
The O Pakistan campaign uses the slogan "Mujhay Tumse Kuch Kehna Tha," which translates to "I wanted to tell you something..." and people can complete the sentence with a message. Participants submit the posts anonymously, in order to protect not only their identities, but their lives since Pakistan has a strict legal regime of intolerance toward homosexuality.
Pakistan is one of the eight countries in the world where homosexuality is punishable with death. The country follows a combination of Anglo-Saxon laws, remnants of the colonial regime, and rigid Islamic courts, both of which criminalize homosexuality. Although there are secret gatherings and social events in major cities like Karachi and Islamabad, the general perceptions within Pakistan border on outright hostility towards queer citizens. In June 2011, the U.S. embassy in Islamabad held an event declaring support for gay rights. This initiative was met with severe opposition from locals and Islamic outfits such as the Jamaat-e-Islami, alleging that the United States was inflicting "cultural terrorism" upon Pakistani society.
In a social environment such as this, it is almost impossible for LGBT activists or citizens to express themselves or network. Many are unaware that support can be sought at all and dismiss their sexualities as oddities, resulting in depression and worse. In a closed society where people are terrified of being their true selves for fear of prosecution and retribution, the Mujhay Tumse Kuch Kehna Tha campaign fulfills the simple function of providing a common place for participants to air their views and stories, and it's a creative and effective way to start the public conversation regarding queer issues in Pakistan.
After reading through the collection of messages on this inspiring Facebook page, here are some of my favorites that will fill you with warmth and hope: "I'm gay, not a terrorist," "Allah made me gay," "Love beyond procreation has to be superior," "I broke the evolutionary bondage," "The world is round, not straight," and a classic "YOLO." The collection of messages is diverse, written in Urdu and English, by lesbian and gay participants, which indicates the extent of the campaign's appeal.
In Iran, a country whose laws on homosexuality are similar to Pakistan's, a similar campaign called "We are Everywhere" encourages LGBT participants to share their stories on Facebook, as a show of support. Following the Russian stance on LGBT rights (or lack thereof), and when countries like Iran and Pakistan propagate skewed ideals of right and wrong, campaigns like this offer a hint of resistance to the oppression and an informal space for expression.
Here's hoping that campaigns like this embolden the suppressed LGBT community to take on the system, and that the shows of solidarity translate into a change in the laws of Pakistan. Here's an uplifting message that I found on the page, that will make your day:
"You're not a mistake of nature, you have the same rights as others and no one has the right to judge you. The road to happiness is not easy, you have to face problems with your head held high. Don't give up! Be proud of yourself. You're not alone."