How Does One Handle Homophobia When It’s Coming From a Human Rights Organization?
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Pakistan’s legal system is a mix of laws from the colonial period and Sharia law. Unfortunately, LGBTQ people are one of the most vulnerable populations, as state-sanctioned discrimination causes an environment of fear, persecution and marginalization. Though Pakistan is a signatory of many human rights treaties and conventions, the government ignores them and hasn’t even ratified them.
I was just 15 years old when I was first attacked because of my sexual orientation. It was then that I promised myself I would not be a victim. I would be a fighter, working to help other marginalized people around me.
After I completed my studies, I went to work with human rights organizations, focusing on sexual health and LGBTQ rights. I made my name as a young human rights leader by working with different international organizations for over four years.
Last year I signed onto a four-month cultural exchange project with a well-known organization that works in many countries. Though the organization’s core is based in volunteering, with my experience I was selected to lead the group by planning a Social Action Project (or SAP) on peace and helping different communities bond.
But I soon realized the organization was not LGBTQ-friendly at all. I was constantly hearing homophobic comments. Even the senior program manager asked why LGBTQ volunteers were let into the SAP.
One day I received a recording of my colleagues — who call themselves “peace promoters” — making extremist comments about the LGBTQ community. I was utterly heartbroken. When I shared this recording with a superior, she wrote down my story and promised she’d report it to senior management.
But instead of actually addressing the issue, they sided with my colleagues. They began harassing me — constant questions about my character, my religion and the anti-LGBTQ laws in Pakistan, even though non-government organizations are supposed to be non-political and non-religious. They also removed transgender volunteers from the SAP without giving a reason.
The experience was a nightmare. I was traumatized; I took an excessive number of antidepressants. I felt isolated and feared for my physical safety. I was worried the comments would soon escalate into violence.
One of my colleagues eventually felt guilty about his role and sent me an email explaining things. Though I didn’t get justice from the Pakistan office, I’m planning to take this to the organization’s regional office in Bangkok — and if I can’t get justice there, to the head office in the United Kingdom. I only hope they’re not homophobic as well.