Homosexuality is frowned upon in the Pakistan society—a common phenomenon in the Muslim world—so many belonging to the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer (LGBTQ) community, fearing their wellbeing, refused to come out of the closet.
Zayna* is one such example. Despite being beaten, demeaned and threatened for her sexuality throughout her formative years, she refused to deny her disposition.
“On my 13th birthday I realised I was like this,” she told The Manchester Evening News, adding that “Pakistani society is very conservative.”
Growing up as a young Muslim lesbian in Pakistan, the graduate says she came up against both physical and mental abuse from those that she believes had misinterpreted the messages of the Qur’an.
Despite being a taboo and a criminal offence in Pakistan, a US human rights study published in 2016 said rarely were people prosecuted based on it. ‘The penalty for same-sex relations is a fine, two years’ to life imprisonment, or both,” the US State Department document reads.
Sharing her story with an English publication, she expressed her desire to become an activist for the LGBTQ rights, hoping to help Muslims belonging to the community.
Spending her childhood in a conservative Muslim family in Karachi, she said she was morally policed throughout her life, adding that her father, though a kind, had beaten her several times for suspicion of going out with men. “My father came upstairs and wanted to kill me and beat me like anything,” she said. “He told me how to behave. That was the first time I felt unsafe in my own home.”
Describing her childhood as a tomboy, she said: “I am a strong brave person but so many people like me don’t have that courage. I realised I need to come out and tell everyone about my story.”
Following her father’s death in her 20s and her mother’s death due to lungs year, Zayna was taken in by family members. Though Zayna did not publicise her sexuality she said everybody knew and she was hated for it.
She started working at an Islamic university, where she had been victimised for going out with another female colleague. She was threatened to leave the institute along with her partner, else they would be reported to police for “being prostitutes”.
But Zayna is convinced that the Qur’an’s messages about homosexuality have been misinterpreted by some Muslims. She said: “I was born a Muslim and I want to die a Muslim. But if someone wants to kill me then why? Just because I’m lesbian?”
Finding her life in Pakistan too difficult to bear, she decided to move to the UK. Zayna took on three jobs, surviving on one meal a day, to save enough funds to travel to Britain; she is now living in Longsight. “At that time, I changed my name and would cover my face because I was scared. I didn’t want to show my face. I wanted to make myself normal.”
She eventually got a work permit and enrolled for a masters course in management. Zayna has since explored the UK’s gay culture and has been in several relationships, but says she faced discrimination against the LGBT community in the UK as well.
The 40-year-old, who works as a senior position in a management company, for seven years now, says she also joined LGBT International and the Birmingham-based LGBT group, Finding A Voice. “I now have peace of mind that no one is going to kill me,” she says, “I can’t tell you those feelings in words.”
*Individual’s name has been changed to preserve identity