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Austin Cline

Gays in Pakistan

By May 18, 2005

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The government of Pakistan denies that any of its citizens are gay, but homosexuality exists in Pakistan just as it does everywhere else. Slowly, cautiously, gays there are starting to find a voice and express themselves. They risk social ostracism, arrest, and even death.

ASG (caution: site is not "safe for work") reports:

With denial as their constant companion, gay Pakistanis live in constant fear of being 'outed' in this staunchly conservative society which is largely ignorant and intolerant of sexual minorities. The vast majority of gay people just do what is expected of them and remain quietly in the shadows, a way of life common throughout this South Asian nation of 140 million. To act in any way effeminately is a sign of weakness and a blemish on one's own masculinity in this most 'macho' of societies. To be gay is to be deviant, an aberration against God's will which gay men in Pakistan go to great lengths to disguise.

Gay men living in the larger cities such as Lahore, Karachi or the capital, Islamabad, fare slightly better in the mildly more tolerant atmosphere of urban areas. Here they enjoy higher levels of education and many hold well paid professional jobs. Those living in impoverished rural areas remain closeted together fearing the extreme conservatism of their villages.

Curiously, there are some socially accepted outlets for homosexual sex:

[T]acit acceptance can be best seen in Pakistan's North West Frontier Province (NWFP), where ethnic Pashtun men are well known for taking young boys as lovers, a practice now deeply embedded in the local culture and an obvious consequence of the strict segregation of women there. ... "Islamic tradition frowns on but acknowledges male-male sex and this plays a role in permitting clandestine sex so long as it is not allowed to interfere with family life, which is of paramount importance," San Francisco-based sociologist Stephen Murray was quoted as saying...

The experiences of people in Pakistan are probably similar to people's experiences elsewhere, like America, in the past: people in the cities have a chance to meet others like them, but in rural areas you have to stay in the closet. The world is smaller than it used to be, however, and access to the internet has allowed more and more gays to meet others and learn that they aren't the only ones like this.

Life is still difficult for them and they can't be openly gay, but the opportunities to just "be themselves" are greater today than even just a decade ago. Gays are meeting, forming friendships, and developing feelings of solidarity with gays both in Pakistan and elsewhere. This could allow the cause of gay rights to eventually move more rapidly there than it has in other parts of the world.

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