Pakistan’s first website for homosexuals Queerpk.com, which offers support to the gay community, has been blocked by the PTA – Pakistan’s Telecommunication Authority. When accessed in Pakistan, the site gives the following access denied message regarding its forbidden content: “Our website does not contain any explicit or offensive content so the PTA decision to close down the website without any notice is unconstitutional and opposes freedom of speech.”
However, the site can be accessed outside of Pakistan. When The Diplomat tried reaching the PTA for an explanation of reason for blocking the site, there was no comment. But one user of the site says, “It’s because they want to send a message that we don’t support homosexuals. The website was purely educational which was good for people like me.”
Homosexuals are not accepted in Pakistani society. In most parts of the country, they are considered un-Islamic and illegal, although laws are rarely enforced. In light of the widespread lack of access to discussion and information, Queerpk.com was launched with the slogan “Know us, don’t hate us,” according to its founder who spoke to The Diplomat on the condition of anonymity.
As sex-related issues are taboo in the country, Queerpk.com was launched to raise awareness and offer education regarding issues relating to sexual health. The website aimed to foster the cognizance of gay issues and offer assistance and sex education to gay, lesbian and transgender people in Pakistan.
Queerpk.com decided not to pursue legal action in order to avoid any unwanted public attention, including a fear of fatwas and right-wing religious groups that are against the existence of gays.
Despite the huge gay community across Pakistan, the country faces an increasingly conservative society where religious groups are gaining popularity and strength. Given this, it’s highly risky to reveal one’s gay identity. “Although everything is available, and in some cities more so, gay rights are opposed from most sections of society,” Faisal, an LGBT activist from Lahore, told The Diplomat. “In big cities, Karachi, Lahore, Islamabad and even Peshawar, there is a huge gay community. I always find a partner wherever I go.”
Under a veneer of strict social conformity, most of these men do not reveal their identity outside of the underground “group sex parties.”
Ameen (not his real name) is in a traditional “marriage of accessibility” and organizes get-togethers and parties in Karachi. He tells The Diplomat that his wife knows about his sexual orientation and social life but chooses to live with him also because of social pressure and compliance. “Most of us have traditional marriages, because we can’t live in this society if we publicly reveal our identity. But it’s the invitation-only parties that keep us going. Some of us get divorced and we are happy about it.”
Ameen says he uses some very interesting gay-tracking apps on his smartphone. With the help of GPS, the app gives alerts and information on the proximity of another gay person with a profile on that app. “At one point, there are thousands of gay men online in Pakistan,” says Ameen. Although Ameen does not feel entirely safe even around his own crowd, due to the extremely patriarchal society, he says men are able to maneuver their way to acceptance from their family and friends.
Some of Karachi’s homes for same-sex romance are underground night clubs which exist in the city’s elite neighborhoods. More strikingly, one of the most popular and non-traditional cruising grounds for group sex is the most sacred religious shrine in Karachi. “We go to Abdullah Shah Ghazi’s shrine every now and then and the opportunities there are varied and fun,” says Ameen. “Thursday crowds are big and it’s easy for us to camouflage getting in the troop. Many police officers and senior ministers often join us too. It’s huge.”
In the absence of awareness, these practices are highly unsafe for Pakistan’s LGBT population. Faisal, the LGBT activist says, the government should take strict action to support sex information. “Of course they can make it difficult for us to cruise, but they can’t stop thousands of gay men from trying new things to get around. It’s highly critical to help in the awareness process and support LGBT related knowledge to people,” he says.
Faisal says, some gay men he knows have slept with more than a thousand other men, making the environment highly unsafe. With the lack of an awareness portal or any guidance, Faisal is concerned about rising cases of HIV/AIDs in Pakistan.
“Of course we understand the sensitivity of religious groups who threaten us physically in society. But that makes it even more important for an online space to be available for discussion and knowledge,” Faisal demands.