UPDATE: Queer Pakistan was coincidentally banned and blocked by the authorities on the same day this article was published. The site's administrators are mirroring the content to a different domain.
“Please tell me, is there any doctor who can help me become straight?” This is one of the questions on the forum of the newly launched Queer Pakistan (@QueerPK) website that aims to provide support to Pakistan’s LGBT communities, and start a discussion about topics that are otherwise taboo in a society in which homosexuality is religiously and legally condemned.
One of the website's founders has spoken anonymously to Global Voices about its goals.
The initiative is introduced in a post called “Hello world! Let me present Queer Pakistan”:
How many times do you hear the word Pakistani gay? Or Pakistani queer? Probably you’re more aware of the derogatory terms that are locally used for the LGBTQ community in Pakistan. … And you probably laughed it up! Did you ever think what goes on in the life of a Pakistani queer person? What they have to go through? Or you were too busy denying it’s something ‘western’ and doesn’t exist in Pakistan? Well NOT ANYMORE! We’re here! And we’re here to show our existence.
Another post addresses coming out in Pakistan:
For a regular Pakistani youngster the internet is the major source of all kinds of knowledge and happenings around the world. Same goes when a young gay Pakistani approaches the internet with his major life problem about being a homosexual. As the internet is dominated by content from western countries almost all the websites about being gay encourage you to ‘come out of the closet’ and tell the whole world you are gay and be yourself. This is great advice but only if you are living in a free country where laws and legislation are strict and there aren’t any religious fanatics going around running their own rule. In Pakistan things are different. We are not going to be appreciated even by the most educated people if we are who we are in public. Moreover we also run a great risk of being harmed. It doesn’t matter if you are a boy or a girl. The risk is almost the same.
The post concludes:
We don’t advocate coming out and being openly gay in a society like Pakistan, however we do emphasize the importance of coming out to yourself. It’s extremely important that you come to terms to your sexuality and know who you really are.
One of Queer Pakistan's founders has spoken anonymously to Global Voices about the website's aims and focus.
Global Voices (GV): What is Queer Pakistan aiming to do?
Queer Pakistan (QP): Queer Pakistan is aiming to start building an open discussion about issues which are otherwise regarded as unspeakable. We intend to use the power of social media for community building because currently there is no support available to a huge number of the LGBT population in the country. Other than providing an awareness-based and educational resource to the community, we also intend to initiate LGBT advocacy and resistance alongside providing what we call “virtual support” to the community. There have been all sorts of attacks in the mainstream media on LGBTQIA communities and they are rarely defended so we figured it's time to take matters in our own hands and at least start to speak.
GV: Are there other websites focused specifically on the Pakistani LGBTQ community?
QP: There are a couple of them in my knowledge. There are also a few “secret” groups on Facebook that deal with the issues but they have a different approach which is to reach and support the community silently. While I appreciate their efforts, I don't think that's enough because there's a sizeable community that is not connected to even virtual support and their only solution is to look for an online resource. We are trying to be that resource.
GV: How does this resource work?
QP: We provide a space for discussion through our blogs section, support page and Facebook page where people can initiate or participate in discussions. The blog section welcomes guest posts and we have also enabled the comment section where every comment is allowed as long as it doesn't involve harassment or incites violence. On the support page, anyone can send us questions anonymously and are answered by a team including two practising doctors along with people who have been through almost anything society can throw at them. This section is overseen by a queer-affirmative psychological expert to ensure the advice given is appropriate.
GV: Your website is primarily in English; does that limit who it will reach?
QP: We are trying to make it a bilingual platform. While English is spoken and understood by most Pakistani internet users, we understand that there's a sizeable population that has difficulty understanding it. That's the reason we put the content that is of utmost importance in Urdu as well. Our online video portal works with foreign content partners to produce Urdu-subtitled videos. In future we want to make all of our content available in both languages.