It was in the last quarter of 2009 when I heard of the Pakistan Queer Movement (formerly known as Pakistan LGBTQ Movement), for the very first time. Immediately, I searched the group on Facebook and there it was with a thriving number of fans and members, talking intensely over issues relevant to LGBT community in general and Pakistani LGBT in particular. I was really enthralled to see that some serious queer Pakistani stuff is finally online. Before that, I had never heard of Nuwas Manto, the founder of PQM and was really interested in meeting that guy who has taken such a bold initiative. And finally one day, I managed to get in contact with him and since then, we have been friends. A young, bright enthusiastic guy, who identifies himself as secular humanist and has derived his online name from Abu Nuwas, a classical Arabic gay poet and from Saadaat Hasan Manto, renowned Urdu writer, famous for writing on social taboos of the society. Although it’s hard to interview one’s friend but I have undertaken this endeavor especially for the readers of Gaylaxy Magazine.
Q. How did the Pakistan Queer Movement start and why you chose Facebook as a mean to interact?
It started years back when Orkut was still alive. However, I did not get much response there, so in 2009 I started this group on Facebook after realizing that there was not a single politically active Pakistani LGBT online community. I so much wanted to have a forum where there is more to being Queer and Queer issues than exchanging telephone numbers for one night stands.
And to answer why Facebook, there were two reasons:
i) Facebook seemed to be the ‘most happening thing’ possible online and
ii) I had noticed that as a forum for gathering people, Facebook has a mass appeal and turns out to be really effective.
Q. How did the people respond to it?
Honestly, the response was astounding; even more than I’d hoped for. It attracted queer as well as straight individuals who believed in the equality of human beings and wanted to raise their voices against any kind of discrimination on the basis of sexual and gender orientation.
Q. Have you faced any threat after starting a public group online?
I guess I have been lucky. I haven’t had any fatwa against me or even PQM as of yet. But yes, a woman once tried to insinuate me and a humble Muslim brother who tried to show me how wrong I was about homosexuality and to leave this activism. However, look at it this way:, I have come into contact with not only various activists and supporters across the globe but also to the people who needed advice about their sexuality. Thus I am a happy man.
Q. Why do you think it was important to come up with this project as there are several other burning issues in Pakistan?
No one else is working on it. We do have countless local and foreign organizations and NGO’s working for the eradication of illiteracy, poverty, corruption etc and promoting rights of women and children, but no one is coming forward to support or even to talk about queer issues. Queer rights are indeed human rights and our society cannot grow by ignoring or undermining queer issues. And secondly, there was a time when I was very suicidal but there was this urge in me as well to be a vocal warrior for the Queer community and that kept me going. So, as Coelho said, I am following my personal legend as well through this activism.
Q. What you consider as your greatest achievement so far?
The fact that PQM has been recognized as a useful forum for queer activism by queer and non queer individuals alike in Pakistan and the world over. Of course, we have miles to cover before we can say that we are satisfied. But we are definitely progressing towards it. There are other underground Queer groups in Pakistan but the way PQM was born on a public forum for all to see and was something of a new experience even to some of my Queer friends and acquaintance.
Q. What were your aims and how you are going about them?
Initially, we did not know we will be able to take it out of the realm of internet as we are doing now (by arranging meet ups in Lahore). Therefore, at first the aims were limited and so was the vision. But it has broadened this will be continued in the future. Its foremost aim has been community building and letting the Queer Pakistanis be aware of their fundamental human rights, the fact that they are not alone, that Queerness means more than sex and that they can be religious and queer as well.
Other basic aim has been to raise voice for the queer rights in the political and social sphere of Pakistan. Right now, we can neither have a Pride Parade nor can we raise the issue at the national or provincial assemblies, for that would be futile and devastating. But definitely as a movement (and movements live way longer than individuals) the long-term aim of Pakistan Queer Movement is to create the scenario where our future generations can have and enjoy political, legal and social equality.
Moreover, PQM has also envisioned to counsel and dialogue with questioning individuals as well as undecided straight allies who want to support queer equality but hesitate due to religious/political/social reasons.
Q. Do you think there is any LGBT community existing in Pakistan?
Honestly, yes and no. This is where the work of Pakistan Queer Movement and other such groups is required. We need to build up a community of Queers in Pakistan which believes in Queer equality and thinks that there is more to queer sexualities than just blowing up each other’s genitalia. There is an increasing number of educated Pakistanis who are getting aware of their sexuality and the fact that there needs to be work done on these issues. But they are only handful and we need a lot of them.
On the other hand, there are gay social networking websites like Manjam and Planet Romeo where people shop for sex, sex and yes again sex. That’s a community too.
Q. Have you faced any problem within the community?
When there are several people working on, there is always difference of opinions. And PQM has its share of toils as well. There was a certain group admin whose contributions will be acknowledged and respected. But he ran amok after a personally attacking comment was removed from the Facebook group wall. He did an unimaginably preposterous thing: he sent a message to all 620 online members personally attacking me. Strike One!
Also, we have trouble gathering like minded active members as most of them are either not interested or associated with another older queer organization. Strike Two.
Q. Where do you see PQM in next five years?
Personally, I see Pakistan Queer Movement doing more and more work towards Queer equality and help in building the bridge between Straight and Queer folks. We want to speak out loud about Pakistan’s Queer community and make a difference. On an individual level if I can help a Queer person everyday I would be living a satisfied life. I see Pakistan Queer Movement the forerunner to the Queer revolution in this country. I know it will be an arduous journey but I am sure that with the help of our supporters and members, we can do it.