With all the advances in the world, one thing that remains a constant battle is the fight to live as our authentic selves. Here, columnist Bhavna shares the terrible reality for many members of the LGBTQIA+ community, and implores us to stand with them to fight for everyone’s right to love, with pride
Love is love. Loving and being loved are the most basic of needs in any organism. Poets tell us that to love is the goal of human existence, and to be loved is the greatest treasure of the heart. And yet, for some like me, who are part of the global LGBTQIA+ community, loving whom we choose could be a death sentence.
Despite advances in LGBTQIA+ rights through Stonewall’s first riot to the Pride marches across the globe, loving someone of the same sex can mean death in many parts of the world. Only in June, during our Queen’s Jubilee, the representative of Her Majesty in Indonesia was called to account over why there was a Pride flag flying at the British Embassy. This is timely proof that there are still many countries around the world where there is a price to pay for love.
We hear of young couples being reported to authorities, sometimes by their own families, because they are gay and love each other. Why?
We hear of two young women in India, in their early 20s, hounded by their families because they have decided to be in a loving relationship, and abducted by their families to force them apart, having to go to court to fight for their right to be together. Why?
We hear of corrective rapes in South Africa, and other parts of the world, to ‘teach’ LGBTQIA+ people a lesson. Why?
We hear of trans siblings of the LGBTQIA+ family being harassed and murdered, transwomen being assaulted and murdered, because they found the courage to be who they are.
We hear of high rates of suicides in the LGBTQIA+ community, because of the stigma of being gay. Why?
We hear of people choosing to enter heterosexual marriage and betray themselves to keep the family happy, and take the target off their backs. This raises many other questions. We can’t hide what we feel – I know, I was in the closet for 32 years of my life until it became unbearable to live the lie, and I had to come out before it killed me. I will never get those three decades of my life back.
One of the excuses I read and hear repeatedly about why being LGBTQIA+ could be a death sentence for some is that it is against ‘their’ religion. Yet, despite my study of religious literature over the decades, the main lesson I’ve taken from all religions has been love, forbearance, and peace. The final commandment of Jesus was to ‘Love one another as I have loved you.’
The Office for National Statistics found that 1.9 million people in the UK (3.1% of the population) identify as LGB, whereas those identifying as trans number 1%, according to Stonewall.
The National LGBT survey carried out in 2017 found that LGBT respondents are less satisfied with life compared with the general UK population. Furthermore, more than 66% stated concern about holding hands in public for fear of reprisals. The report stated that at least two in five people had experienced verbal harassment or physical assault as a result of their sexuality. It further stated that at least 2% had undergone conversion therapy in an attempt to ‘cure’ them of being LGBT. A further 24% of responders had sought mental health support in the 12 months of the survey. These statistics are not surprising, considering people’s views towards the community.
This is the same report by the government that stated ‘none of this is acceptable’, and went ahead to publish their LGBT Action Plan, and still refuses to ban conversion therapy for people identifying as trans.
I have worked with many clients that have identified as LGBTQIA+ over the years, and who have struggled with their sexuality. I’ve had therapy myself to overcome my struggle with my sexuality, and end a marriage. We have been the lucky ones to have found the strength and courage to seek help. But what about those who felt that they had no choice but to take their own lives to stop the horrific pain? There are two cousins in my own family who took their own lives. The taboo against being LGBTQIA+ is great in the Asian and African cultures and countries where being gay is still illegal.
Many families from ethnic minorities blame being LGBTQIA+ as a Western fad, and yet this community has been around for thousands of years, and in some cultures such as the First Nations Tribes in the USA, it was respected and revered as Twin-Spirit people. Despite the need for a lot of work still to be done to make people understand that we are born this way, and no amount of beatings, abuse, or conversion ‘therapies’ can change this fact, I am pleased to see more specially trained therapists like myself offer support with issues that face the LGBTQIA+ community. I am hopeful that more people are choosing to live their truth and be authentic, but we still have a very long way to go, as long as prejudice still exists.
If you have an LGBTQIA+ person in your life, love them, and support them. They are precious, too. Happy Pride, love is love.
If you are struggling with negative thoughts and want support, visit counseling-directory.org.uk or speak to a qualified counsellor.