The creator of QueerPK speaks about harassment, threats and his decision to close the site.
QueerPK, which stands for Queer Pakistan, was shut down by Pakistani government officials with little hope for a relaunch. The website stood as a beacon of hope for the LGBTQ community in a country where homosexuality is still illegal. The website’s creator recently told his story to VICE magazine. He asked VICE to withhold his identity for safety reasons.
LGBTQIA identities are more accepted in Pakistan’s elite upperclass, but being queer in the country’s lower classes is much more dangerous. The brave creator of QueerPK says, “I started QueerPK to raise LGBTQIA visibility, foster a community, teach both physical and sexual safety — one of our first campaigns promoted the use of condoms — and engage the media.”
“(QueerPK has brought together) thousands of users, hundreds of whom have written to us in appreciation and support, many of whom were not connected to any support online or offline,” he explains.
He created the website in 2013 around Ramadan, the most holy month of the year for Muslims. Islam teaches that that it was during this month Allah revealed the first verses of the Quran to Mohammed, on a night known as “The Night of Power” (Laylat al-Qadr in Arabic). The Prophet Mohammed reportedly said, “When the month of Ramadan starts, the gates of heaven are opened and the gates of Hell are closed and the devils are chained.”
When QueerPK posted, “Have a Queer Ramadan this year!” they were immediately accused of being Jewish agents and called an abomination. They were blamed for earthquakes in the region, which killed at least 825 people. Things got worse and the “Don’t Hate Us, Know Us” slogan proved impossible amid threats of legal action and violence.
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Kashif Khan, a gay university teacher, considers the website ban “just the tip of the iceberg” of the homophobia and hatred prevalent toward queer society. “We, as minorities, are not the only ones affected by this heightened sense of self righteousness and religiosity which stems from this complete inability to entertain and appreciate any world view other than our own,” Khan says. “The closing of the mind and quashing of this spirit of inquiry is probably because a lot of beliefs that we have held sacred might not stand the test of rationality and empirical evidence.”
Pakistanis caught engaged in “homosexual activity” face up to 10 years in jail and a fine, according to Article 377 of the Pakistan Penal Code. Even consensual sex between cisgender men and women outside of marriage is criminalized punished.
According to Freedom House’s report, Freedom on the Net 2013, Pakistan is among the top ten countries where internet and digital media freedom is curbed.
The website’s creator faced opposition from the Pakistan government, telecom officials and police — despite support from artists, filmmakers, producers and the rest of the queer world abroad. The likelihood QueerPK could relaunch is slim, but we honor this person for making a difference.