LAHORE: Gay relationships are a reality in Pakistan but a taboo to discuss. The recent shooting at a Florida gay club could not evoke public condemnation for the victims were associated with gay. Do we have no gays at all? The answer is a flat ‘no’. In 2013, a BBC feature discussed in detail about ‘gay Pakistan’. It writes, Pakistan is an Islamic state, which is supposed to be against gay liberation. But the fact is that the country is a great place to be a gay – even many people describe the port city of Karachi as “a gay man’s paradise”. Several homosexual individuals also insist that Pakistan can be a great place to be for gay people in certain ways. The city of Karachi in Pakistan has a large gay community network based in the city. LGBT parties and sex is available for homosexuals in cities like Karachi and Peshawar through secret underground links. The same-sex activity is thriving in the country despite being strictly opposed by the law. Homosexuals also interact with each other through online social media sites and smart phone apps. Social parties, meet ups, and other social gatherings are developed secretly for the LGBT community to attend. Gay individuals do not expose their sexual orientation in public and live a double life. The article tells about a businessman who lives in an affluent part of Karachi, and uses his smart phone to organize Karachi’s gay party scene. “One of the first things I did online, maybe 12 years ago, was type in G – A – Y and hit search. Back then I found a group and made contact with 12 people in this city,” he says. “These days there are smart phone apps that use GPS to tell you how close you are to another gay person with an online profile. There are thousands of gay men online in Pakistan at any one time.” The party scene is big – so big, he jokes, that he rarely gets time to himself. “If you want sex too, it’s a gay man’s paradise. If you want a relationship, that may be more difficult.” These invitation-only parties are a rare opportunity for gay men to be open about their sexuality. Pakistani society is fiercely patriarchal. Pakistanis are expected to marry a member of the opposite sex, and the vast majority does. The result is a culture of dishonesty and double lives, says the researcher “Gay men will make every effort to stop any investment in a same-sex relationship because they know that one day they will have to get married to a woman,” he says. “After getting married they will treat their wives well but they will continue to have sex with other men.” Most Pakistanis view homosexuality as sinful. Some scholars even recommend Sharia-based punishment for “men who have sex with men”. It is, for example, easy to buy from a malchi walah– a masseur who offers massage and “extras” for the equivalent of £5, or $7.80. “We get important people – police, army officers and ministers too,” says one masseur. He claims to have slept with more than 3,000 men during his working life – despite having two wives and eight children. One of his wives wears a burka and the niqab, but she has no objection to her husband’s chosen profession and wishes more people would keep an open mind. “I know he has sex. No problem. If he doesn’t work how will the kids eat? I get angry when people call them names. People are stuck in their ways.” Her position may appear surprising, but in fact it’s not hard to understand, says the researcher. “In Pakistan men are discouraged from having girlfriends and so often, their first sexual experiences will be with male friends or cousins. This is often seen as a part of growing up and it can be overlooked by families – it’s the idea that ‘boys will be boys’,” he says. “Sex between men will be overlooked as long as no-one feels that tradition or religion are being challenged. At the end of it all, everyone gets married to a member of the opposite sex and nothing is spoken about.” Technically, homosexual acts are illegal in Pakistan. The British introduced laws criminalising what is described as sex “against the order of nature” in the colonial era. Sharia-based laws dating from the 1980s also lay down punishments for same-sex sexual activity. In practice, though, these laws are rarely enforced, and the issue tends to be dealt with inside the family. “There was an instance where two boys were caught having sex in a field,” says the researcher. “The family tried to bribe the police with money because they didn’t want the story going public. When the police wouldn’t back down the family asked for one detail to be changed – they wanted their son to be presented as the active sexual partner. For them, their son being passive would be even more shameful.” In almost all cases charges will be dropped, he says, but the boys will be forced to get married by their families. Just occasionally, though, Pakistani parents do reconcile themselves to children entering a long-term gay relationship. The article mentions one such couple who have made things work, against the odds. “The family of one of them was run by a matriarch,” recalls the other. “His grandmother was the head of the house so I knew that winning her over would mean everything else would fall into place. I took the time to talk to her and convince her that I was a good person. That was first and foremost. It wasn’t about ‘coming out’ in a formal sense. It’s more important to convince his family that I’m a good human being. “She once gave me a hand-embroidered decorative cloth that she had made as a teenager. She said she was giving it to me because she knew I ‘take care of things’. It was a kind gesture and a very personal kind of acceptance.” They have now set up home together with the support of their families. The latter mentioned has a good relationship with his partner’s mother. “She comes to stay with us and I love watching soaps with her. At the end of the night she goes to her room and we retire to our room. Two men sleeping in the same bed? Sure she knows what is going on. We don’t have to have a big discussion about it.” Stories like this are, however, exceptionally rare. For many gay men in Pakistan, a heterosexual marriage and a life of anonymous groping is the long-term reality. But life can be even more difficult for gay women. Expressions of female sexuality are shunned in the public sphere, even among heterosexuals. So how do gay women make their lives work? In Lahore, twenty-something lesbian couple have come up with an inventive way to stay together. One of them, although not publicly “out”, says she is optimistic about the future. “I think we’ll have a marriage of convenience. I know some gay guys and maybe we’ll do a deal so we put in money together and they have one portion of the house and we’ll have another portion. We may as well do that.” The other, who contributes to an invitation-only online gay support group, believes it’s only “a matter of time” before Pakistan begins to debate gay rights openly, and people declare their homosexuality with pride. “You can’t stay in the closet forever. You have to come out. It’s inevitable,” she says. The prior is less hopeful. “Gay rights in America came after women had basic rights. You don’t see that in Pakistan. You are not allowed a difference of opinion here. My father is a gentleman but I wouldn’t put it past him to put a bullet through my head. I’m all for being ‘true to myself’ but I don’t want to die young,” she says. “I think it’s selfish for me to come out and campaign for gay rights now. It’s selfish to the women in my family who are fighting for education and the right to marry the man of their dreams, or not to marry at all.” Over the years, gay and transgender communities have been able to get in homosexual relationships, but with huge difficulties. The opposition from the law makes it extremely hard for the LGBT community to have strong and secure relationships. The religious leaders of Pakistan have consistently forbidden LGBT activities. They consider these activities to be immoral under the constitution of Islam. It may take a generation for any real change to occur – even liberal Pakistanis tend to regard sectarian violence and economic instability as more pressing issues. But there will still be private spaces where gay Pakistanis can express their sexuality openly. So, being a Pakistani, I strongly condemn Orlando’s Pulse Nightclub Shooting where 49 human beings were killed and several got injured. No one can justify the intentions or motives of attacker because Omer Mateen was at no position, religiously or lawfully, to bring death to those 49 living souls. Though, homosexuality is haram in Islam, but, neither America is an Islamic state nor Islam has allowed any individual to take law in his/her hand. Pakistan is an Islamic state, and it should seriously consider the matter and should take solid steps. I feel ashamed as a being and feel sorry for Omar Mateen, he was a religiously ignorant guy.