Religion and sexuality have a complicated relationship, with many LGBT+ people having negative experiences with religion and a lot of LGBT-phobic rhetoric originating from religious spaces. However, in recent years we’ve seen a lot of this change, with several religious groups opening their doors to LGBT+ people. Many modern-day queer people no longer need to choose between their sexuality and religion, and often these two parts of themselves can go hand in hand. On top of this, more religious spaces than ever are popping up where Queer celebration is the focus, Bristol Queer Muslims, Metropolitan Church Brighton and LGBCM South Wales, being just a few of these.
Yet despite this, LGBT+ people born into religious families can still struggle. ‘Honour’-based violence is the extreme side of this. This type of violence can be intertwined with forced marriage and feelings of shame. These feelings of shame mean that the length of time a victim spends enduring this form of abuse is exceptionally long; and, very often, this can end in tragedy.
Reviva (not her real name), a Muslim girl brought up in Britain, told the BBC of her experience coming out “I told [my mum] about my sexuality and I said 'that's right, I do meet girls, and I love it' and I told her that she had been hurting me really badly, and I will never forgive her", for her this sadly turned to violence from her family and an almost-forced-marriage. She continued to explain “I was damaging the family honour. I was making the family looking like a modernised, westernised, filthy family. So what they wanted to do is get rid of what is damaging the honour.” Luckily, she managed to contact The Albert Kennedy Trust who, alongside the police, helped her to escape, yet she still lives with the emotional damage this has caused.
The Governments Forced Marriage Unit (FMU) receives hundreds of calls from people just like Reviva, women and men fearing they will be forced into a marriage against their will. In 2018 they supported 1,764 cases, a 47% increase since 2017 and the highest number since 2011. The FMU’s most recent report states “Forced marriage is not a problem specific to one country or culture” and since 2011 they have handled cases relating to over 110 countries across Asia, the Middle East, Africa, Europe and North America.
When it comes to ‘honour’-based violence (HBV) and its patterns, there is limited research. Usually, the perpetrator is a parent, guardian, or authoritative figure who use their power in the family or community over the victim. The victim is seen to have brought ‘dishonour’ to the family or community by behaving a certain way. For instance, many young people and teenagers fall prey if they do not conform to family expectations, like adhering to an arranged marriage.
While this type of violence can because of a myriad of factors, reports show it is more likely to happen to vulnerable or marginalised individuals, with patriarchal structures and homophobia, biphobia and transphobia all playing a role.
Gay and bisexual males are disproportionately affected by HBV. In these scenarios when men are not seen to conform to such ideologies (refusing heteronormativity or living outside what is considered the ‘norm’) they are seen to be bringing ‘dishonour’ to their community. This scenario can then lead into an abusive situation, whether tactics include physical violence or emotional manipulation.
Women and girls are also disproportionately affected by HBV, for them, this can revolve around being seen to be sexually inappropriate or ‘impure’ – due to traditional beliefs surrounding the topic of purity and virginity. Queer women are then even further at risk, with their identity seeming to go against ‘traditional’ cultural and religious ideals and teachings.
Northern Ireland has recently seen a spike in this form of violence, intertwined with strict Catholicism. In 2018 there was a surge in parliamentary-style “punishment” performed by parents, who were drugging and getting their victims drunk before the beatings. The ILGA also recently rated Northern Ireland as the worst place in the UK for LGBT people to live. Yet, despite the strong hold of religion in this part of the country, change is still happening. Just a few days ago, same-sex marriage became legal in Northern Ireland and the first weddings will be taking place come February. This is a historic moment for Northern Ireland, as Patrick Corrigan from Amnesty International explains "For too long, LGBT+ people in Northern Ireland have been treated as second-class citizens. So, today is an incredible moment for same-sex couples who can finally marry and have their relationships recognised as equal." Although this will not fix violence towards LGBT+ people overnight, lets hope it is a sign of a more accepting future for Northern Ireland.
South-Asian communities also experience a high-risk of HBV, this is especially apparent for gay and bisexual men. One survey conducted by UCLAN, which focussed on the experiences of LGBT+ South Asians in North West England, 42% of responders said they had experienced HBV as a result of identifying as LGBT, with a further 35% saying this had come directly from family members, this results form a mix of cultural and religious barriers.
Asifa Lahore, a transgender British Muslim Drag Queen, describes the cultural expectations she felt growing up “From a very early age I was expected to be a diligent, hardworking, studious middle son but at school I was labelled the gay boy, subjected to taunts and homophobic vitriol purely because of appearing effeminate”
Asifa Lahore, Britain’s First Muslim Drag Queen
Ricky Tanna, 29, describes the barriers he felt coming out “I am part of a very large Gujarati family and coming out is always difficult, whatever your race, but when you are Asian there are massive expectations on you to get married, have children and maintain the reputation of your family. It’s not all bleak when it comes to gay Asians. There’s a lot of good stuff happening and, very slowly, there is more acceptance of us from our communities and families. More and more Asians are feeling confident about coming out.”
Amir & Aamir Hassan, a South Asian gay married couple, were recently part of a photography project to bring visibility to their community, they spoke about the importance of this to them, "We wanted to show anyone and everyone like us that it gets better and love us worth the battle against culture, family and religion. We also wanted to be representation for any young queer people of colour that may see themselves in us as we didn’t have that growing up!"
Amir & Aamir Hassan
Shame is a central facet to HBV, so the core of fighting this must come from lifting shame. There are members of the LGBT+ community across all religions and cultures and they deserve safe spaces to explore both their sexuality and gender identity, and their religion. Journalist, Lucy Knight, describes this journey for her as “The only way to navigate the world as a queer Christian is to find support. Becoming part of Facebook groups such as Diverse Church, Queer Christian Collective and No Fear in Love showed me there was a future for people like me. Meeting Christians who were happily in same-sex relationships – even married with children – showed me that the model of Christian marriage drummed into me throughout my childhood was not the only option. Now, my girlfriend and I go to an affirming church in London where I feel, for the first time in a long time, welcome.”
Luna Williams is the political correspondent at the Immigration Advice Service, an organisation which provides free legal aid support and assistance for asylum seekers, refugees and trafficking victims in the UK, as well as private services in the UK, US, Canada and Australia.