Islamabad [Pakistan], May 15 (ANI): The coronavirus pandemic has resulted in reports of domestic violence and mental distress among LGBT+ people. It is difficult to find partners due to Covid-19 restrictions and the return of many people to their family homes.
The COVID-19 pandemic has made being LGBT+ in Pakistan significantly more difficult in a country where these communities already face numerous challenges, including systemic oppression, social stigma and a legal ban on homosexual acts, reported DW News Agency.
Activists are concerned that the increased alienation and barriers to meeting people is negatively affecting mental health within LGBT+ communities.
Mani, a 36-year-old human rights defender, identifies as a transgender man. His organization called HOPE has carried out several studies on the impact of COVID on his community.
He told DW that more cases of domestic violence among gay and transgender partners had been reported during the lockdowns, as the financial and emotional stress led to more clashes, especially for transgender women.
"Some trans women enjoy having a masculine boyfriend because he can make her feel more feminine and loved, but, during COVID, we saw that many women reported more domestic violence," Mani said.
LGBT+ communities have some of the highest rates of suicide in Pakistan, as well as reports of self-harm and mental health problems.
Mani said communities had stigmatized themselves in some ways by reinforcing sexual identity as an act of defiance.
"Sex is a natural need, and, because our community is so marginalized, we talk about sex more openly among ourselves, which has stereotyped LGBT people as being more sexual," he said, stressing that this stereotype of being hypersexual can also create barriers to finding stable romantic partnerships.
In 1860 colonial British government had criminalised homosexual activities in India establishing them as crimes that can result in life imprisonment or even death by stoning.
Though these laws are seldom enforced by officials, as gay and queer activities remain largely clandestine, those identifying as LGBT+ rarely come out to their families.
When family members do come out or are found out to be queer, they face threats of violence and disownment. This is why some LGBT+ Pakistanis often move out of their family homes to pursue more freedom to explore their identity and sexuality.
However, during the pandemic, exploration and independence have become increasingly perilous for some, reported DW News Agency.
Usman, 32, who works for a multinational company in Abbottabad, a city slightly north of the capital, Islamabad, told DW that during the pandemic he has only managed to meet his long-distance boyfriend once every three months.
"My boyfriend is 25 and living with his family in Gujranwala, so he doesn't have the same freedom to leave his house," he said. "With the lockdowns and travel restrictions in place, our meetups have become more difficult."
Though Usman prefers monogamy, he and his partner have an agreement that they are free to explore physical relationships with other men, because of the nature of their long-distance relationship.
Such meetings are largely facilitated by social media, online groups and dating applications. Due to the pandemic, however, Usman said that usage of dating apps and the possibility of actual meetups have been considerably reduced.
During the fasting month of Ramzan, Usman said many men were also abstaining from casual sex and hook-ups, as many gay men negatively internalise their sexuality as something shameful or wrong.
Pakistan has more than 873,000 COVID-19 cases and over 19,000 deaths. On May 8, the government imposed a 10-day nationwide lockdown to curb the spread of the virus ahead of the Eid al-Fitr holiday.
Online dating has also suffered a few setbacks. Prime Minister Imran Khan banned the use of dating apps such as Tinder and Grindr earlier last year in order to curb "un-Islamic behaviour", reported DW News Agency.
However, Saad said, there are lesser-known apps and VPNs through which users can still meet each other.
Dating app users have also found ways around the pandemic by offering more transparency about their health. (ANI)