Rav Bansal

After being selected to appear on the well loved cooking show Great British Bake-Off, Rav Bansal has experienced the good the bad and the ugly side of being on TV. Ditch the Label caught up with Rav to talk about bullying, discrimination, masculinity and all things culinary.

DTL: Firstly can you tell us a bit about yourself in your own words?
Rav: Well my name is Rav Bansal, I’m 28 and I was born and raised in London. I am most known for appearing on this obscure show, you probably have never heard of it, called ‘The Great British Bake Off’, it was only watched by something like 13 million people each week, so, nothing special… Haha 😉

DTL: Can you tell us a bit about the racism you experienced while you were on Bake-Off?
Rav: Before the show had even aired I knew the fact that being a turban wearing Sikh guy would be a talking point. I had seen some of the unfortunate comments that Nadiya had received the year before so I was prepared for some hate online. When the line-up was announced in the press, I made the mistake of reading the comments section of a well-known tabloid website and some of the stuff they were saying was horrendous, but again I expected it and they were anonymous people hiding behind their computer screens so I was able to brush it off. One thing I was not prepared for was someone saying something to my face.

“Don’t allow others to dim your light, shine bright and be your best self.”

I was coming home from work, got off the train at my stop and started walking home. Someone approached me and proceeded to make some offensive comments, referencing my appearance on the show. I was completely shocked, speechless, in fact and a little scared for my safety. I didn’t say anything and made a split-second decision to walk in a different direction just in case he followed me home. When I did get home, I was so enraged with what had just happened, annoyed with myself for not confronting his bigoted opinions. I took to Twitter to vent my frustrations.

DTL: How do you tend to respond to any negative comments on social media (if at all)?
Rav: To be completely honest most of my interactions on social media are positive, rarely do I receive negative comments but when it does happen, for most part I would just ignore them, I never take them personally, in fact at times I would just laugh at their level of stupidity and at the fact they took the time to send it. The way I look at it is, when someone has something negative to say, it’s a reflection of who they are, not on me. I can easily detach myself from it in a way that doesn’t allow it to affect me emotionally.

DTL: Did you ever experience bullying when you were younger? If so could you tell us a bit about it?
Rav: In primary school I was a care free kid, I loved school and I never missed a day. There was one distressing thing that happened to me when I was about 8 years old, a supply teacher thought I was a girl because I had long hair and as much as I tried to explain that I wasn’t, she didn’t believe me, to the point where she was laughing and mocking me in front of the entire class which triggered all my fellow classmates to laugh and joke at my expense too. Its only now when I look back at that incident do I realise how cruel it was for a teacher to humiliate a child like that.

“When you are a young teenager it seems that your priority in life is to fit in with everyone else and that’s what I wanted, but I never did. I powered through, I was a very good student, I loved learning but I was deeply unhappy.”

As I got older I became very aware of how different I was. I was the fat, shy, brown kid with long hair and very few friends. I was called all sorts of names, which only made me more introverted. When you are a young teenager it seems that your priority in life is to fit in with everyone else and that’s what I wanted, but I never did. I powered through, I was a very good student, I loved learning but I was deeply unhappy. To my own detriment, I found comfort in food which affected me way into my 20s but that’s a story for another day.

DTL: Do you have any advice for a person who might experience racial discrimination or bullying online?
Rav: Tell someone, don’t put up with it in silence. Report and block! It’s very important for people to be aware that the opinions of others do not define them, you are in the driver’s seat, embrace your differences and face life head on.

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DTL: You have some pretty delicious looking dishes on your Instagram  – what’s your favourite thing to cook?
Rav: Thank you very much, I’m really into Pan Asian cuisine, I’m talking Japanese, Thai, Malaysian and of course Indian. I’m all about to creating fusion dishes with flavours from that part of the world. My all-time favourite thing to bake and eat are macarons, I absolutely love them!

DTL: What advice would you give to any budding young chefs out there, or anyone interested in cooking?
Rav: Experiment, practice and have fun.

DTL: In some recent research carried out on ideas of masculinity which hold guys back, young men have been asking Google: ‘is it ok for guys to cook?’… what are your thoughts on this?
Rav: That’s astounding, some of the best chefs are men. I must admit, I was surprised at how some people thought it was a radical thing to see an Asian man baking on the TV. I did see some comments on Twitter from men saying things like ‘he should be at work, not in the kitchen’ or ‘why did his mum let him bake?’ For me it wasn’t strange at all because I grew up watching my dad in the kitchen and he was fundamental in encouraging me to cook. Everyone should learn how to cook, regardless of your gender.

DTL: Do you ever feel like you have to conform to certain stereotypes with regards to your gender?
Rav: I think the pressures to conform will always be there but I’m all about thinking freely and not being categorised into a box.

DTL: Anything else you’d like to add?
Rav: Don’t allow others to dim your light, shine bright and be your best self.

To see what Rav’s cooking up in the kitch, follow @RavSBansal on Twitter or check him out on Snapchat: rav.bansal. You could also try some of the tasty recipes in Rav’s blog: www.ravbansal.com.

If you’re being bullied, don’t go through it alone. Join the community today to talk to our amazing digital mentors online.

Comedian Maz Jobrani on the 10 things you should know about Muslims

1. We’re not all really that religious.
I mean, I was born in Iran which is a Muslim country but I don’t practice the religion. You could say I’m Muslim-ish. I drink, I don’t fast during Ramadan and I don’t pray 5 times a day. The only time I pray is if I’m almost in an accident and then I yell something like, “OH JESUS CHRIST!” Which as you can see isn’t very Muslim at all!

2. We’re not all terrorists.
If you watched enough film, tv and news, you would think every Muslim or middle easterner you knew belongs to a sleeper cell. I have never met a terrorist in my life. Not even accidentally. Never been home one night and gotten a call, “Hello! Hassan! It goes down tomorrow at midnight.” “Who is this?” “Oops. Sorry. Wrong number!”

3. We’re not trying to bring sharia law to the U.S.!
Some people fear Muslims because they think Muslims want to bring their laws to the U.S. I have no intention of doing that. I swear I prefer laws that let women hang out in their bikinis on beaches rather than having to cover up in burqas. I also prefer laws that let me have a nice bottle of Cabernet at the end of the night rather than having to sip tea all day. And even if Muslims actually DID want to bring sharia law to the U.S. the fact that there are so few Muslims in America would make it impossible.

4. We love Star Wars just like everyone else.
(That one’s self explanatory.)

5. We probably, as a group, prefer soccer to American football.
That’s mostly because we don’t have time to sit through all those commercial breaks. I never can understand why a one hour game takes three hours to play.

6. We actually respect many other religions.
Though some Muslim countries persecute people from other religions (like Iran with the Baha’is), most of the Muslims I know are accepting of other religions. As a matter of fact Jesus and Moses are both accepted as prophets in Islam.

7. Our women can be pretty bad ass!
Anyone who saw the Green Movement in 2009 when there were protests against the election results in Iran saw a population of both men and women protesting for their votes to be counted in Iran. Many of the people leading those protests were women who took to the streets to demand their rights. If you’ve forgotten about it find some footage on YouTube and you will see. The regime ultimately squashed the protests but it was inspirational to see a population demand their rights in the way Iranians did at that time.

8. Many Muslims come from countries where the west has had a hand in messing up their past.
Whether it’s the U.S. leading a coup of a democratically elected leader in Iran in 1953 or England colonising India for many years, you can trace a lot of the problems in these countries back to actions by the west many years ago. So in a way, we have helped create the quagmire we find ourselves in today. This includes Bush Two’s decision to go into Iraq after 9/11.

9. We love kebabs and hummus.
(I mean, who doesn’t?)

10. We really don’t want to harm you.
I swear to God (whichever God you believe in) we just want to go to work, provide for our families and if we’re lucky, maybe have enough energy to make love to our wives at the end of the day. Oh, and also eat ice cream!

We interviewed Hanan Challouki & Taha Riani, co-founders of Mvslim.com – an online space that unites people from different backgrounds and cultures, not only to create a strong community of Muslims, but to make the world of Muslims more accessible to others.

DTL: What were the motivations for setting up Mvslim.com?

Hanan: We started searching the word “Muslim” on Google and the images we found were horrifying; killings, weapons, images of children with guns, and so on. We wanted to change this, to change the perception of what being a Muslim is like, but also to create a platform where the diversity and lifestyle of young Muslims today, can be acknowledged.

DTL: What is it like to be a Muslim in today’s world?

Taha: Of course you’re easily labeled, with everything that’s going on in the world today. After every terror attack you have to prove to the world that you’re “one of the good guys”. With Mvslim, we think it’s important to start from our own positive narrative, instead of always having to defend yourself, and answer for the actions of other people.

DTL: What do you think needs to change?  

Hanan: We think it’s time to acknowledge that people carry more than one identity, that you can’t box people into one category. As long as the outside world still perceives Muslims solely as Muslims, and not as (for example) Europeans, Americans, male/female, ethnical backgrounds, professionals … we still have a long way to go.

DTL: How do you think the internet informs identity and perceptions of identity? Were there any revelations when researching for Mvslim?

Taha: Internet and social media are having a huge impact on today’s identity processes and perceptions, there’s no doubting that. We get all these images and associations, and it forms how we perceive others, especially people that don’t necessarily ‘look’ like us. With Mvslim, we want to break stereotypes and stop the easy labelling process, based on someone’s appearances for example. A woman wearing a headscarf can be an engineer, a scientist, or anything else she wants to be. But these are not the professions that come to mind to a lot of people when seeing a woman with a hijab. We want to stop this narrow-minded thinking process by showing examples, so people think twice.

DTL: What have been the reactions to Mvslim so far?

Hanan: The past year has been amazing, since we launched in April 2015, we’ve gotten a lot of positive messages and reactions. Both from Muslims and non-Muslims, who like what we’re doing and tell us to keep going. So that’s what we’re going to do!

DTL: Like Ditch the Label, one of Mvslim’s main goal is to ‘bring people together’, how do you go about implementing that objective?

Taha: In a lot of our content, we put the emphasis on the things we all share, beyond the borders of ethnicity, religion or nationality. We think it’s important to also implement that in our vision and working process. Our team is international and very diverse, which means that there are people from all over the world contributing to Mvslim, both Muslims and non-Muslims as well. As long as you stand behind our vision, you are welcome to join us.

DTL: Have you personally ever experienced prejudice because of attitudes towards your ethnicity? If so can you tell us what happened and how you overcame the experience.

Hanan: We have both experienced prejudice, because of attitudes towards our ethnicity as our religion; from teachers discriminating against us in school, to random people in the streets shouting their racist opinions. We live in Belgium, we’re part of both an ethnic and a religious minority, and there will always be people who don’t want us there. We try to build towards a solution; more inclusion and understanding towards one another.

DTL: Do you have any advice/tips for readers, especially other young people from minority groups who feel as though their voice is not being heard?

Taha: Keep shouting, until they do.

DTL: We love that you are trying to break stereotypes with your content – can you link us to one of your favourite articles on Mvslim that you feel is a good example of this?

Hanan: There are so many examples of this on our website, one that we really like is about this 15-year-old girl who is Gaza’s first and only competitive female runner. You have to admire this, right?

Mvslim.com

Social Activist and gay Muslim Ejel Khan on reconciling his religion and sexuality, cyberbullying and making a difference through activism.

I describe myself as ‘culturally muslim’; in that, I am not so concerned for the dogma that is tied to religion, but I still have faith, regardless of my sexuality. Reconciling my religion and sexuality was something I did for myself and no one else. I wholeheartedly understand that there will be people out there who do not like me, or agree with me – and some will have opinions I cannot change but, I can only be myself. My true authentic self.  

Next month I turn forty-two years old. I only came out ‘officially’, twelve years ago to my friends and family, and I did so, in order to obtain inner peace. The reaction from my family was muted; sexuality, both hetero and homo, is not openly discussed in the Muslim community and my parents spoke only to express concern for my safety and how other people might perceive me. Essentially, I am their child, and unless your parents are right-wing extremists, they will accept you, no matter the circumstance.

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I was born and bred in Luton, and have lived here most of my life. My parents are from the Indian subcontinent, and thanks to them, I have travelled widely there. What both places have in common, despite their difference in location, is that there are communities living in both, that feel marginalised and repressed. I constantly experience prejudice because of attitudes towards my sexuality; from physical altercations to trolling on my social media accounts. ‘You gay bastard’ and ‘I wish you were dead’, are just a couple of examples of things complete strangers have felt compelled (without provocation) to message me. I choose to ignore it, for fear of exacerbating any nasty sentiment and, to a point I can handle it – although I shouldn’t have to. In the end I removed myself from the firing line, and deleted my social media accounts. Through my activism I am actively engaged with people who may harbour such opinions, but the omnipresence of the internet has led me to permanently dissociate myself from social media. I would not promote myself online again, the backlash is just not worth it.

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Conversely, social media does serve to help marginalised communities; you can be anywhere in the world and yet, still have the ability to access support with a simple click of a button. Growing up without the privilege of the internet, my very limited knowledge of homosexuality came from the media; the newspaper or the television. I realise now, how little I knew about myself and the LGBT+ community. I didn’t have anyone to reach out to at the time, and had to make sense of myself and the situation I was in, by going to therapy.

When you reach adulthood, you realise that maybe there is opportunity to make a difference –  even if I impact on one person’s life – that’s enough for me. If I can shed my anonymity and speak out about my experiences, well, maybe someone will find comfort in that. Maybe my voice, will help them find their own.

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Ejel Khan is a social activist and is involved with the Peter Tatchell Foundation’s LGBT-Muslim Solidarity campaign: http://www.petertatchellfoundation.org/advocacy/lgbt-muslim-solidarity

 

We spoke to Charan Singh about photographing members of the Indian LGBT+ community

DTL: What is it like for members of the LGBT+ Community living in India today?

Charan: Homosexuality is still punishable by law in India, which means that corruption and homophobic abuse are rampant. Because of these attitudes, the LGBT+ community are subject to discrimination, harassment, rape, beatings and forced marriages. A consequence of this denial of freedom, is suicide.

Although there is a strong lobby for change, and there are very healthy conversations happening in India and other parts of South Asia regarding sexuality, we still have a very long battle ahead of us. It goes beyond a government overturning a ruling; we need to unlearn the phobia engrained in our society.

from the series "Kothis, Hijras, Giriyas and Others", Delhi, India, 2013 onwards

DTL: What inspired this series?

Charan: My photographic practice is informed by HIV/AIDS work and community activism in India, along with a formal study of the history of art and photography. I made this series because the LGBT+ sub-culture in India, is very rarely seen outside of its disempowered, HIV/AIDS victim narratives. So often, this community is reduced to data; they are pie-charts, tables and graphs. I wanted to move away from this one-dimensional conversation and explore their gendered and sexual life as a whole. I wanted to explore the human behind the statistic – the complexity of the person – and cover a range of emotions, anxieties, concerns, dilemmas and dreams, to give the subjects an importance, which contradicts the popular image of people from these social backgrounds.

from the series "Kothis, Hijras, Giriyas and Others", Delhi, India, 2013 onwards

DTL: Can you explain the title of the series?

Charan: The title of the project, ‘Kothis (effeminate, underprivileged, homosexual men), Hijras (eunuchs or transgender), Giriyas (partners of kothis and hijras) and Others (those born male whose sexuality cannot be categorised)’ are indigenous terms used by queer, working class and transgendered men in their own dialect, to define their different and particular sexual identities. Around 1994, UN funding for the AIDS epidemic bought all these identities into one umbrella term, “MSM” (Men who have Sex with Men.) This term was conceived to overcome the variety of local cultural differences from Morocco to Indonesia. Although it may have fulfilled its purpose to describe a category of behaviour, however, it failed to provide dignity to the affected communities it refers to, even after its recent inclusion of the term “TG” referring to transgender communities.

from the series "Kothis, Hijras, Giriyas and Others", Delhi, India, 2013 onwards

DTL: Do you know the people in the photographs?

Charan: I made the portraits of my sitters in their community centre and have known some of them for as long as sixteen years. For this reason, I feel they were comfortable posing for me in front of the lens. I am one of them. I am not appropriating their story. I am no threat. I want to represent them as they wish to be seen.

DTL: What inspired their poses? Did you tell them what to do?

Charan: As models they are greatly influenced by Bollywood cinema and television soaps, perhaps because they are primarily Hindi speaking people and their main source of visual reference is popular media. Art galleries, museums and the internet in India are not easily accessible to people who are not from the English speaking middle and upper-middle classes. Consequently, many of my sitters have adopted poses from heroines of popular television serials, whilst others have modelled themselves on famous courtesans’ characters in classic Bollywood films from the 1950s and 1960s.

from the series "Kothis, Hijras, Giriyas and Others", Delhi, India, 2013 onwards

DTL: What is your main objective as a photographer? 

Charan: When I make photographs, I want to make something queer but also want to challenge stereotypes. Many of my subjects have never had a studio portrait made in their life-time. Therefore, I attempted to create a space where people could feel comfortable regardless of their class, caste, identity, gender, sexuality, performance; these are individual human beings each with their own nuances.

http://www.charansingh.net/

My name is Charlie, and I’m from Sweden, one of the most tolerant and liberal countries in the world.

How lucky I am, to have been brought up in a country deemed so progressive; never have I been asked, or ordered to act in a way that is unnatural, or untrue to my authentic self. As a gay man, my closet has always been transparent; built with glass doors and walls.

When I was a spokesperson for a Pride organisation in one of Sweden’s major cities, people frequently asked me, “Do we still need Pride today?”, a question that was often followed with statements such as, “Your community has equal rights like everybody else here – you can even marry and have children.”

It came as quite a shock to me, that so much focus was put into questioning the necessity of Pride. To a point, I understand – I have had the privilege of never having to look over my shoulder before kissing my boyfriend in public – but what about transgender people? And what about queer people of colour? Disabled queers? They are just some of the many sub-groups belonging to the LGBT+ community that still face discrimination on a daily basis. So to answer, that’s why we still celebrate Pride in Sweden today.

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Events like the massacre in Pulse, Orlando, are rightfully used by everyone that supports the queer community, as examples of why Pride is still an absolute necessity. Although progression has been made, we still have a long way to go. Sadly, there are also people out there who oppose equal rights and see these tragedies as a reason to axe high profile LGBT+ events. They believe that the celebration of our identities provoke these senseless murders.

A pastor in Sweden, named Stanley Sjöberg, shared his thoughts about the attack in Orlando – he wrote: “Why can’t these people refrain from exposing themselves with their nakedness and boastfully demonstrating their lifestyles?!” Also claiming that, “If the ‘Pride culture’ continues to be provocative in this way, the event in Orlando will be repeated, in other cities and in other countries.”

Pastor Stanley tried to vindicate his statement by drawing a comparison with friends of his that are of Christian belief, and live in countries where Christianity is considered ‘deviant’ and ‘wrong’. He’s advised them to never give up their faith, but also not to be “too loud about it”. This argument, when applied to the subject of Pride, would suggest that being gay is alright – just as long as one keeps it quiet. Thankfully, most people in Sweden disagreed with him, and Pastor Stanley’s Facebook account was suspended after Facebook’s administration received numerous complaints about his discriminatory posts.

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What is concerning, and maybe, less expected, is that there are some members of the gay community that agree with Pastor Stanley’s sentiment. Internalised homophobia is prevalent on Apps like Grindr, where profiles are littered with statements such as “Can’t stand gay-acting men”, or “I’m straight-acting”, or “I don’t understand why some men act like women. If you act like a woman, maybe you should consider a sex change”.

Some will probably dismiss this as people asserting their ‘preferences’ and ‘types’ – these people are a part of the community – surely they don’t seek to hurt it?

I have heard good friends, and a handful of previous lovers say they don’t understand the need to celebrate Pride; they feel it is superficial and does not represent them. I always respond by saying, “Darling, please wake up and smell the coffee – I can assure you that nobody in the Pride parade is there to represent you, they are there to represent themselves. If you want Pride to represent you, then join them, don’t distance yourself from them!”

I appreciate Pride will always have its critics. There will always be those that question whether or not it is the most effective or, sufficient way to fight for equality. But, by denying the importance of Pride, you are essentially agreeing with Pastor Stanley – that it is ‘okay’ to be gay, as long as you don’t make a song and dance about it (literally). We need to stop commenting on how people choose to express themselves; whether you are “straight-acting” or “gay-acting” – one should not be more acceptable than the other.

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After events like the Orlando shooting, the queer community and its supporters need to unite and stand together – even closer than before! We need to do that in order to assure our safety. Of course, in times like this we are fearful, but I implore you not to be. For fear makes us think twice before we grab the hand of the one we love. It makes us look over our shoulder before we kiss. And that, my friends, should not be the case.

I’m going to march in Stockholm Pride as well as in Brighton Pride this year, adding my tone to the Rainbow, and I hope you do that too.

 

What is it like to be gay in Malaysia today?

As part of our series, LGBT+ World Voices, Ditch the Label have been speaking to people in the LGBT+ community who are living, or have lived in countries with repressive legislation/strong conservative attitudes. This month sees Pride celebrations happening around the world and with this in mind, we want to give a platform and visibility to those who are still prohibited from living freely as their true selves.

We spoke to Amin, who told us what it is like to be gay in Malaysia today.

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I’ve always known I was attracted to other boys. When I was eight, I had a classmate whom I would think about constantly – I would fantasise about us holding hands or kissing.

I got teased a lot in my all-boys school – people used to call me ‘pondan’ (an often derogatory Malay word for feminine/gay man or transgender woman). Although Malaysia in the 1980s was not an impossible place to grow up gay, it was still hard work. In Malay-language sitcoms, for example, there would usually be a pondan-type character stealing the show, a bit like Julian and Sandy on BBC Radio’s Round the Horn in the 1960s.

Although Islam is Malaysia’s official religion, the population is actually very religiously diverse – it’s around 60 per cent Muslim, 20 per cent Buddhist, ten per cent Christian, six per cent Hindu and the remainder Taoist, Sikh and other traditional religions. Because of the special legal status of Islam, in Malaysian schools, it’s compulsory for Muslims to take up Islamic Studies – non-Muslims are segregated during these lessons and have to take up Moral Studies.

In my Islamic Studies classes, the dos and don’ts in Islam (as we were taught) would constantly be drummed into our heads. Homosexuality was, of course, a big don’t. I spent my secondary school life praying for Allah to make me masculine and attracted to girls. Amid all of this, I had a gay best friend in school, Badrul, who is also Muslim. Once, when our Islamic Studies teacher was telling us that homosexuality was a major sin, Badrul interrupted and asked if masturbation was a major sin as well. Our teacher replied that masturbation was a minor sin. So Badrul asked if it was a major or minor sin for two men to masturbate together. Our teacher was amused but unsettled and said it was pointless to discuss such things. The other boys howled with laughter – I kept an embarrassed silence but admired Badrul’s boldness.

“I spent my secondary school life praying for Allah to make me masculine and attracted to girls”

 

When I was in my early 20s I went overseas to university on a government scholarship. Badrul stayed back in Malaysia.
In 1998, our Deputy Prime Minister, Anwar Ibrahim, was sacked on charges of corruption and sodomy. In Malaysia, sodomy is a crime under the secular Penal Code and also under Islamic laws – both sets of legislation were introduced by British colonial rulers. Overnight, a homophobic vigilante group emerged – PASRAH, or the People’s Voluntary Anti-Homosexual Movement. I was livid and even though I did not particularly like Anwar, I deeply opposed how he was treated. Badrul shocked me, however – he detested Anwar so much that he was happy for him to be jailed. Unlike me, Badrul simply didn’t consider the campaign against Anwar homophobic. This was not the only strange thing – for all the noise that PASRAH was making, they had to dissolve because they had such little public support.

This is the Malaysian paradox – in everyday life, Malaysians are not really that homophobic. You actually can live a very gay lifestyle especially if you’re based in the capital, Kuala Lumpur, where gay clubs and saunas abound. People generally tolerate you if you don’t explicitly demand full equality for lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender (LGBT) people. This is the kind of life Badrul has accepted for himself, but it’s a life that makes me extremely uncomfortable.

I also found it stressful trying to navigate my gay identity around the never-ending dictates of the Islamic religious police – apart from homosexuality, Muslims can get punished for drinking alcohol, not fasting in Ramadan, not going to the mosque on Fridays (for Muslim men) and so on. And even though my family know I’m gay, and accept me for who I am, they too are afraid for me. They’re always cautioning me to be careful and to not get caught by the authorities.

“Even though my family know I’m gay, and accept me for who I am, they too are afraid for me”

 

By skill or by luck, I’ve never been caught. But I feel like I can’t fully be myself in Malaysia. I have numerous Muslim friends who are exactly like me – straight and gay. We know what amazing potential we have, but we’re frustrated by the constraints that are placed around us. We’re all proud to be Muslim, too. Through online research, I’ve been exposed to lots of Islamic scholarship saying that it is actually homophobia/transphobia and not homosexuality/transgenderism that is a major sin in Islam. These interpretations of Islam are banned by the Malaysian government, however. Instead, Malaysian experiences of Islam are transforming drastically because the government is getting more repressive.

In this climate, more vulnerable than gay/bisexual men and lesbian/bisexual women are transgender men and women. Transgender women are especially prone to being violently harassed by Islamic enforcers – and this seems to be escalating the more we hear about political and economic scandals confronting the government. So from my perspective, homophobia and transphobia in Malaysia have been made much worse by politics. It’s not because of religion or Islam, as some Islamophobic people might argue in the West. There are many Muslims, Christians, Hindus, Buddhists and non-religious people in Malaysia who are very supportive of LGBT rights. But they are powerless to do anything politically, because the system only rewards people who are homophobic.

For example, after the Orlando LGBT nightclub massacre, among the numerous supportive messages on Facebook from my Malaysian friends, I saw some less helpful comments along the lines of: “Well, we oppose the killing but we still think homosexuality is immoral and disgusting.” I know this attitude is not confined to Malaysians or Muslims, but the thing is that this is precisely the Malaysian government’s position, too.

To me, the bigger problem in a country like Malaysia, is a lack of democracy and respect for civil liberties. The government does not only target LGBT’s – it has also demonised Christians, Hindus, ethnic Chinese, feminist activists and Shia Muslims (because Malaysian Muslims are mostly Sunni). I don’t mind people having homophobic views or other views that I find distasteful, but I want the right to challenge or to disagree with them. If there were genuine freedoms of speech, belief and association in Malaysia, I think rational arguments would eventually win. As it stands, the Malaysian government is happy to use homophobia as a weapon to control its citizens. It is the biggest bully that is stopping the full flourishing of Malaysians – LGBT or straight.

“He said he and his boyfriend just had to be aware of when “hunting season” was for LGBT’s so they could stay low”

 

I actually love and miss Malaysia dearly, but at some point I had to clear my mind and so I came to the UK to further my studies. Then I met a wonderful English man and fell in love. I’m not saying things are perfect in Britain, but it is fantastic that we can share our love and have it protected under the law now. We give credit to the amazing LGBT activists here who’ve made it possible for us to be together like this. Ideally, I’d like to contribute to positive change in Malaysia, too, not just for LGBT’s but for human rights and democracy in general. But even my friends and family are now telling me to stay in Britain. They see that I’m in an amazing relationship and they want me to be happy.

Actually, Badrul is in a happy relationship, too. I see his posts on Facebook with his man, and their immediate families seem supportive. The last time I met him, he said he and his boyfriend just had to be aware of when “hunting season” was for LGBT’s so they could stay low. It sounded awful but he said it with a laugh.

To be LGBT in Malaysia is tough, but many people do find a way. My hope is that Malaysia becomes a true democracy one day and has a government that is not corrupt and truly upholds the human rights of LGBT’s and all other minorities.

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Names have been changed to protect identity.

Yesterday it was announced that it is now illegal to wear a Burqa in Switzerland with fines of up to £6,500 for those in violation. Unfortunately this isn’t a new concept within the realms of legislation as the French government made it illegal back in 2010. For those who aren’t familiar with Burqas, it is a long garment covering the whole body from head to feet. It is typically worn in public by Muslim women. As a pro-equality charity, we are strictly against anything that prohibits freedom of speech or expression and completely condemn the bans.

6 Reasons Why We Shouldn’t Ban the Burqa

1. Because everybody should have the freedom of speech and expression:
It is a basic human right to be able to live your life and to express yourself in an environment that is safe and equal. Historically, so many groups of people have been suppressed by public opinion and politics and driven underground. This is the 21st century and we should be moving forwards and not backwards. We should all challenge any status quo that violates the rights of others. Whilst we understand the opinion that Burqa’s disempower women, banning them is not the way to tackle the issue. The fact of the matter is: men and women are equal and this should extend to equality of expression.

2. Because religion does not equal terrorism:
The sheer fact that the Burqa has been banned in Switzerland, suggests that they clearly perceive it to be a threat to public safety. Islamophobia or Islamohate as we prefer to call it is a growing trend, specifically within Westernised culture. There is a common belief that all people who identify as being Muslim are terrorists or extremists, whereas terrorism activity represents an incredibly small proportion of the Muslim community and violates the basic principles and beliefs that the religion is based on.

3. Because banning the Burqa is forced feminism:
We understand that in many cases, the Burqa is used to disempower women and to remove their freedom of expression, but equally – in many other cases, it is used as an outlet for people to express their religious beliefs and affinity. We absolutely stand against the unfair treatment of women, but banning the Burqa is not necessarily the best way to tackle the issue. It is a much better strategy to understand the root cause of those beliefs and to challenge them with education.

4. Because Burqa’s are a staple piece in the expression of religious beliefs:
Our research shows that only a minority of young people are religious and that’s perfectly okay. It’s also perfectly okay to have religious beliefs – whether they are beliefs that comply with popular religions or not. Nobody has the right to dictate to anybody what they can and can’t believe and it’s important to respect that everybody is different and that diversity is a good and important thing. Burqa’s are, to some people, an expression of their devotion to their religion. That’s okay. Just because you don’t understand it, doesn’t mean you should fear it.

5. Because the Government should have no right in deciding what citizens can and can’t wear in public:
Imagine the outcry if the British Government suddenly decided to ban hats, gloves and scarves during the winter months because a small minority were using them to conceal their identity for insidious purpose? Could you imagine the reaction? The Government is there to run the country and not there to dictate religious or clothing choices.

6. Because Governments should be allocating time and resources to things such as poverty, radicalisation and equality:
It takes a lot of time and costs a lot of money for the Government to draft, amend and file new legislation. We don’t have exact figures but we imagine it’s enough to feed a lot of people who are on the brink of poverty.