Being gay, lesbian, bisexual, or transgender (LGBT) is still taboo for many families in Britain, and for young people coming out this can lead to forced marriage, disownment, expulsion from their home, and honor-based abuse.
Noor (not her real name), who identifies as lesbian, took extreme measures to cope with family pressure, marrying a gay man to appease her Pakistani parents. She is still not out to her family.
“In our culture, there’s a really huge pressure to get married. My family were like, ‘Find someone for yourself or we’ll find someone for you’,” she said.
Alarmingly, some parents have even forced lesbian and gay children into a heterosexual marriage, thinking it will ‘cure’ them.
Thomson Reuters Foundation reports:
The Freedom Charity, which helps victims of forced marriage, says some parents coerce LGBT children into marriage in a bid to rid them of homosexuality and save face among their community.
“People are leading dual lives and having to do what their parents want. Everyone is a victim here: the partner is a victim, the person who’s forced to marry is a victim. So it’s a horrendous situation,” said Aneeta Prem, head of the charity.
The government’s Forced Marriage Unit said they had 21 reported cases of LGBT people who were forcibly married in 2017, and 30 cases in 2016. Many more cases of people who identify as gay or lesbian forced into marriage go unreported, it said.
The British NGO Karma Nirvana, which operates a hotline for victims of forced marriage, has also seen an uptick in calls from LGBT people.
Jasvinder Sanghera, head of Karma Nirvana, said she knew of extreme cases where gay men were whipped in family-sanctioned exorcisms.
“They are made to feel like who they are is dishonourable and shameful, and they have had exorcisms performed on them involving whipping or beatings,” she said.
Adam, who declined to give his real name, is one such gay man in his 20s who was coerced into marrying a woman. When he finally asked his mother, “What if I am gay?” she responded flatly, “I’d end you and I’d end myself.”
Psychologist Roxanne Khan said many LGBT people experience extreme distress having to choose between family and their sexuality.
“The inner conflict is as powerful as the external threats. They believe they are worthless and sinners, and are trying to reconcile that with trying to make their family happy,” she explained.
For Noor, the struggle continues. When her fake marriage ended after a year, she resorted to living out of her car due to feelings of shame, fear, and guilt.
And now, she said, “My family has introduced me to three guys — and each time it’s the same expectation and it’s that same disappointment.”
“It’s like being trapped.”