February 1, 2024

How Gay Is Pakistan?

With blasphemy laws and a climate of fear affecting Pakistan, many would be forgiven for thinking it is not the kind of place where gay people have much freedom. But the reality is far more complex. YouTube star Mawaan Rizwan returned to the country of his birth to find out how gay it really is and discovered sex dens, underground LGBT parties and communities of transgender women living together.

He meets a young gay couple in the city of Lahore who share everything from clothes and movies to money and work, and are determined to make their relationship a success. And he talks to the parents of boys who come out as gay to their families, which can be a very dangerous proposition in a country that criminalises homosexual acts and has strict laws on blasphemy.

While the Pakistani constitution guarantees civil liberties, the state has extensive legal powers to curb press freedom. It is one of the world's deadliest countries for journalists, with intelligence agents and members of banned militant organisations often behind threats to reporters. It also has strict sharia-based laws on blasphemy that have been used against many journalists and others who criticise the government or religion.

But despite the conservative social rules and a religious system that outlaws homosexual acts, Mawaan finds an underground scene in urban Pakistan that is vibrant, with one man telling him that it's a gay man's paradise. He visits sex bars, hotels and underground parties and even attends a weekly gathering at Karachi's busiest shrine, which is a cruising ground for gay men.


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