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Pakistani cinema and television highlights LGBTQ, intersex issues

Government sought to ban ‘Joyland’

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The Pakistani government sought to ban "Joyland" in the country. (Promotional poster for "Joyland")

There are several Pakistani movies and television shows that depict the lives of LGBTQ and intersex people in society.

Though some media outlets have become more inclusive, the representation of queer people on screen is still too rare. Pakistan has seen a rise in the production of LGBTQ and intersex movies and television shows that include dramas, documentaries and web series. Some of them are made in Pakistan, while others are produced abroad. Many of them have been released in Pakistan. The government banned some of them, but others have not only amused audiences but won international awards.

Here is a list of some of them. 

‘Joyland’

“Joyland” is a Pakistani film that made waves at the Cannes Film Festival. 

The film follows the story of a transgender woman named Biba, who is trying to make a living as a dancer in Lahore. She faces many challenges in her life, including discrimination and violence from those who do not accept her gender identity. She nevertheless persists, despite these difficulties, and ultimately finds love and acceptance from unexpected sources. This heartwarming film highlights the struggles and triumphs of the trans community in Pakistan and is sure to resonate with viewers around the world. “Joyland” is a powerful and timely film that highlights the struggles of trans people in Pakistan. It is also a celebration of hope and friendship, and an uplifting story about chasing your dreams against all odds.

In a conservative Pakistani family, the youngest son Haider (Ali Junejo) is expected to produce a baby boy with his wife. However, he joins an erotic dance theater and falls for the troupe’s director, a trans woman. This film tells the story of the sexual revolution in Pakistan and their struggle against traditional gender roles and expectations. 

“Joyland” is the first Pakistani film on the LGBTQ topic that premiered at Cannes Film Festival and received an overwhelming response. It won the prestigious Cannes “Queer Palm” award during its world premiere. The government had tried to ban the film, but it opened in the country last month. 

‘Poshida: Hidden LGBT Pakistan’

In the conservative, Muslim-dominated country of Pakistan, homosexuality is a taboo topic. However, there is a thriving LGBTQ and intersex community in Pakistan that is forced to live in secrecy. The documentary “Poshida: Hidden LGBT Pakistan” shines a light on this hidden community. 

It follows the lives of several LGBTQ and intersex Pakistanis, who bravely share their stories. The documentary was released in 2015 in Pakistan and in the U.K. by director Faizan Fiaz. It was the first kind of movie on the “LGBTQ” topic. The film was screened at film festivals in Barcelona, Spain, and in the U.S. The word “poshida” means “hidden” in Urdu. The film is particularly timely given the current global discussion around LGBTQ and intersex rights. It examines the legacy of colonialism, class structures and the impact of the U.S. government’s gay rights advocacy in Pakistan. 

The documentary is about a serial killer from Lahore who kills trans people, women and gay men for entertainment purposes. Human rights abuses of trans men and women are also explored in the documentary. 

‘Churails’

Pakistani cinema has come a long way in recent years, tackling several taboo subjects and exploring new genres and stories. One of the most groundbreaking Pakistani films of recent years is “Churails.”

The film is the first Pakistani queer web series that revolves around four women. It is the first time that a lesbian relationship in any Pakistani film or web series is portrayed.

This film features a trans woman Baby Doll (Zara Khan), lesbian lovers Babli (Sameena Nazir) and Pinky (Bakhtawar Mazhar) and a gay husband. Four women who were students — one was a wedding planner, the third one was convicted of a crime and the fourth woman was a socialite set up a secret detective agency in Karachi. The aim was to launch a detective service for those women who were cheated by their husbands. 

A web series set in Karachi challenges the status quo and subverts the conventional narrative. The critically acclaimed web series has opened up a debate about Pakistan’s patriarchal society. The show doesn’t shy away from tough questions: Veils, deception and secrets. “Churails” is the story of four self-made women who come together to break certain stereotypes and challenge societal hypocrisy. 

“Churails” is the first Pakistani drama web series which was released in 2020 by ZEE5, an Indian on-demand video platform. The web series is directed and produced by Asim Abbasi. The film was not allowed to screen in Pakistani cinema or channels. The movie was only available on ZEE5. however, at the time of releasing the film the state bank of Pakistan ordered all the banks to block Pakistani consumers to purchase subscriptions to ZEE5. 

“Churails” won the “OTT Platform Show of the Year” at the British Asian Media Awards in February 2021. “Churails” is a feminist film in every sense of the word. 

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Cloud-based platform seeks to improve health care for LGBTQ, intersex Indians

Borderless LGBT currently operates in Bengaluru

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Borderless LGBT is a cloud-based platform that is working to improve health care access to LGBTQ and intersex Indians. (Photo courtesy of Borderless LGBT)

The COVID-19 pandemic wreaked havoc and forced India into a strict lockdown. 

The Indian government, through the Union Health Ministry, says upwards of 530,677 people died from COVID-19, and the country administered 2,200,212,178 doses of vaccines. The pandemic, however, exposed the truth about discrimination based on gender identity in the country’s healthcare system.

India’s transgender community, in particular, had a difficult time accessing the vaccine. 

The country’s LGBTQ and intersex community often faces discrimination and stigma in both traditional private and government-run healthcare facilities. To tackle this, Borderless LGBT, the world’s first cloud-based health and wellness medical service that specifically focuses on LGBTQ and intersex healthcare, has launched a cloud clinic in India. 

The cloud-based platform allows global experts to collaborate with local doctors who are interested in LGBTQ and intersex medicine to provide care to LGBTQ and intersex patients either in the clinic or at home via immersive telemedicine. 

Borderless Health Care Group, Borderless LGBT’s parent company, provides a wide range of healthcare and wellness solutions to patients globally that includes general health, women’s health, men’s health, chronic disease management and pet care. But the idea behind Borderless LGBT came from the sense that the LGBTQ and intersex community is the most underserved, and there was a need for a platform that provides healthcare and wellness services to the community without any judgment.

“The goal is to democratize LGBT healthcare knowledge and services via the implementation of (an) LGBT clinic-of-the-future and technology-enabled LGBT home health,” Lani Santiago, vice president of the Borderless Healthcare Group’s Chairman’s Office, told the Washington Blade. “We have doctors from the U.S., Europe, Australia, (Southeast) Asia, India, etc.”

COVID-19 — and associated lockdowns, loss of employment and loved ones, the sudden overflow of patients and isolation from friends and family — affected mental health in India. This trend, however, is not new for the LGBTQ and intersex community.

Community members in a largely conservative Indian society have faced mental health issues all their lives, and researchers around the world have said the LGBTQ and intersex people face more mental health issues than heterosexuals. The stigma and prejudice in society have a different impact on the community. 

Borderless LGBT in India, among other things, is providing mental health services for the LGBTQ and intersex community. The cloud-based platform is also providing health services for HIV, STD, sexual wellness, chronic disease management and family planning for the LGBTQ and intersex community in India. 

Borderless LGBT is currently providing health care services in Bengaluru, the capital of Karnataka state in southern India. But in an interview with the Blade, Santiago said that the company has planned to roll out the services in other key cities in the country. 

Santiago said that the traditional medical services that general hospitals offer do not cater to the specific needs of the LGBTQ and intersex community. In addition, the inefficiency and inherent conflict of interest in the traditional medical fraternity will take a long time to serve them. 

“Borderless LGBT aims to create a new online-to-offline delivery channel to provide LGBT community unparalleled access to the best-of-class LGBT health and wellness knowledge and services where local doctors interested in LGBT healthcare can have instant access to global experts to support the management of their LGBT patients,” said Santiago. “The traditional provision of services is usually dependent on the knowledge and experience of the local doctor which in India, LGBT healthcare is still at its infancy.”

A 2021 report from National AIDS Control Organization, a division of India’s Health and Family Welfare Ministry, notes 2.4 million people are living with HIV in the country. 

Stigma, societal pressure, and shame have pushed gay men underground, and not many of them seek help regarding HIV and other sexually transmitted infections. Borderless LGBT and other innovative healthcare solutions can provide an opportunity for patients from the community to seek medical attention without facing discrimination, shame, or stigma with their privacy intact. 

“Borderless LGBT is positioned to support the local doctors with the latest knowledge in LGBT healthcare via a new online-to-offline global ‘co-care’ model with global experts,” said Santiago. “Thus, bringing the best of proximal local care and the best of global matured LGBT healthcare knowledge to the LGBT community.”

Vinay Chandran, executive director of Swabhava, an NGO in India that supports the LGBTQ and intersex community with health and advocacy, told the Blade that a generation of LGBTQ and intersex people who have not benefitted from public health services might hopefully benefit from these cloud-based efforts. 

One concern that Chandran has is how people outside of urban areas will access these services. Chandran, however, believes time will tell whether Borderless LGBT’s efforts to ensure adequate health care outreach will prove successful.

“LGBT+ people have had personal and historical encounters with healthcare that range from the ignorant to the violent,” he said. “It is to the credit of a huge number of activists and legal challenges that the National Medical Commission of India have required a rewriting of curriculum and contemplate disciplinary action for those practising conversion therapy. However, implementation fo such measures will take time. Meanwhile, if the working LGBT+ population can have access to such clinics, I’m sure it will benefit quite a few of them.”

Amrita Sarkar of Alliance India, another NGO that works to bolster care for Indians with HIV, echoed Chandran’s concerns about lack of access to cloud-based health care outside of urban areas. Sarkar during an interview with the Blade encouraged Borderless LGBT to work with local LGBTQ and intersex organizations to raise awareness of these platforms.

Ankush Kumar is a freelance reporter who has covered many stories for Washington and Los Angeles Blades from Iran, India and Singapore. He recently reported for the Daily Beast. He can be reached at [email protected]. He is on Twitter at @mohitkopinion

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Indonesia lawmakers criminalize sex outside of marriage

Country’s revised Criminal Code will take effect in three years

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(Bigstock photo)

Lawmakers in Indonesia on Tuesday approved a bill that would criminalize sex outside of marriage.

The Jakarta Post, an English newspaper in the country’s capital, noted the marriage provision is part of a revised Criminal Code that would, among other things, also make it illegal to insult the president. The Jakarta Post said anyone, including foreigners, who have sex outside of marriage could face up to a year in jail.

The new Criminal Code — which LGBTQ and intersex activists and other human rights groups have criticized — will take place in three years.

Consensual same-sex sexual relations are decriminalized in most of Indonesia, but officials in Aceh province in 2021 caned two men under Shariah law after their neighbors caught them having sex. The Indonesian government in recent years has faced criticism over its LGBTQ and intersex rights record.

Authorities in Jakarta, the Indonesian capital, in 2017 arrested 51 people who were attending a “gay party” at a sauna. The closure of an Islamic school for transgender people in the city of Yogyakarta in 2016 also sparked outrage.

Jessica Stern, the special U.S. envoy for the promotion of LGBTQ and intersex rights, had been scheduled to visit Indonesia this week. She cancelled her trip after the Indonesian Ulema Council, the country’s most prominent Islamic group, criticized it.

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Japanese court rules same-sex marriage ban is constitutional

Ruling said lack of legal protections violate couples’ human rights

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(Bigstock photos)

A district court in the Tokyo Prefecture ruled on Wednesday that Japan’s constitutional ban on same-sex marriage is legal. The court added that the absence of a legal system to protect same-sex families infringed upon their human rights.

In a statement to Reuters, Nobuhito Sawasaki, an attorney for the plaintiffs told the wire service, “This is actually a fairly positive ruling,” said Sawasaki who added, “While marriage remains between a man and a woman, and the ruling supported that, it also said that the current situation with no legal protections for same-sex families is not good, and suggested something must be done about it.”

This past June in Osaka Prefecture, the district court in that jurisdiction said that the country’s ban on same-sex marriage was not unconstitutional. The case had been filed by three same-sex couples — two male, one female — and is only the second legal challenge to have been filed in Japan. 

In March 2021, the Sapporo District Court issued its ruling the country’s constitution does not ban same-sex couples from legally marrying and ensures them a right to marry. Under current Japanese law, same-sex couples are banned from legally marrying, which means partners cannot inherit each other’s assets upon death and have no parental rights over the other’s child.

In the Sapporo case, Nikkei Asia reported three couples — also two male and one female — tried to register their marriages in 2019, but local officials turned them away.

The couples sued and the court ruled the government’s actions violated two provisions of the Japanese Constitution: Article 14 that ensures the right to equal treatment and Article 24, which does not expressly deny the right of marriage to same-sex couples.

Prime Minister Fumio Kishida has said the issue needs to be carefully considered, his ruling Liberal Democratic Party has disclosed no plans to review the matter or propose legislation, though some senior party members favor reform.

An opinion poll by the Tokyo Prefecture late last year found some 70 percent of people were in favor of same-sex marriage.

Reuters reported that the Tokyo ruling promises to be influential as the capital has an outsized influence on the rest of Japan.

Gon Matsunaka, head of the activist group Marriage for All Japan told Reuters “This is hard to accept. Both heterosexual and same-sex couples should be able to benefit equally from the system of marriage, as everyone is equal under the law,” he said and added. “It (the ruling) clearly said that is not possible.” Yet the recognition that same-sex families lacked legal protections was “a big step” he noted.

Reuters reported that two more cases are pending in Japan, and activists and lawyers hope an accumulation of judicial decisions supporting same-sex marriage will eventually push lawmakers to change the system, even if this is unlikely soon.

“I hope there will be legislative debate about this,” said plaintiff Shizuka Oe. “We will keep making efforts.”

Tokyo court ruling upholds ban on same-sex marriage:

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