In the fourth article of ILGA's #TurnItOff campaign,
written by Bess Hepworth,
lesbian mothers from Australia, Fiji and Pakistan reflect on how the negativity they experience impacts their families.
(photo: Brent Pottinger / Asia-Pacific Rainbow Families Forum)
Only a few days ago the Asia-Pacific Rainbow Families Forum wrapped up, hosted in Hong Kong for the second year in a row. The Forum has grown from 10 countries in our inaugural year to having representatives from an overwhelming 27 countries, who participated in workshops, panels, movie premieres, roundtable discussions and unprecedented sharing.
The Forum was an unbelievable opportunity to dive deeply into the unique lived experiences of LGBTIQ people who are parents, and those that support them, from across some of the many cultures and traditions that make up the mosaic of the Asia-Pacific region.
Based on this very personal and passionate gathering, this IDAHOTB I have chosen to share some reflections on lesbophobia from three very different resilient women and three very different contexts: lesbian mothers from Australia, Fiji and Pakistan. These three stories reveal some of the extreme discrimination and violence faced by lesbians around the world, and the remaining steps we need to take for legal protection, policy implementation, social acceptance and genuine inclusivity.
Longtime marriage equality and rainbow families campaigner, Jac Tomlins, recounted the deeply traumatising effect of the marriage equality postal survey, that took place last year in Australia, on the rainbow family community including her family, in particular.
The 12 week postal survey gave the religious right a loud, public platform from which to demonise and denigrate rainbow families. Marriage equality was finally won, of course, but it has come at a hefty price.
Jac shared anecdotes that some children asked their lesbian mothers if they would be taken away from them if the no vote was a majority. Other kids feared their parents would be taken to jail. Such was the confusion and hysteria young children experienced while trying to process the debate taking place within schools, the media and society at large.
Although I am currently living in Hong Kong, as an Australian living abroad, I did manage to return home to post my survey. I remember vividly how I felt when I went to mail my survey with my youngest son. It had more of an impact on me that I expected. As I said at the time I was relieved to get the postal survey out of our house and into the post box, but watching people with letters in hand and wondering if they were posting a yes felt awkward, emotional and wrong.
Jac's children were born into the marriage equality campaign, their eldest son was only nine months old when the couple married in Canada in 2003. “The kids were very confident that their family and their parents were right and that all the negative things said about them, and the people who said them, were wrong, “ Jac says. “They were really rock solid about that, and it made a massive difference. And now, my kids now know you can create change. My kids now know you can change a law! That's one of the positive legacies that came out of this."
Fijian Australian, Lana Woolf, is a lesbian Mum, who talked about a research project, Down by the River, in which she collaborated. As part of the research, lesbians shared stories about living through Cyclone Winston (2016). The stories described the discrimination and violence inflicted upon the LGBT community, including lesbians - from families, entire villages and churches but also highlighted their fundamental resilience and strength. These women had to hide their identities and lie to their children in order to protect them. But this turned into strengthened ties and communities. Lana shared stories of lesbians creating new chosen families, of developing communities, of building safe spaces and welcoming other lesbians into their homes.
One woman who was in the closet because her father was a pastor, was buried in the rubble of her house as a result of the cyclone. She survived and afterwards found the confidence to come out, saying: “I realised that I am stronger than Cyclone Winston and I trust in myself. I am strong and I can move forward”.
A lesbian mother, (whose name for security reasons, we can't disclose) lives with her daughter in Pakistan where she is completely closeted about her sexuality. “It's difficult to have social acceptance even as a single mother”.
She candidly shared at our Forum that in Pakistan "trans people are more accepted than LGB people, and there is little chance the Islamic state will offer any protections for LGB people in the future."
While in early May the Transgender Persons Protection of Rights Act was passed by the Parliament of Pakistan, it does nothing to protect the rights of gays and lesbians. There are very few LGBTIQ 'safe spaces' that can be accessed and the majority of the society do not know they exist or how to access them. “But we can work towards making this a safer place and a lot of that will come through more activism, more safe spaces for people to get the support and talk about the issues’. But like any parent, the safety of her child is the utmost priority. "It's about security and we have to be safe and she [her daughter] has to be safe. It’s not an ideal situation when you have to make up stories, but it's about prioritising her safety."
"In Pakistan there is no exposure about what it means to be a lesbian or bisexual woman and what it means to be a rainbow family.” But she does see potential. “There needs to be more around educational systems, mainly coming from academia led by social sciences including anthropology, sociology, gender studies, public policy and psychology. Academia has to produce and collect as much evidence as possible by analysing human behaviour around diverse sexuality, gender and expressions. More needs to be done around the media and policy makers to create space to initiate comprehensive dialogue on sexuality and diversity, especially in the context of patriarchal society and gender politics.”
Lesbophobia shows up in many different ways and yet there are common threads. Our Forum has reminded me just how vital it is that we keep creating spaces to reveal and tackle lesbophobia - in its varied forms - and how we must not turn off our attention or allyship for lesbophobia or for any of the phobias and challenges our entire IDAHOTB community face.
These three diverse stories about lesbophobia show us that lesbians, including those that are mothers, are seeking support, care and acceptance in very challenging locations. They show how strong and resilient the human spirit is, capable of being stronger than a cyclone and protecting entire communities. Yet, we need to continue to fight for social justice and human rights, in all corners of the world. And, even in jurisdictions where the government or larger society is posturing acceptance, the battle is not over. These women know, and show through their actions, that equal rights are human rights and should be provided, honoured and protected.
founder and Executive Director of Planet Ally,
co-founder of Asia-Pacific Rainbow Families Forum
This article is part of ILGA's #TurnItOff campaign,
where human rights defenders share their experiences and advice
on how to speak up to silence the noise of LGBTI-phobia
Disclaimer: These articles are meant to offer a place for views, ideas and debate.
The views expressed by authors do not necessarily reflect the policy of ILGA, or the views of its board members or staff.