Welcome to our first post on the It Gets Better UK Blog!
On the Blog we look to inspire and empower LGBT+ youth by sharing stories of members of the community. Starting this March we will be bringing you a series of monthly interviewees with LGBT+ role models in the hope that sharing their lived experiences will provide authentic insight into the fact that it gets better.
Our first interviewee is Khakan Qureshi (He/Him) a Senior Independent Living Officer whose tireless and inspirational community activism has resulted in the award of a British Empire Medal in the New Year's Honours List 2021 for his work towards LGBT+ Equality. Khakan talks candidly about his intersectionality as a gay Muslim from a working-class family.
Please be aware that this post touches on the topics of mental health and suicide.
Thank you so much for agreeing to be interviewed Khakan!
1. Tell us a bit about yourself and your background?
I’m a 52-year-old gay Muslim, with a long term male partner. We celebrate our 30th Anniversary in April. We are complete opposites, but we celebrate our differences and similarities. I grew up in a large family, being the youngest of 7, in a relatively white, working-class community. As a young adult, I went to Rose Bruford Drama College. It was here that I learnt about myself and came to terms with my sexual orientation. In my late twenties, I started working in health and social care, working on the frontline with vulnerable older adults.
This vocation has lasted 25 years. I now work with young homeless people, and help them to secure their own accommodation. In 2014, I set up Finding A Voice, a voluntary led organisation which supports South Asian LGBT+ This has led me to campaign and advocate for more acceptance of South Asians LGBT+ , better representation in the media and more visibility in the community.
2. Tell us a bit about your own mental health experiences and being LGBTQ+?
As a young man myself, aged between the ages of 18 to 21, I experienced bouts of anxiety and depression because I could not face up to who I was or admit to being gay as my community and religious belief system seemed to dictate that you couldn’t be gay and Muslim. At the time, the media was propagating homophobic propaganda during the AIDS crisis and the wider community was condemning homosexuality as a sin and unnatural. Combined with religious guilt and wanted to express myself was proving to be difficult. How could I give and accept love when I was ridden with guilt and shame? This played heavy on my mind and I contemplated suicide. I lost my father in 2008, my mum two years later and by the end of 2010, I lost my job, ironically in a mental health day centre. The life events I experienced led to severe depression, loss and bereavement on all accounts and I felt I was in limbo for several years.
3. What do you think LGBTQ+ people can learn from your experiences?
I think LGBTIQ+ people who are experiencing mental health issues need to find an outlet to discuss how they are feeling. It would be beneficial for organisations to invest in funding and additional resources to help LGBTQ+ individuals. If someone who is experiencing anxiety and depression, has someone they can trust and rely on e.g. Friend, teacher, work colleague, it would be best if you have a conversation about what is happening in your life. Sometimes, an ally can offer a more neutral perspective and guide you through some type of action plan. It doesn’t have to be a major task, just small changes to help alleviate the issues e.g. baking, listening to music, going for a walk. However, if the issues or problems are more severe or enduring, consider talking to a specialist mental health service like Samaritans, Pink Therapy, MIND.
It’s important for LGBT+ people find someone or services who are understanding of faith or religion (if they have one) diverse cultures, the LGBT+ Community and social dynamics.
4. If you had one message for LGBTQ+ people what would it be?
I realise it’s important for LGBTQ+ individuals learn to love themselves first and find a way to be their authentic selves. I know it’s not always possible due to familial or peer pressure, cultures, tradition, politics,
but it can be possible to navigate sexual orientation or gender identity in a way that is not detrimental to your own health and safety, especially if one is financially and emotionally secure.
I used to advocate coming out but learnt that not all people want to come out for personal reasons. So, I would now encourage LGBTQ+ people to connect with their own authentic self and navigate their own happiness. In the UK, we have the Equality Act and same-sex legislation which is there to serve and protect people from harm – homophobia, biphobia, transphobia and lesbophobia. If anyone is experiencing harassment or harm, to report it and seek support – legal or otherwise and follow it through.
In an ideal world, If people can learn to talk more effectively, communicate their feelings and state exactly how they feel, it should develop better understanding, awareness and greater connections between LGBT+ individuals and the heterosexual community. We all need time to talk.
We hope you enjoyed reading our first post.
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