LGBTQI+ and medicine, in the Land of the Pure

pride

(Leighann Renee, Unsplash)

This article was exclusively written for The European Sting by Mr. Ikram Khaliq, a final year medical student at Army Medical College (AMC) in Rawalpindi, Pakistan. IFMSA delegate at the United Nations 62nd Commission on Statusof Women. He is affiliated to the International Federation of Medical Students Associations (IFMSA), cordial partner of The Sting. The opinions expressed in this piece belong strictly to the writer and do not necessarily reflect IFMSA’s view on the topic, nor The European Sting’s one.


We are not ready. Most healthcare providers are not prepared to deliver dignified and non-discriminatory healthcare.

On the 15th of June 2019, screenshots of messages were circulated on Facebook pages, like Queeristan, and in secret groups that serve the LGBTQI+ community in Pakistan. These messages warned LGBTQI+ people to stay clear of a therapist, named Dr. Imrana Shah, who works at the National Hospital in Lahore. She was accused, by multiple people, of breaching patient confidentiality by outing people to their parents and offering to cure their homosexuality.

According to the victims, this move strengthened their parents’ belief that homosexuality is a curable disease and led to demands that they attend conversion therapy. Dr. Shah was able to do this and walk away with no consequences because there are no proper laws in place in Pakistan that protect a patient in such circumstances and revoke the physician’s license to practice. The laws in Pakistan, in fact, criminalize homosexuality and this deters any victim from seeking legal action.

Pakistan is not ready. Pakistan was not ready when 2 years back, in a psychiatry clerkship in medical school, a professor preached homophobia to my class by presenting a case of a homosexual boy who was brought in by his family to the Armed Forces Institute of Mental Health (AFIMH) in Rawalpindi.

The professor went on about how homosexuality was a mental illness, clearly failing to draw a boundary between her personal Islamic beliefs and her profession, and how she treated the boy using electroconvulsive therapy. She did not know that a scared, closeted homosexual boy sat before her that very day. What was even more troubling was how tens of future healthcare professionals sat around me and agreed with everything the professor had to say.

And Pakistan is not ready today. Only a few days back, an Infectious Diseases specialist walked into our lecture hall to talk about HIV/AIDS and all the students in the room snickered at the only gay boy. The professor went on to confess that she had trouble dealing with HIV-positive patients when she first started practicing because of her personal beliefs. The disease may as well still be called Gay-related Immune Deficiency because the attitude of physicians has definitely not changed in this part of the world.

So, when I read the question asking if we are prepared to deliver dignified and non-discriminatory healthcare, the obvious answer was no. But a lack of preparedness on the part of healthcare providers should not stop the LGBTQI+ community from demanding that this noble goal be met. The fact is that the world has never been ready for change. The world was not ready when Marsha P. Johnson threw the first brick that started the Stonewall Riots and the gay liberation movement in the United States of America.

Only recently, I was happily surprised to hear of the first LGBTQIA-friendly mental health clinic in Islamabad. Who would have ever thought that such a clinic would open up in a largely homophobic nation like Pakistan? I see such acts of rebellion from the LGBTQI+ community and its allies each day. The majority of Pakistani physicians might still not be prepared to accept people like me, but we shall demand space and equal rights, including access to healthcare, every single day. Change, however slow, is coming.

About the author

Ikram Khaliq is a final year medical student at Army Medical College (AMC) in Rawalpindi, Pakistan. He is SCORA Director at AMC’s local council of the IFMSA. He is head editor of the college magazine. He is aspiring to become a medical specialist, HIV/AIDS researcher and human rights activist.

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