Image via WikipediaSource: Sydney Star Observer
By Lyndon Barnett
From his new home in New Zealand, Malé-born Grant (name substituted) and his boyfriend recently formed the Maldives’ first gay rights lobby and support group.
“We decided to found Rainbow Maldives as an online community that would support queer Maldivians and their allies, and help foster a sense of community, while maintaining enough anonymity to protect those who fear persecution or prosecution,” Grant said.
“Our group seeks to build and consolidate the Maldivian LGBTQ community, and increase queer visibility and awareness, with the eventual aim of making the Maldives a safer, more accepting place. The only platforms previously available online were focused solely on hooking up, so we’d like to move beyond that into slightly more productive areas.”
For Grant, the online option was a second choice to a visible presence.
“We tried to get to the heart of the queer community in the Maldives, before realising it couldn’t be done — the community was just too fragmented, too underground. In an Islamic nation with an increasingly radicalised religious community, it can be too dangerous for most people to be out. The Maldives enforces Sharia law, where convicted homosexuals generally serve a prison term,” he said.
“Pedophilia is also rampant in the Maldives, although until very recently no one really talked about it because there’s a stigma attached to homosexuality. Victims of sexual abuse where the abuser was of the same gender are often reluctant to talk about it for fear of being labelled gay. I was subjected to sexual abuse from age five to 16.”
In launching Rainbow Maldives, Grant hopes to capitalise on the current mood for change. In October 2008 the country saw the first-ever multi-party election, ousting Maumoon Abdul Gayoom from the presidency, which he had held since 1978.
“During the lead-up to the election a desire for change swept the entire country, with widespread political agitation taking place. After the success of the election, people felt change was within their grasp,” Grant told SSO.
“The queer reform movement is inextricably linked to the legal reform movement in general. Currently no defendant can be certain whether the case will be decided according to its merits, or according to the whim of the judge. Equality before the law and consistent application of the law are noticeably absent in the Maldives and until this is corrected, any lobbying for sexual rights is likely to be ineffective at best.”
Grant is heartened by the recent parliamentary elections where the conservative Adhaalath Party failed to secure any seats, demonstrating that Maldivians are potentially more moderate than previously thought.
Ultimately, Grant believes the first step to overcoming homophobia is education.
“Ignorance is rampant in the Maldives. The queer community needs to become more visible, and to educate the population at large about what it means to be queer. We’re trying to create an environment in which such a lobby group could be taken seriously,” he said.
“We feel even if the nation isn’t ready for change at a statutory level, dispelling gross ignorance will go a long way towards establishing a more positive environment for the queer community.”