Be the person you were born to be: tackling religious homophobia
Religious homophobia is something that we all need to be more aware of.
There is help out there for people who are suffering from religious homophobia.
Matthew Mahmood-Ogston is the founder and trustee of a charity called Naz and Matt Foundation, which aims to help parents accept their children for who they are.
Matthew’s determination to speak about religious and cultural homophobia deserves appreciation.
Naz and Matt Foundation was set up in 2014 following the tragic loss of Matthew’s fiancé of 13 years, Dr Nazim Mahmood.
“Naz sadly took his own life, two days after his religious family confronted him about his sexuality,” says Ogston, with deep sorrow. “It was not something he wanted to do, but at that moment when he was forced to come out when he really didn’t want to.”
After his death, Ogston’s parents asked him to keep the relationship a secret. But he decided he had to stay true to his fiance’s memory.
“I decided to speak out and by doing so we have created the Naz and Matt Foundation, which is a registered charity in the UK that now tackles religious and cultural homophobia,” he says.
“Our mission is to never let any religion, come in the way of the unconditional love between parents and their children.”
Naz and Matt Foundation is a registered UK charity and raises funds through the campaigning work it does.
“We have had donations come from all around the world. In fact, one of our biggest donations actually came from the UAE, of a thousand dollars from one person,” says Ogston.
BBC’s Poonam Taneja spoke to Matt about losing his fiance, and the legacy in Naz’s name that he hopes to create.
“I have produced the short film in a hope that it continues to raise awareness about the unacceptable mental bullying and emotional struggles faced by innocent daughters and sons like Naz,” Taneja wrote on his website.
“In turn, hoping to open the eyes of homophobic religious communities across the UK to love their children for the way that they are born.”
Coping with the death of his soulmate Naz has been incredibly hard for Ogston, and one way he copes is through his work. Talking publicly about Naz and being able to say how much he loves him and how much he misses him allows him to cope with his loss to some extent.
On one of his visits to Hathershaw College in Oldham as part of his campaigning work, Ogston gave an emotional and inspiring talk on the dangers of homophobia within religion, which moved everyone.
“By encapsulating our students with the tragic yet inspiring story of their love, Matthew got over his message much better than any teacher ever could,” a teacher wrote on Matt’s website.
“By the end of the session, even the most hardened sixteen-year-old was deep in thought and many others were in tears.”
Last year, Naz and Matt Foundation marched in London Pride as well as Birmingham Pride to raise awareness about criminalising gay cure therapy in Britain.
Evidence suggests that lesbian, gay, bi and trans people continue to experience these harmful therapies.
A 2009 survey of 1,328 accredited mental health professionals, published in the BMC Psychiatry Journal, found that more than 200 LGBT had been offered some form of conversion therapy, with 35 per cent of patients referred to them for treatment by GPs and 40 per cent treated inside an NHS practice.
Conversion therapy, also known as reparative or ex-gay therapy, has been extensively condemned as wrong and unproductive but it still continues in many parts of America, mostly through churches, and is a battleground issue for gay rights campaigners and those who argue that banning it would curb religious freedom.
Gay cure therapy is still legal in the UK and the government needs to do more to criminalise it.