Growing up in Bangladesh, I was told that homosexuals would go to hell. And I believed it. I knew I was gay, but all the time I was told that it was dirty and sinful. I felt disconnected from my country, my community and my family. Unable to speak to anyone about my sexuality, most nights I would cry myself to sleep, feeling like the loneliest boy in the whole world.
Coming to the UK changed all this. From the moment I arrived at Heathrow, I realised I could start to live the life I’d always wanted. I still vividly remember walking around Soho for the first time – seeing people dressing how they wanted and expressing their sexuality, I felt like I was suddenly seeing the world in all its colours, after a lifetime in black and white. Living in safety in the UK has allowed me to experience a rebirth: to live my life as gay, out and proud of my sexuality – and meet the love of my life, who I can’t live a day without.
With the support of groups like the Say It Loud Club, which supports LGBTQ+ refugees in London, and the charity Help Refugees, I began to realise that being gay is a gift, not a curse. I’m not ashamed of being gay and never will be. For that I have no apologies. I think being gay is a blessing, and it’s something I am thankful for every single day.
“Going down Regent Street holding a rainbow flag with my friends, for the first time ever I felt like I was exactly where I was supposed to be.”
My journey to this point has been long, but going to Pride in London for the first time was the point I knew there was no going back. I was buzzing with joy and anticipation. For someone born and brought up in what felt like a cage, I was experiencing freedom for the first time. Instead of having to hide myself away, I wore a rainbow outfit, with glitter on my face. People cheered me on and high-fived me as I marched with my new LGBTQ+ family. Going down Regent Street holding a rainbow flag with my friends, for the first time ever I felt like I was exactly where I was supposed to be – like I was part of the biggest family reunion ever. The energy, love, and acceptance were breathtaking.
My journey hasn’t been easy, but the UK has given me my life. For me, the definition of home is the place I feel secure, where I can live without fear, where I feel loved. This is what the UK now means to me. Although I have lost touch with most of my biological family members, I have a new family: the love of my life, my friends and my LGBTQI+ community. For the first time, I have a home where I feel safe, secure, and loved.
And I know everyone deserves to have what I now have. To give back, I now volunteer with Say it Loud Club, a charity supporting LGBTQ+ asylum seekers in London. Like me, most of the people I work with have fled lives lived in secrecy or coloured with persecution, violence, attempts to ‘cure’ their sexuality. Helping them to accept themselves, to see them slowly shed the heavy layers of fear, guilt and shame, and come out the other side knowing that they are perfect just as they are, is extremely powerful.
“After years of shame, every day I now feel proud of my sexuality”
Coronavirus means this year there will be no dancing in the street, but we know Pride Month has always meant far more than just the parades. To me, Pride is about self-affirmation, dignity, equality, and the increased visibility of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and other sexually oriented people as a social group. Pride is putting an end to the closet, shame, fear, hate and social stigma.
And Pride is about celebrating acceptance, community, togetherness and love. While we can’t physically be together, our community has never been stronger. After years of shame, every day I now feel proud of my sexuality. We can’t choose our sexuality, nationality or race, but we can choose to accept and celebrate ourselves and others. You only get one shot at life, so choose love. After all, love is too beautiful to be hidden in the closet.
Nadim is a member of Say It Loud Club, the community of LGBTQ+ refugees and asylum seekers. Refugee Week, the UK’s largest festival celebrating the contribution of refugees, takes place on 15-21 June 2020. Refugee Week is a partnership project coordinated by Counterpoints Arts. For more information on Refugee Week and to get involved, visit refugeeweek.org.uk