A charity campaigner, whose Asian partner committed suicide after his family rejected his sexuality, was in Bradford this week to discuss the often-taboo subject of homophobia in different communities and religions.
Students at Bradford College were ‘moved to tears’ during the two-day tour of talks and discussions orchestrated by the founder of the Naz and Matt Foundation – Matt Ogston.
On the 17th and 18th October, Matt travelled from his hometown of London to Bradford, where he talked to students about his life story as part of his charity’s schools strategy.
Matt’s partner and soulmate, Naz Mahmood, committed suicide two years ago when he came out as gay to his family.
A few months after his death, Matt set up a charity to prevent further tragedies like this from ever happening again.
Matt said: “I gave an hour long talk, with a question and answer session at the end.
“I also showed a short film that our foundation has made called ‘The Search For Sunrise’, which documents what happened to Naz and why it happened.”
On 30th July 2014, 34-year-old Naz – a London doctor from a Harley Street Clinic – killed himself by jumping off the fourth floor of his flat two days after his Muslim mother told him to cure himself of being gay.
Naz had told her he was engaged to a man, whom he’d been having a relationship with for 13 years.
The talented plastic surgeon had hid his sexuality from his Muslim family because he was afraid they would refuse to accept it on religious and cultural grounds.
“I’m hoping everyone who watched the film will try and stop this happening to other people in their community,” Matt added.
In the Lesbian Gay Bisexual Queer Transgender Intersex (LGBQTI) community, at least 44 per cent of young people aged between 16 and 24 have considered suicide, according to LGBT support charity, Metro.
“It happens all too often in the LGBQTI community, the suicide rates are far too high,” Matt explained. “It’s really difficult when you’ve got nowhere to turn because your family doesn’t accept you because of their interpretation of their religion.
“The leaders in the community aren’t giving a positive view about individuals who are important in the LGBTQI community. Quite often, there isn’t anywhere to turn.”
Matt said the response has made him feel ‘quite optimistic’ about the future of Bradford’s youth.
“It’s a difficult topic to talk about. Some of the students were in tears watching the film because it was the first time they found out what happened to Naz.
“Seeing their reaction was really positive. At the end of the sessions, some students stayed back and asked questions to find out more. I was wearing one of the fundraising T-shirts and students were asking where to buy them from.”
One of the students at the talk confided in Matt that it was useful for them to hear a real-life story about someone who is similar to them because ‘their family shields them from seeing ‘those type of things’ on TV’.
“The future generation that will inherit the earth seem to be a lot more open-minded than the generations before,” Matt added.
When Naz passed away, Matt went missing for two days.
It was during this time that the campaigner contemplated suicide before what he describes as a ‘message from above’.
“The police were looking for me,” he said. “I disappeared from all of my family and friends. I was very suicidal because I wanted to follow Naz.
“I wished to end my own life and I heard Naz’s voice a week afterwards, saying that he wanted me to stay back and help other people and stop them going through what we went through.”
Two weeks later, Matt and his family and friends had a celebration of Naz’s life, as Naz’s family had buried his body without Matt being there.
“I wanted to do something that would honour Naz’s soul and energy. I announced that I would set up a charity in his name at the celebration, but I didn’t know what it would entail or how I would go about it.
“Soon after, with the help of some really good friends, we worked out the mechanics of setting it up. After the public inquest in December, we started it up properly.”
Over the last two years, Matt says that he has noticed that the press and news organisations have started to talk about this issue more openly.
“What’s great and positive is that many more young, gay Asians are stepping forward and speaking out,” he said.
“I don’t mean speaking out confrontationally, but saying: ‘I’m here. I exist. There are other people like me out there.’ Don’t ever think that you’re on your own.”
During his visit to Bradford College, Matt was joined by Ahmer Bashir from Project Light UK, a Bradford-based group which was set up to tackle religious homophobia through art, storytelling and poetry.
The pair actively encouraged students who felt vulnerable, confused or scared about their sexuality to contact the group and said that love ‘supersedes all religions’.
Ahmer Bashir said: “Matt’s visit has shown that his story has appealed to good hearts within our city. Children and teachers alike were deeply moved and wanted to work towards an inclusive city.
“It is deeply sad to see that faith leaders were absent, demonstrating the urgent need for government intervention to spell out responsibilities to faith organisations and faith preachers by changes to the law.
“Homophobia is a huge problem. Homophobia is taking people’s lives here in Britain. Until it is proven that our faith-based communities are doing more to improve physical and mental safety by providing inclusive support to LGBT+ members and their families, every faith school and every place of worship should be legislated to have LGBT+ counsellors.”
To our readers, Matt wanted to say:
“We need change. We need attitudes to be more accepting. We need eyes and hearts to be opened and for unconditional love to be the norm between parents and their children, regardless of faith, no faith or religion.
“Being gay is not about a sexual act. It’s about falling in love and being attracted to someone who just happens to be the same gender as you are.
“Religion can often be misinterpreted. You can’t forbid the existence of a human being.
“You are born the way they are and there’s nothing wrong with you. You are who you are. You are born as the person you are meant to be.
“There are many people out there willing to support you and you are not alone.”
If this story has affected you, please visit Matt’s charity: www.nazandmattfoundation.org