Living as a LGBT Muslim in Redbridge

PUBLISHED: 12:09 19 February 2016 | UPDATED: 12:09 19 February 2016

LGBT History month at Ilford Central Library. Fazal Mahmood

LGBT History month at Ilford Central Library. Fazal Mahmood


Fazal Mahmood was 14 years old when he began to question his sexual orientation.

HIV charity promotes early diagnosis in Redbridge

The Terrence Higgins Trust (THT) is the largest HIV and sexual health charity in Europe.

In Redbridge, the charity has a dedicated HIV prevention and sexual health team.

In the borough, 63 per cent of people diagnosed with HIV receive their diagnosis late.

Late diagnosis means a person has tested positive for HIV after the virus has begun to damage the immune system.

Advances in medical treatment mean that early diagnosis and treatment allow people to live ordinary active lives.

To improve the rate of diagnosis, the charity’s HIV prevention service offers rapid HIV tests in community spaces across the borough.

Speaking at Redbridge Central Library, Clements Road, Ilford, on Monday evening, community engagement officer Yasmin Dunkley said nobody should feel afraid.

She said: “In the 1980s there was a lot of prejudice, but now the face of HIV has changed.

“Nobody should be afraid of getting tested and everyone should feel that they can access our services throughout the community.”

Redbridge Rainbow Community runs a monthly drop-in for LGBT people.

The group provides a free and confidential space for all LGBT residents, which runs every first Saturday of the month, at the Cardinal Heenan Centre, High Road, Ilford.

Now the Terrence Higgins Trust is offering rapid HIV tests at the monthly meet-up.

The tests, which give results in 60 seconds, are carried out confidentially by an expert assistant practitioner in the clinic.

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He was living in Bradford, in 1974, with his Muslim family and there was no sex education at school, or conversations at home, which could help him understand his feelings.

Fazal said: “I went to the library and the only book on homosexuality was in a glass case.

“I asked the librarian if I could have a look at it and she told me it was for poofs.

“I read the book but it didn’t make things clearer for me.

“I came out to myself when I was 14 and I did try to commit suicide, because there was no one I could talk to.”

Fazal ran away from home when he was 16 and slept rough in Waterloo, before he was taken in by a homeless charity in Crystal Palace.

The outreach workers rang Fazal’s family, who immediately drove down to London and made him come home with them.

After he returned, Fazal was subjected to ill-treatment by his family and, in 1979, he travelled to Pakistan, after his parents took control of his passport.

He said: “I was out there for six months before I was able to return to London.

“After that, I was coerced into marriage, but my wife had no idea about my sexuality.

“We actually had a son, but one day she left me and returned to Pakistan with him.

“He’s now a doctor but we don’t have any contact.

“After that, I moved to central London and began working with young homeless people.”

After this, Fazal worked across London to promote sexual health.

In east London, he joined HIV charity Positive East, in order to promote better awareness.

There, he found his south-east Asian background served him well – as he could approach groups which historically had refused to talk about sexual identities.

Now he works for HIV charity Terrence Higgins Trust, promoting their C-Card scheme, which provides access to free condoms.

In the borough, he believes things are improving.

He said: “It’s getting better but there should be more sexual health services available for minority groups.”

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