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"I wish we didn’t need Pride"
For LifeSearcher Shaukat Ali, Pride is celebrating who you are. Pride is collective strength for people who, as recently as 1967, were deviants and criminals by law.
During Pride month Shaukat’s partial to the London scene, specifically the street performers, café culture and flamboyance of Soho. It just so happens he shares a sumptuous pad with his partner in an exclusive postcode nearby.
The rainbow streets of Soho today – during normal times anyway – don’t offer much sense of the struggle to get here. There’s more recognition and acceptance of LGBTQ+ rights, issues and communities now than ever before.
It’s progress … but not perfection. All Shaukat has to do to connect with the intolerance of old is to pack a bag and swap his Hyde Park flat for his second property back home in Yorkshire. That cosy flat, his beloved local cuisine and the two family members who’ll talk to him are precious ties to the life he knew; before it imploded 14 years ago.
Shaukat kept his sexuality private until his twenties. He lived at home, worked in the family business and was an active member of his community. He’d made peace with the fact that some of his life would need to be hidden, including his partner - who he’s been with since his teens.
But in summer 2007, Shaukat and his love were spotted holding hands as they walked the streets of Manchester. Cat out the bag, the repercussions were brutal.
With no conversation, discussion or notice period, Shaukat was banished. His home, his job and his community all disappeared in a heartbeat. Cue a full restart.
In 2021, you wouldn’t know the struggles that marked Shaukat’s second act. From the outside it looks like he has it made: the solid career, the happy relationship with his childhood sweetheart, and the apartment in one of the world’s premier neighbourhoods.
It’s a remarkable turnaround for a man who started at ground zero just three soccer World Cups ago, when Barack Obama was president.
If he wished, Shaukat need not ever revisit the intolerance that scarred his twenties and the life that rejected him. He could conceivably draw a thick no-go line somewhere on the M1 and continue living life in the capital - out and proud as an accepted, loved, and comfortable gay man.
But that’s not him. Shaukat choses to co-exist with hate for the sake of progress, and to keep alive a connection to his roots, hometown, community, and family.
He can’t bring himself to sell his Bradford flat. He still looks forward to trips back home – and he calls it home – for the greenery and the memories. For food (specifically samosas, chicken kadai, garlic naan and salad) he says there’s no place like home.
To-date Shaukat has managed to reconcile with his mum and his aunt. He maintains his faith and found peace that his father won’t ever accept him.
Shaukat doesn’t only fight on the home front. Some years ago, he gave a provocative magazine interview calling out the difficulties in reconciling faith and sexuality. Inevitably, it triggered a new avalanche of hate, death threats and terrorising visits to his home.
As a veteran of absorbing ignorance and bile, Shaukat described the experience as “water off a duck’s back” yet it did prompt him to be more cautious. Today he has no digital presence and seldom poses for photographs.
Although he chooses his battles carefully, Shaukat is still an active voice for progress and acceptance. One issue he wishes was higher up the agenda is the racism rife within the LGBTQ+ community. He also wants to point out some of the entrenched and subtle instances of homophobia that linger in the system.
In 2016, Shaukat’s good friend Dean Eastmond, then battling a rare form of cancer, fought for the right to have his sperm frozen for IVF purposes. By default, this facility wasn’t open to those in non-heterosexual relationships. Dean’s activism brought to the surface a piece of law that was wildly discriminatory.
In a victory for the entire LGBTQ+ community, Dean won his fight shortly before he sadly lost his battle with illness in 2017.
When he says he wishes Pride wasn’t necessary, Shaukat Ali knows that full acceptance is a long time away. For him personally, and for the movement.
Although younger generations are ushering in an era of tolerance – and that’s a big source of hope – Shaukat knows that certain sections of society aren’t going to change overnight.
Maybe one day he’ll be welcomed by his past. Maybe one day he’ll be comfortable sharing photos. Maybe the day will come when we don’t need Pride.
Until then, Shaukat’s flying the flag.
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