Shaid Mahmood is the Chief Officer for Communities and the Chief Officer lead for the Council’s Stronger Communities Breakthrough Programme.
He is leading on the development of the ten community committees, working with local elected members, involving people in local decision-making and in the shaping and improvement of their neighbourhoods; integrating council and partner services in communities.
He has leadership responsibility for equality, cohesion, migration, prevent and counter extremism, strategic work with the third sector, and the council’s work with communities to generate greater capacity for self-reliance and sustainable community-based solutions.
Organised religion, BME communities and sexuality haven’t always been comfortable sharing the same discussion space. Religious texts and community dialogue are constantly interpreted in ways that argue positions and define social commentary in ways that suit people’s intentions. At best when they have shared the same space they have been managed within faith and BME communities to be ‘out of sight’ and therefore ‘out of mind’. Remember the oldest son in the superb movie ‘East is East’? At worst they have meant that people from faith and/or BME communities that have identified as LGBT* have been bullied, intimidated, ostracised and subjected in some cases to horrendous honour based abuse and murder. Jide McCauley (founder of House of Rainbow) puts the views of people that perpetrate such behaviour simply “That being gay is an abomination and that God hates LGBTQ people. And that it is against my culture and that it is unnatural.”
In a city that is striving to be welcoming and compassionate, how do we empathise with the unique experience of people with multiple identities around faith and ethnicity complicated by a lack of support and safe spaces to discuss the challenges that they are facing, even from within the LGBT* community itself?
I’m leading a group of dedicated colleagues from the council and across different sectors to explore the issues and challenges of faith, ethnicity and sexuality/gender identity. In all honesty, the challenge is daunting. I’m a heterosexual, Pakistani-born, Muslim, male. There’s a lot for me to learn and a whole new language and nomenclature that goes with it and frankly I don’t always get it right. I experience hesitation from people as they struggle visibly to work out my motivation for engaging in the work. It’s a straight forward explanation really. I hate injustice, bullying, and intimidation in all its forms. The origins and the targets are immaterial.
I’m helped by having people round the table who care about making a difference. Leaders from faith and BME communities willing to stick their heads above the parapet and join in with round table discussions marking World Religion Day and working with me to raise the visibility of Faith/BME LGBT* people. Giving them a voice. Ensuring that they are part of the wider LGBT* narrative, whereas previously they were actively excluded. I learnt recently that people that identify as LGBT* and are seeking asylum in the UK following persecution in their country of origin are asked to provide proof that they are indeed LGBT*. Would we ask a heterosexual person the same question in relation to their sexuality? We know we’ve a long way to go but progress is deliberate and being made and we will play our part in making a positive difference.