Being illegal in your own country is an unusual feeling, especially if the only crime you have committed is being yourself. As a queer woman from Malaysia, Masumi Parmar knew that expressing herself freely would come at a cost. From prejudice and bullying to public lashings, Masumi witnessed people like her become victims of homophobia and violence.

To be herself openly without fear, Masumi knew she had to leave her family and her country behind. Coming to Australia as an international student, Masumi struggled to let go of deeply rooted anxieties that arose from being openly queer in Malaysia. When she first saw the LGBTQI pride flag flying at Macquarie University, Masumi finally felt at home, “It was so nice to feel, ‘Okay I can exist here.’”

Masumi graduated at the end of 2019 from Macquarie University with a Bachelor of Arts with a major in Creative Writing. For the second semester of 2019, Masumi was Macquarie University’s LGBTQI Student Representative, a role she hoped would bring positive change for her peers.

For any queer person, family is a sensitive topic as many LGBTQI people are rejected by their loved ones. Unfortunately, Masumi’s experience with her family was strained once they found out she was queer, when she and her then girlfriend were seen kissing at a bus stop. Masumi said that as soon as it happened she received calls from friends telling her that they saw the kiss and it was a matter of minutes before it became public knowledge. “When my Mum found out she didn’t talk to me for months; my Dad nearly had a heart attack when he found out, it was a whole thing.” From that point, Masumi attempted to put as much distance between her and her family as she could.

 Masumi’s advice for other queer kids in countries where they are not welcomed, loved or even legal is simple. Find friends. Find as many friends as you can in the same community as you, she says, “I did that and it completely changed everything.” Masumi spoke enthusiastically about how she found her people in a small group of queer artists who created an event called ‘Nosegay’ in Malaysia. This was a monthly poetry, art and music night where Masumi finally felt free to express herself. 

“I would have one night every month to just be myself and it was so freeing,” she said, “I got to speak with people with the same experience. It felt like you are not alone, you don’t have to harm yourself.” 

Masumi mentioning self-harm did not shock me, which it should have, because the statistics always illustrate the poor mental health status of queer youth.

According to the National LGBTI Health Alliance, Australian LGBTQI young people aged 16 to 27 are five times more likely to attempt suicide than their non-LGBTQI peers. They are also twice-as-likely to engage in self-injury. These statistics are not available for countries like Malaysia, but it’s easy to imagine that the figures would be higher given the laws surrounding LGBTQI people.

 Masumi demonstrates unwavering inner strength, showing how far she has come in terms of her self acceptance, and that she can be a positive example for all LGBTQI youth who are fearful to be who they really are. She embodied this inner strength when I asked Masumi a question that people often struggle with answering, but she knew exactly how to answer it.

What would you say to your younger self?

“Keep going baby, your path will open for you as you do. Keep your chin up and do what you believe is right. Trust me, people will listen to you eventually. You will make them.”

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