In front of a crowded auditorium in Birmingham, beneath a huge 70ft photo of Naz and Matt, I walked slowly up the staircase on to the stage. As my heart pounded I desperately tried to calm my anxiety to avoid another panic attack.
I took a deep breath, slowly opened my eyes, and glanced through the lights towards the 250+ West Midlands Police officers and law enforcement professionals.
As the first words left my lips I reminded myself of why I was doing this. And that’s what got me through the next 20 minutes as I shared the story of Naz and I, spoken in present tense, in the form of our ‘honourlogue’.
We would like to thank West Midlands Police for giving us the opportunity to share our story in the hope that it will stop a similar tragedy from happening again.
We hope the information and experiences shared positively affect how delegates think about homophobia triggered by religion or culture.
As part of the event West Midlands Police shared the following press release
“It’s OK to be Muslim and gay”.
That’s the message from a man whose fiancé committed suicide after his strict Muslim family refused to accept his sexuality – and who’s now set up a charity offering support to others who are fearful of coming out to their parents.
Matt Mahmood-Ogston, from Birmingham, set up the Naz and Matt Foundation following the death of his “soulmate” Dr Nazim Mahmood in July 2014.
Naz took his own life just two days after he was confronted by family members who refused to accept him as gay and suggested he needed to see a psychiatrist to be ‘cured’.
Matt is set to speak at a national forced marriage conference on Friday (12 July) hosted by West Midlands Police at Millennium Point in Birmingham.
“Forced marriage done to ‘cure’ homosexuality”
He said: “I felt I had to create the foundation because a community and a conservative religious family did not understand what it means to be born gay. They saw it as a disease that needed to be got rid of; something incompatible with their interpretation of their religion.
“I hear from men and women who fear their parents will disown or emotionally or physically abuse them if they find out they’re gay – and in some cases force them to marry a member of the opposite sex in a belief it will somehow ‘cure’ them of being gay.
“We must remain positive and find ways of working with parents to help them understand what it means to be born gay and how to accept their children for who they are.”
Around 350 delegates from across the country will attend the Forced Marriage conference in Birmingham
Matt is one of several speakers at the conference which is held annually to commemorate the death of Shafilea Ahmed, a 17-year-old grade ‘A’ student killed by her parents for rejecting a forced marriage and being too ‘westernised’.
Her birthday (14 July) is now a national Day of Memory for all victims of honour killings.
Matt set up the Naz and Matt Foundation in memory of his soulmate and fiancé, Naz, who passed away two days after being confronted about his sexuality by his religious parents. It was the first time that they knew their son was gay, in a relationship with Matt for 13 years and that they were planning to get married.