Irteza Masood joined the Think Ahead programme in 2021. For Pride Month, he discusses his intersectional identity as a queer south Asian man, taking back his voice, and how training as a social worker has helped him empower others to find theirs.
Talking about sexuality within the south Asian community is a taboo, and being queer is an even bigger one. As someone who is south Asian and queer, the challenges I have faced because of this intersectional identity means I have a different perspective in the way I see the world.
Growing up, and even today, there has been a lack of representation of queer Black, Asian and ethnically diverse people. I have felt and continue to feel pressure to justify my existence. I have felt shame and, as a result of negative experiences, often felt stripped of having a voice in environments where I have been constantly subdued. I have experienced homophobia, but I have also experienced it combined with racism, including from within the LGBT+ community. However, since reading Mohsin Zaidi’s ‘A Dutiful Boy’ I have felt seen and my experiences have been validated, which is why I have felt empowered to take my voice back.
Being a social worker has enabled me to amplify the voices of marginalised individuals in our society. My personal experiences around my mental health and feeling isolated have guided me towards wanting to help people feel less alone. I have had the immense privilege to work with individuals dealing with a variety of complex mental health issues, and a common theme has been isolation. I am incredibly grateful for having the opportunity to connect people to resources in the community and seeing positive changes.
I have had the opportunity to run a staff learning network on intersectionality, discussing the diversity of the LGBT+ community, and how we can better integrate theory into practice. I have also had meetings with psychologists and psychiatrists and been able to advise them on working with LGBT+ Black, Asian and ethnically diverse people. Being able to share my experience, knowledge and it being valued, has affirmed my social work role.
There is a beautiful history regarding LGBT+ south Asians. Prior to colonisation and British imperialism, other sexualities were not shunned, but celebrated. For example, Hijra is a third gender, which includes trans people, intersex and non-binary people. They had a high and established status in south Asian society for thousands of years prior to colonisation.
Since the introduction of Section 377 of the penal code in 1860, which made it illegal to be queer in British colonies, we have seen systemic oppression, marginalisation and demonisation of LGBT+ communities grow around the world, including in the UK. It’s just one of the reasons I feel it’s important that I stand up for trans people as an ally now.
As a soon to be social worker I am passionate about advocating for the rights of those in my community and beyond, I want to amplify the voices of LGBT+ people and ensure that I am representing LGBT+ Black, Asian and ethnically diverse people.
Often our goals stem from others we see, and we aspire to be like them. I want to be one of the first ones in the room to embrace their intersectional identity of being queer and south Asian, and I am most definitely not going to be the last. Developing in my social work role I intend on creating spaces where minority groups are seen and heard, I aim to be a leader and a trailblazer, shatter glass ceilings, and create ladders for people to climb with me.