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WMP hosts national Forced Marriage conference

“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 and Naz on holiday in 2013 - the following year Naz took his own life after his family confronted him about being gay
Matt and Naz on holiday in 2013 - the following year Naz took his own life after his family confronted him about being gay

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
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. 

Other speakers at the conference, include:

•    Rubie Marie, a model and mother of two, who was forced into marriage at the age of 15 in Bangladesh but who broke free and now lives in Birmingham;
•    MP Victoria Atkins, Government Minister for Crime, Safeguarding & Vulnerability;
•    Nazir Afzal, former NW England Chief Prosecutor and the man who brought charges against the Rochdale Asian grooming gang; 
•    Melissa Harrigan, High School Teacher and Shafilea Ahmed’s best friend and confidant
•    …plus a musical performance from West Midlands Police Inspector Sam Batey who has written and will perform a song called “Let Me Be Me” about being LGBT and being forced into marriage.

Last year, West Midlands Police became the first UK police force in England to secure a conviction under forced marriage legislation when a mother was jailed for forcing her daughter to marry in Pakistan after whisking her away on the pretence of a family holiday.

The two officers who secured the conviction will also speak at the conference about the complexities of the investigation.

Detective Sergeant Trudy Gittins, West Midlands Police subject matter expert for forced marriage and honour-based abuse, said: “The police cannot tackle these issues alone and this event is about empowering our own staff, partner agencies and communities to identify the signs and do more to give victims the choices they so desperately need. 

Sergeant Trudy Gittins: WMP's subject matter expert on Forced Marriage
Sergeant Trudy Gittins: WMP's subject matter expert on Forced Marriage

“We know forced marriage is not just specific to one community and knows no boundaries in terms of culture, class, age, religion, wealth, geography, gender or class. We’re committed to supporting victims and working with affected communities to prevent forced marriage.

“We really do appreciate how difficult it is for victims to speak out against what is often their family who is putting them at risk – but we have specially trained officers who will guide and support victims to help free them from forced marriages or take action to prevent one occurring.”

Attendees at the conference will be encouraged to show their support by wearing a henna tattoo reading ‘Stop forced marriage’ and ‘Remember Shafilea’ to be shared as photos across social media using the hashtag #WeRemember and #StopForcedMarriage

Anyone seeking help or support can contact West Midlands Police’s Public Protection Unit on 101 or contact the Forced Marriage Unit on 0207 008 0151. There is also more support listed on the West Midlands Police website.

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