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Reassurance and Acceptance In Brunei: Through The Eyes of Nazurah Usop

Earlier this year ReportOUT had the opportunity to connect with Nazurah Usop (pronoun: She/Her) a full-time visual artist and activist from Brunei.

What you are about to read was written at the time when only a few gatherings occurred within the community following new legislation that the Brunei government had announced. It didn’t take Nazurah long to realise that while some of the people within the community would of liked to be a part of the gathering, they were felt apprehensive and scared.

My name is Nazurah Usop. I’m a Muslim, gay and from Brunei. The reaction I get the most when I share this is, “How do you survive with the Shariah law being implemented?”

To be honest, discrimination and being bullied happen in most societies regardless of which country you’re in. Alhamdullilah, a community in Brunei, to my understanding, where there is little evidence to show signs of discrimination or intimidation by the government there is nevertheless an internal self-fear of being expelled or jailed for being known as an LGBTQ due to the announcement of Shariah law being implemented.

These fears are from the lack of visibility of acceptance as well as open dialogue from members of the public, including places of work and in schools. An example would be about a corporate company, which supposedly has a diverse and inclusion team, but, ironically, the issue of LGBTQ should not be included nor mentioned. Religion aside, this questions the authenticity of having a ‘diverse and inclusive’ environment.

There is a culture of avoiding discussions around sexuality which often leads to having thoughts such as ‘I think my parents know but they’d rather not acknowledge it and it’s better for me to just let it be’ which only adds to the fear of being disowned and treated differently.

There is a painted image of how a ‘proper’ Bruneian should be by the Generation X and Millennials. Most have the mindset that Millennials, Generation X and Gen Next are being heavily ‘influenced’ by the West. There was a time whenever a parent found out that a girl was dating her daughter it wasn’t uncommon to have the words ‘THIS IS NOT AMERICA’ being shouted within the family setting.

A survey was undertaken within the community including allies which touched on what options they wish to see that would make the community feel more inclusive and diverse in Brunei. A majority of those who took part responded that the priority would be the creation of safe spaces. At the same time however when this was explored more, some who have interest in being part of these safe space were fearful to openly take part.

As I had been mentioned earlier, there are visible signs to suggest that any government officials contributed to any discriminated within the community, but it seems that cases of discrimination and bullying in schools and work are due to the lack of awareness and attitudes which exist at the local level. Therefore by bringing this to the surface the main aim of my insights is to highlight the concerning fear that the community is facing within the society which as a result is result having other implications such an increasing number of those impacted suffering with their mental health.

A lot of emphasis has been placed on how critical it is for society to be more open when talking about mental health. However, being more open about the matter is one thing but acknowledging the cause is another.

Reassurance and acceptance without fear is what the community lack. In order to move forward and creating a a visible safe space and environment is not enough. Society has to open up those important conversations without fear. Also while there may be systems in place to encourage a inclusive and diverse environment, these shouldn't just be limited to the likes of race and religion, but also include sexuality too, as it is significant for everyone’s well-being, not just for the individuals experiencing discrimination today, but also for the welfare of future generation to come.

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