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Jannat Ali Will Never Stop Being a Proud Activist and Artist

Jannat Ali Will Never Stop Being a Proud Activist and... Jannat Ali Will Never Stop Being a Proud Activist and...

In countries where LGBTQI+ people face legal persecution and constant mistreatment, openly advocating for queer and trans rights and freedoms can come at an incredible personal cost. Jannat Ali’s story exemplifies this reality.

Hailing from Lahore in the Punjab province of Pakistan, Jannat is a high-profile activist who played a pivotal role in passing legislation that legally protected trans folks. She also founded the country’s first Transgender Pride in 2018 and advocates for the rights of the elderly and disabled. As a performer and artist — Jannat refers to herself as an “artivist” —  she uses her online channels to spread her message of justice and equality, and also to entertain. But, this was a double-edged sword, as she achieved greater visibility in a country where it can be dangerous to be openly trans and queer. 

It was Jannat’s courage to be a face for queer and trans rights in her country which made her a clear target.

When Visibility Becomes a Liability

“I was attacked and tortured in multiple ways…” she recounts. “They said that we were importing Western ideas that were against their religion.”

There was a time when Jannat thought she would be able to continue advocating for change in her home country, but that was before the attacks became relentless. As time wore on, and as her celebrity and visibility increased, her safety was constantly threatened. Yet, activism and fighting for justice are in her blood, and she refused to back down. 

At one point, she was travelling internationally and on a panel at a conference on global LGBTQI+ rights with staff from Rainbow Railroad. Rainbow Railroad team members told her on the sidelines that if things continued to worsen, she could reach out to them online for further assistance and consider relocating to a safer country. 

Unfortunately, things did continue to worsen for Jannat. “At one stage, I was attacked again, and that was the last straw. Rainbow Railroad came to my aid at that moment.”

The connections that Rainbow Railroad staff make with people through text, phone, and email thousands of miles away are an opportunity to provide emotional support during very difficult times. Jannat remembers the importance of that communication, recalling that, “Rainbow Railroad was constantly in touch.”  

Starting a New Chapter in Canada

With the help of Rainbow Railroad, Jannat eventually relocated to Toronto and began the painstaking process of rebuilding her life. Despite being physically unsafe in Pakistan, she had never lacked the basic essentials of life. In Canada, however, she felt precarious like never before. “I remember when I first moved to Toronto. Oh my god, it was so challenging, to be honest. Activism isn’t something I can stop. Now that I’m here in Toronto, I can see the challenges of newcomers.” These days, she’s thinking about the rights of refugees, and the injustices and indignities faced by those forced to flee across borders. 

As a newcomer artist in Toronto, she has navigated successes such as showcasing her work at Pride events and queer days of awareness like Transgender Day of Remembrance, and collaborated with fellow artists at South Asian cultural events. However, it can be challenging to break into the competitive art scene and access resources to sustain her artistic journey as a trans woman.

For Jannat, the upcoming pride season represents a celebration of identity and a reaffirmation of resilience and solidarity within the LGBTQI+ community. “Empathy, compassion, and collective struggles are at the heart of my pride celebration this year,” she explains. “We must stand together.” 

Recently, Jannat was named the Trans Ambassador for Pride Toronto 2024. While she’s worried about the trans community’s future and acknowledges that several key activists are in danger, she is using this opportunity to amplify the voices of transgender individuals and advocate for greater visibility and inclusivity. “I feel hopeful, more committed, and more determined after being named the Trans Ambassador for Pride Toronto,” she declares. “Never ever lose hope,” she urges. “Try to be hopeful and positive, because we owe it to many generations of LGBTQI+ people going forward.”

Jannat also shares an important message with cis-hetero allies: “If you’re not part of the queer and trans community, here’s how you can help: Support Rainbow Railroad. The way this organization works so professionally to help people be safe is remarkable. Rainbow Railroad gives urgent support – moving people, supporting them emotionally or financially, and giving people a reminder that they are not alone, and that they are loved.” 

As we commemorate Pride and celebrate the victories of the LGBTQI+ community, let us draw inspiration from Jannat’s resilience, commitment to justice, and her wish that no matter what, as queer and trans people, we don’t lose hope even in the worst of circumstances. 

This year, Rainbow Railroad will receive more than 15,000 requests for help from LGBTQI+ people around the world experiencing persecution and violence simply because of who they are or who they love. Be a part of their journey from Persecution to Pride by making a donation and supporting our work.