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His boyfriend of 13 years committed suicide – now he’s fighting back

Matthew Ogston met Nazim Mahmood in November 2001. They were both at a gay nightclub in Birmingham, England.

‘I had recently come out to myself,’ Matt tells me on the phone, recalling that period in his life. ‘In other words, I recently accepted myself.

‘Just a couple months later, I had a night out. I didn’t really know any gay people. I was sitting there in the nightclub feeling sorry for myself and along came this sweet, delicate voice that said: “May I sit here, please?”‘

Matt says, quite simply, they never stopped talking for 13 years. ‘We fell in love so quickly,’ he remembers. ‘We were both in similar situations in that we weren’t out to our parents.’ They moved to London, when Ogston says they were looking forward to sharing their lives and being themselves.

Until Naz took his own life at 34 when he jumped from the balcony of their shared flat in London.

Naz and Matt in Brazil

Naz and Matt in Brazil. | Photo: Naz and Matt Foundation

Naz’s family is Muslim and they confronted him about his sexuality in 2014. He had previously made the decision never to come out to them out of fear of what would happen. ‘”They’ll be praying at our doorstep,” he used to say,’ Matt recalls. ‘He put it in a box and that box was never to be opened.’ But then it was, against Naz’s will.

Now, though Matt never envisioned a life of activism for himself, that’s precisely what he’s doing.

He created the Naz and Matt Foundation in 2014, which ‘exists to empower and support LGBTQI individuals’ and help friends and family ‘work towards resolving challenges linked to sexuality or gender identity’.

He also serves on the Survivor Ambassador Panel for Karma Nirvana. The panel supports the work Karma Nirvana does, helping victims of honour-based violence (HBV) and forced marriage, and is backed by Building a Stronger Britain Together (BSBT).

Helping people live without judgment

Matt may not be in this position if he hadn’t lost the love of his life. However, Naz’s influence also helped him.

‘He taught me what it means to be a good person, to help others and live by moral values,’ Matthew says. ‘He was a doctor so he spent his whole life helping other people. His outlook on life was so forgiving, so accepting.’

Naz with his and Matt's adopted dog, Charlie.

Naz with his and Matt’s adopted dog, Charlie. | Photo: Naz and Matt Foundation

When I mistakenly use the term ‘arranged marriage’ rather than ‘forced marriage’, Matt is quick to correct me. It’s an important distinction to make — and a conversation worth having. None of the work he’s doing is meant to dampen others people’s cultures, so long as they don’t harm anyone.

‘It’s a complex topic, but honour-based violence often happens to people who are forced into a certain situation or view of the world,’ he explains. ‘Look at the term forced marriage. It’s against people’s wills.’

And it’s different than arranged marriages, which practice consent, while forced marriages do not.

‘It’s good we’re having this conversations,’ he reassures me. ‘Because many people have the same misconception. In no way, shape, or form, should we try to dislodge a culture or religion. They’re beautiful, but where they can cross a line, is when they harm somebody else and takes their freedom.’

And so he ‘absolutely believes’ religion and the LGBTQI community can coexist, because it’s all about interpretation. Discrimination goes beyond religious beliefs — it’s about fear, he says, and religion is merely used as a justification.

‘At the center of every religion is love and peace.’

Fighting for unconditional love

Matt’s work with his own foundation and Karma Nirvana is about love.

At the foundation, the goal is to make sure any religion never gets between the unconditional love of a parent and children. ‘It’s not anti-religion,’ he posits. They simply want to put aside any barriers and focus on love.

‘What we try and do is challenge people’s inability to simply accept their children. It’s not about removing a choice, it’s about giving them more choices.’

Naz and Matt in Cornwall.

Naz and Matt in Cornwall. | Photo: Naz and Matt Foundation

He divides his time between that and the Survivor Ambassadors Panel. ‘I can’t sing my praises about it enough.’

It’s part of the British charity Karma Nirvana, which, in turn, is backed by the government program Building a Strong Britain Together (BSBT).

‘Forced marriage or any form of honour-based violence will not be tolerated in 21st century Britain. These abhorrent crimes are forms of abuse which can have devastating long-standing consequences on victims,’ said Baroness Williams, Minister for Countering Extremism.

‘The Building a Stronger Britain Together programme, which Karma Nirvana’s Survivor Ambassador Panel is part of, funds and supports more than 120 community groups and charities across England and Wales which engage communities and strengthen their resilience to extremism.’

Matt says the panel feels like a family. They marched during Pride and offers a platform to share victims and survivors’ stories.

‘If Naz was here right now, he’d be pushing me to keep doing this work and helping people.’

Finding strength again

Working with survivors has its share of hardships and rewards.

‘Getting people through in a postive way is one of the hardest parts. We’re getting them to a place of strength again,’ Matt says. Many of them faced abuse, bullying, and coercion from their families. ‘The benefits — they’re life-saving.’

He adds one the biggest benefits is simply having a conversation with someone who has faced the same pain. It connects them and helps them feel less alone.

‘I still have some very dark days,’ Matt admits. ‘But I can call up anyone on the panel and they will drop everything to help.

A message Naz left for Matt.

A message Naz left for Matt. | Photo: Naz and Matt Foundation

‘There is a light at the end of the tunnel and there is an appetite for change. When my Naz passed away, people began reaching out and saying, “Thank you, I thought I was the only one. You’ve given me strength.”‘

If you or someone you know is facing honour-based violence or forced marriage, Karma Nirvana’s helpline is: 0800 5999 247.

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