“Do you experience shame and guilt over being gay or homosexual? It’s easy for me to say, ‘Stop, there’s nothing to be ashamed about!’ But it’s a lot harder to put into practice. The reason for this is that the seeds for shame and guilt are usually sown over a period of many years, since we were very young.” This is one of the many pieces of advice that a young Bangladeshi can find online thanks to Boys of Bangladesh (boysofbangladesh.org), the main LGBT association in the country. Born as a simple virtual group, BoB, as this NGO is more familiarly called, has developed till it expanded in the real world, opened a small office in Dhaka, the capital, and started to collaborate with several national and international organizations, such as universities and the South Asian Human Rights Association (SAHRA). Rajeeb, BoB’s manager, illustrates this important experience to Il grande colibrì.
Homosexuality is categorically criminalized under Section 377, the British legacy, but the law has never been implemented, though it is used as a harassment tool by the law enforcers. Some other local laws are also evoked to harass LGBT people. Bangladesh is a “homosocial” country meaning that same sex physical intimacy (non-sexual) is common here. Being a Muslim majority conservative country, sex is a taboo in Bangladesh. Indeed, the notion of sexual orientation and sexuality does not exist here. Being out is very rare. And those who do, they face violence, discrimination and are shunned by society.
Can you introduce Boys of Bangladesh (BoB) and explain which are your action and your history?
Boys of Bangladesh is the oldest and the largest network of self-identified Bangladeshi gay men from home and abroad. BoB is a non-registered, non-funded and informal organization run by a pull of dedicated volunteers. We started as an online group in 2002 to provide a platform for the like minded people to come together and help build a gay community based on friendship and solidarity.
How have been changed your action and your goals since 2002?
Since then, we have become a premier platform for the LGBT community of the country. We have increasingly become more visible than just in the virtual world. Initially the goal was to help build a gay community. But now we envision a broader movement of diverse groups of sexual orientation and gender identity. We are becoming more and more inclusive and accessible. Besides community mobilization, advocacy and networking have also become our priorities.
What will be your next step to promote LGBT rights?
We are now collaborating with mainstream human rights organizations. So far we are very happy to get support from the wider human rights movement. We also want to use sexual reproductive health and rights as an entry point for sexual orientation and gender identity.
Bangladesh is experiencing increasing tensions between the Bangladesh Nationalist Party, which seems every day closer to the Islamists, and the Bangladesh Awami League, the ruling party which is more left-wing. Do you have any natural interlocutor in the Parliament?
Politics and religion are interwoven in Bangladesh. So it is difficult to say which political party is more Islamic or less. We have not reached out to any political party. So we do not know their official stand on LGBT issues.
In January the first ever LGBT Bangladeshi magazine has been launched. Do you think it will be possible to survive in such a situation with no laws to protect the LGBT right?
The launching of the magazine Roopbaan created a lot of visibility of the LGBT issues in the media. It was welcomed by a lot but also vehemently opposed by the majority. Of course it is a challenge to continue to raise our voices in such homophobic society but staying silence is not an option. It is true that there is no specific law to protect the LGBT people, but there are many national and international laws that can be utilized. Also, our constitution guarantees freedom of expression. Besides, Bangladesh is signatory to a number of international conventions which can be applied for LGBTs as well. After all, LGBT rights are human rights.
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