Letter to Xulhaz

Dear Xulhaz,

It’s four years after your murder and I miss you.

The world changed after I heard the news. I didn’t want to live in a world where people could commit such a brutal act of hate against one of the most gentle and loving people I knew .I felt shocked and numb. I felt blinding anger and sadness as deep as the ocean. And I kept wondering, why did your murderers hate you so much. If they had just known you like I did, they could never have done what changed all our lives that day.

All you ever wanted was to be who you were and not apologize for it. But because of the place you were born, you were unfortunate to live in a society where many people, including government officials and religious leaders, consider same-gender sex a sin.

But same-gender sex was only a minor part. For you it went so much further. Being gay or homosexual or LGBT was a matter of fact for you. It was just who you were. Just like you were loving, grumpy, cheerful and demanding, motivating and catty, just like you were a son, a brother and a friend, so you were gay. A part of who you were. It was part of your identity and you never hid it or felt bad about it. But you knew that you were the exception.

For many LGBTQ people in Bangladesh who live in a society where most people are taught to fear and hate homosexuals, the choice to be out is not so easy. Loyal and loving as most children are, they don’t want to disappoint their parents and they fear losing their jobs or being disowned by their families and losing the people they love. So many LGBTQ people can’t be who they truly are. They hide their true selves and often end up in a heterosexual marriage that is not only sad for them but also their partners.

So after the early days of finding other people like yourself, organizing parties to socialize and to be able to be yourself for that one evening, that one party, you wanted to do more. Like so many leaders before you, you were driven by this sense of injustice and you wanted to empower the LGBT community to see if change could happen in Bangladesh.

Your vision was not always shared by others. With so much at stake, people sometimes wanted stronger actions, more activism. Others felt you were going too fast, you wanted too much, too soon. I sometimes wonder if  you knew somewhere deep down, that you might not live long. Maybe that is why you worked with such urgency.

And for a while, things seemed to change. There was an energy in the air, the feeling of new possibilities and hope. There were workshops, projects, and Roopbaan, a printed LGBTQ magazine, an unthinkable idea at first, became real and two issues got published. Imagine that! An LGBTQ magazine in Bangladesh! A magazine you could hold in your hands and touch. A magazine you could take out and read when you needed comfort or information. A magazine full of stories, pictures, cartoons, advice and most importantly a magazine full of hope.

Hope that one day, people would see LGBTQ people as human beings, just like everyone else. See you as just an ordinary person who happened to be born with love in your heart for the same gender and not a sinner, a pervert, a somokami.

Another event you helped come to life and where you could be out and about was the Rainbow Rally. What a beautiful day that was. The colors, balloons, masks. The buzz in the air, let’s line up and get our colors right, look joyful, they are making pictures of us! All these colorful, beautiful people marching on pohela boishakh. I saw pictures of you and Tonoy and your smile was as big as the sun. You and your friends were out on the streets, visible for all to see. Showing yourself in all your glory and being respectful to your society without wanting to step on sensitive toes.

All these years ago, when we met and you dragged me all over Dhaka to see art, recitals and performances, we agreed that no matter who you are and no matter where you are born, we all have the same needs: to be seen, to be heard and to be loved.

I wish I could have done more to help you accomplish your goal. But five men came up to your apartment and crushed all the dreams and hope you had. 

So now it’s the time for all of us, your friends, to contribute. Let’s all build on the dream you had; to make your vision of the future for the LGBTQ community a reality.

No one should be invisible, no one should hide who they truly are, no one should feel unloved just for being who they are. We should all strive to give them a platform, to hear their voices.

I will play my part by giving a platform to anyone who wants to speak out and collaborate in the film I’m working on about what it’s like to live as an LGBTQ person in Bangladesh. I will collect stories and show the world that we are all the same, with the same dreams and hopes. I want to share your dream in changing people’s hearts and minds and give the LGBTQ community a voice. Like you, I want to tell everyone: “We are not invisible and together we’ll fight for our basic human right: the freedom to love. We might have to do it anonymously at first but we will be heard!”

Xulhaz, we all miss you but you will never be forgotten. Not as long as there are voices to say your name and hearts that will remember you with love.

With all my love, Larissa

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