What does being queer mean in Bangladesh?

Written by Argo

On 25th April of 2016, two men were hacked to death in their own home. You may ask why? You remember the killings of Activists by religious extremists? News you heard on the lips of your elders and the news media. News that people forgot after a month. 

The two men were Xulhax Mannan and ​Mahbub Rabbi Tonoy. Both were LGBTQ activists living in Dhaka. Mannan founded the first and the only LGBTQ themed Magazine “Roopban.” 

It was a Bengali language magazine, so it reaches to the masses of Bangladesh. Mannan also held the first Pride Parade in our country, for which he received numerous death threats from religious extremists. It never happened even after his death. 

Both of them were openly members of the LGBTQ community and Mannan even came out on his social media, the day before those extremists killed him. That’s what you get for being queer in Bangladesh. 

We don’t have any Pride. We are just “Hijras” and the child your parents never wanna have. We are those things that your Imam talks about in utter disgust. We don’t have any pride, because it was never given to us. Never. 

Even if people like Mannan and Tonoy wanted to change something in our culture, make us visible in our country, they were hacked to death. People said Mannan’s writings fall under “adult content”, and should be punished. some people even celebrated their death. We never existed in the pages of Bangladesh, and when Mannan tried doing that. Look what they did. 

It’s the beginning of Pride Month, and every Pride rally is canceled in New York City. Something I was looking forward to. This got me thinking and the main reason for me to ask the question “​What does being queer mean in Bangladesh?” 

Being born in a country where homophobia and transphobia are so ingrained in our minds. A country, where people are arrested on the “suspicion” of being gay. Yes, that actually happened. The laws which were passed down to our country from the British are what still stops us. From being hopeful with our relationships to just having the guts to hold your lover’s hands. After the killings of the Mannan and Tonoy, the LGBT community almost vanished away to the eyes of the general public. There were no more Pride rallies or anything. The extremist succeeded in what they wanted to do. 

The laws which still oppress us were inherited from the British Indian Government under section 370 in 1860. I saw a little hope at the end of the tunnel when India legalized same-sex relationships. It felt like there was some sort of change coming. 

Being queer doesn’t mean much in a hopeful way for us who live in Bangladesh. It means you are always living in fear. Always hiding in some way. This piece might have no hope, which is kind of ironic considering it’s Pride month. But that’s the truth for us. Some of us might have been lucky to get out and be the person who we want to be. Some of us aren’t. Some of us still live under the shackle of the laws that dares to stop us from loving who we want, and being who we want to be. 

I want to end this on somewhat of a hopeful note. Here’s to that day, when we all should meet in April wearing our colorful Panjabis holding the Pride flag and walking down Dhanmondi Lake and every fucking place in Dhaka. Not being scared of anyone, holding our lover’s hands and just being us. 

Here’s to us still hoping. 

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