Lobdho and Spondon are special friends since they know each other for last two years. They first met each other in a hidden facebook group with fake profiles, later they met and the understanding develops. Spondon is here in Dhaka since last three years and works for a small private company. Lobdho was living in a suburb of Dhaka but recently for his university, he had to move to Dhaka. Naturally it was not so easy for him to get an accommodating in the government university hall. So both of them decided to live together for their special friendship and started searching a small flat. They found one fortunately but as soon as the landlord came to know that its two bachelors living together, without hesitation he closed the door. Lobdho and Spondon tried to explain that they are very good friends with understanding and they will keep the flat neat and clean but for the landlord, it’s a complete waste of time. The right to privacy is denied by the existence of ‘sodomy laws’ applicable to lesbians and gays, even if the relation is in private between consenting adults.
December 10 was world human rights day. Last year the slogan was my voice, my right. My voice counts. But can you hear this? Very often we are proud that we are a very tolerant nation. We are considered as secular and people from different culture live here in peace and harmony. But are we? Is our society open to let us choose our love?
According to Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR), Article 1 All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights. But the fact is according to Bangladesh Panel Code 377 same sex acts are criminalized which might result imprisonment up to 10 years. The free association and free expression of lesbians, gays are denied explicitly through legal provisions and there is no recognition of same sex partnership existing in Bangladesh.
Recently there is a revolution in the gay community of Bangladesh. For the boom of mobile internet, thousands of them are coming out in facebook. Every second day there is a new hidden group. But instead of their real profile its fake profile with fabricated detail information. There is a culture of collective denial of the existence of the gay community in Bangladesh due to social conservatism. Stigmatization and taboo have made the gay community a vulnerable community. Unable to cope with social conditioning, they try to redefine a way of coherence. Homosexuality in Bangladesh is shackled to a life of secrecy, lies and even internalized homophobia.
Does the gay community need a special right? It might sound funny that in a country where there is hunger, poverty, road accidents, acid violence and such other extreme problems, we are talking about gay rights. But the fact is gay rights are human rights, not any special or additional rights. It’s the basic civil, political, social and economic rights.
Being a man, wearing pink shoes is not so easy in our society. Friends will come up ‘are you gay?’ Let alone your wish to become a dancer of fashion designer. The freedom of movement is denied this way.
The right to non discrimination and to be free from harassment is usually denied omitting sexual orientation in anti discrimination laws, constitutional provisions or their enforcement. ‘That’s so gay’ has become a common slang among the generation Y for which many are getting a victim of bulling. This socio cultural silence and taboo is giving a rise to a guilty feeling that I’m sick, I’m a sinner, and I’m a shame of the society. It causes permanent depression or even suicidal attempts in some cases. We might not have sex education in our curriculum but can’t we expect teachers or family to raise a dialogue on these topics?
The right to be free from torture, inhuman treatment is infringed upon the social practices. Homosexuality was removed from the international classification of diseases of WHO and Diagnostic and Statistical manual of American Psychiatric Association but in our medical school it’s still taught as a form of perversion. Often it happens that whenever a gay is coming out to his family, apart from physical and mental torture, he is forced to consult a psychiatrist and go through medication.
The rights to free expression and free association may either be denied explicitly by law, or lesbians and gays may not enjoy them because of the homophobic climate in which they live. For awareness building or research, if an organization wants registration here, will GoB allow that?
The practice of religion is usually restricted in the case of lesbians and gays, especially in the case of mosques advocating against them. It has not started yet in Bangladesh but is that so far?
The right to work is the most affected among the economic rights, many lesbians and gays being fired because of their sexual orientation or discriminated in employment policies and practices. Think about a gay woman? Gay man can have a virtual space in internet but is there any place where a gay woman can go in our society? What might happen if her identity is disclosed in her workplace or family? Not only they are minority in terms of gender, but they are also a minority in terms of sexuality.
The right to physical and mental health is at conflict with discriminatory policies and practices, some physicians’ homophobia, the lack of adequate training for health care personnel regarding sexual orientation issues or the general assumption that patients are heterosexuals.
I remember the day when I came out to my colleague. It took three complex attempts to beg my acceptance. His reaction was quite normal as he had gay friends. So I asked ‘how will you react if your son or younger brother comes out to you tomorrow?’ His answer was straightforward; I’ll take him to a psychiatrist. Is it a nice feeling when we work together for ages and I know that his perception about me is so easily defined as ‘SICK’?
In these years also there are several articles online and offline newspapers on this topic where reactions came like this: ‘dog cat or any other animals are not humans, yet they don’t indulge in such practice’, ‘if your father was gay how your birth would have taken place and how would you write this article?’ this makes the community either never come out of the closet and/or be a victim of the ridiculing of homosexuality would rather see peoples prejudice, than have them remain silent and not acknowledge it at all.
After all these again the LGBT community in Bangladesh, are highly optimistic too see Dr. Mohammed Yunus endorsing the statement expressing solidarity with Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender and Intersex (LGBTI) people worldwide. (Released by Robert F. Kennedy Center for Justice and Human Rights on June 21) The affirmative words on LGBT issues coming from an esteemed person like him mean a great deal for the local community who are living a life of lie due to social, legal and religious barriers. His statement has certainly given a huge boost to the morale and confidence to come out in public in order to demand dignity, equality and the very basic human right to love the person of desire.
Another Nobel Prize laurite in South Africa Desmond Tutu said “We should all have the right to express ourselves; all have the right to be heard. All have the right to be what we can be: to reach for the sky and touch the stars. No matter who we are, no matter whether we are man or woman, or rich or poor: My voice, my right. My voice counts.” It the end it should be love that matters; not person, orientation, gender, race or physique.