The second instalment of our series spotlighting gay life in a foreign country looks at Bangladesh, a country that receives relatively little international attention but is at the beginning of a journey toward major equality and acceptance.
Dhaka-raised, Quazi Haque, 29, describes a Bangladesh where neither society nor the government recognises the existence of a gay and lesbian population.
There is no social acceptance for gay people. I chose not to -˜come out’ because I didn’t want my parents to be socially embarrassed, Quazi said. There wasn’t really any threat of bodily harm, just a potential to be isolated from society.
Nazrum Islam, Counsellor with the Bangladesh High Commission in Canberra says that Bangladeshi society does not permit homosexuality. The population is 90 percent Muslim and it is not allowed in Islam, he said. That is why there is no official recognition of homosexuality in Bangladesh.
Quazi believes the reason lies partially with religion.
It is wrong when the Government is represented as not recognising homosexuality because Islam doesn’t approve. Bangladeshi laws and the Constitution are independent of Islamic laws, Quazi said. The grip of the religious leaders is weak but Bangladeshi society is not bold enough to go against the teachings of the religion.
As a result of the culture, Quazi’s teenage years were not easy.
Without any support, I suffered a lot growing up.
Quazi was determined to make a difference and provide a support network for the gay population of Bangladesh. The challenge would be how. As Bangladesh had no gay infrastructure, Quazi was starting from the very beginning.
The solution came in the form of the internet.
A Yahoo group was the easiest method I found to connect the gay population of Bangladesh. I created Boys of Bangladesh or BOB, he said.
Since creating the Yahoo group in late 2002, BOB has become the central hub for all gay communication in the country. Virtually all websites now discussing gay Bangladesh list BOB as the main support avenue for Bangladeshis.
A group of six volunteers moderate all postings, with Quazi moderating some posts on his laptop in Sydney. Quazi believes the success of the group lies in the impartiality of the moderators.
BOB essentially established rules for the Bangladeshi gay society.
Without boundaries everyone can do whatever they want. I wanted the gay Bangladesh society to mature and have rules in which to make their lives liveable, Quazi said. Through BOB I’ve achieved that to some extent.
BOB is not only confined to the virtual world. The moderators also organise activities such as dinners, picnics and movies.
Through BOB gay people could establish friendships and not just meet other men for sex, he said.
Acts of homosexuality are illegal in Bangladesh under the British imperial remnant, Section 377. However, this law is rarely, if ever, used to prosecute offenders.
Quazi, who currently works as an engineer, came to Sydney in 2003.
I couldn’t live honestly in that society. Even today, and despite BOB, there is still no one in Bangladesh who will openly identify as gay, he said.
Change takes time. In the last five years a lot has been achieved. The pace is getting faster and faster. I think in 20 years Bangladesh will have everything that Sydney has today.
Bangladesh can feel isolated and lonely for that country’s gay and lesbian population.