by Monica Islam

Would you like your children to learn about ABCD in their schools or about LGBT? I request you to let that question sink in before you read any further. As the world is celebrating the LGBT Pride Month, I decided to report on the LGBT scene in Bangladesh.


Recently, a controversy broke out in Bangladesh when the national school textbooks for Grade 7 children contained references to the hijra community or to trans-sexuality. A self-proclaimed Muslim lecturer of BRAC (Building Resources Across Communities) University lashed out against these textbook passages in a conference, which prompted the BRAC authorities to fire him. Reports have flourished on social media that he was fired not because of his particular stance against LGBT but because of his anti-women attitude and statements. BRAC is a Bangladeshi-based international development organization, operating since 1972. Nonetheless, supporters of the teacher took to the streets and protested what they deemed as Islamophobia. This divided the nation into two groups, both based on fear – Islamophobes and homophobes. The country seemed to be shaped by two extremes and there appeared to be a subtle war brewing between the extremists and the moderates.


Before we delve any further on this issue, we need to take a closer look at the LGBT scene in Bangladesh. Lesbians are not visible in the community, perhaps due to the fact that women here are not in control of their destiny, let alone sexual and reproductive health rights. They are expected to be passive and demure when it comes to sex and sexuality. To the contrary, gays are much more active in the society, although they face death threats and persecution as proven by the killings of gay bloggers. However, they do get selected for jobs and scholarships. Bisexuals are not heard of in Bangladesh, maybe because the term is not widely understood. The worst-treated in the community are trans-sexuals. They are often seen on the roads begging, dancing at weddings and other auspicious ceremonies for a paltry sum of money, engaging in prostitution, or doing other odd jobs. They often say, “Please don’t be scared of us.” This depicts the fact that they live on the margins of the society, without any better recourse to jobs and other opportunities. Generally speaking, there are many more types of gender in Bangladesh, each with its own characteristics, but for the brevity of this article, I am focusing on LGBT only.


I am a cis-gender or straight woman who believes in the protection of minority rights. Given my cultural and spiritual background, I will not encourage homosexuality as I expect my children to procreate and expand my lineage, no matter how selfish or demanding this sounds. However, I will not attack homosexuals physically, emotionally, or verbally. I believe this is the essence of tolerance: you may disagree with their lifestyle and community practices, but you still protect their rights to basic dignity. I follow the popular maxim: hate the sin, but not the sinner.

  • Coming back to the question of the controversy, I believe that children should not be taught about advanced concepts of sex and sexuality in schools. What is more important is to provide them with comprehensive sex education that explains consent and bodily integrity, i.e. no one should be allowed to touch you, even in the name of love (without your explicit permission, in the case of teenagers and adults, because children are not in the state of providing consent or permission). Child abuse and sexual harassment are rampant because children are not taught these basic concepts in schools. Fortunately, some schools (such as Jahan International School) and newspapers (The Daily Star, Bangladesh) have initiated an age-appropriate campaign about “good touch and bad touch”, which can lower the incidents of child abuse. Our children are going to learn about homosexuality, bisexuality, and trans-sexuality anyway because even best-selling books, such as The Diary of Anne Frank, contain references to these topics, but they should be introduced to such complex concepts of sex and sexuality when they are older, in colleges and universities.
    • It has become trendy to mock and persecute religious people, whereas in any civilized society, they must be free to practise their religion. They must be able to preach against homosexuality. There is nothing wrong with such free propagation. In fact, this is part of freedom of expression and of the rights to religion. It must be understood that homosexuality is traditionally frowned upon in the three Abrahamic religions (Judaism, Christianity and Islam); criticism of it is not an Islamic hegemony. The verses in the Quran usually thought of as against homosexuality are being reinterpreted by some scholars to mean that child abuse is forbidden and that it remains silent on female homosexuality. Therefore, we need to wait for more scholarly reinterpretations to reflect the contemporary ideals of the society. Furthermore, I agree with the moderate views of Pope Francis who said, “Homosexuality is a sin, but not a crime.” We need to distinguish between the two and divert our attention to more urgent needs of the society, such as poverty or even the unrestrained proliferation and exploitation of pornography.
    • Homophobic bullying should be prevented in schools. LGBT must not be promoted in the society as something offensive or scary. What bullying does is reinforce homosexuality by speaking to the confusion and muted aggression or rebellion inherent within each child. Previously, I have written about how a teenage boy changed (or “embraced”) his sexual orientation to that of homosexuality after being bullied in school for his feminine nature. At school-going age, children are usually confused and curious about their own bodies and self-esteem. They may yield to peer-pressure. Additionally, gender segregation must be discouraged as much as possible in schools. A participant in the United Nations ICPD beyond 2015 Global Youth Forum held in 2012 in Bali, Indonesia, aptly pointed out that it is ironic and hypocritical if you are against homosexuality but still support excessive gender segregation. Children should grow up naturally interacting with members of the opposite sex so that there is no room for curiosity about the bodies or mannerisms of the opposite sex. There must be no scope of “inexperience”. Also, to the contrary, bullying may push a person to hide his/her sexual orientation, which does more harm than good, by for example, opening the doors to black-mailing (“outing”). The Brethren by John Grisham is a novel about such phenomenon.

    Gender identity is a hotly contested topic and it must be treated as such. Discoveries with regards to this challenging issue are being made every day. For example, a person who is born a man (but identifies as a woman) is physically stronger than a woman. So, should he be allowed to compete alongside females in sports? Furthermore, should he be allowed to use the same rest-rooms as women? Will not the women feel uncomfortable? These are some of the questions that need to be answered before we take a commitment in favour of LGBT community.

    As we celebrate the LGBT Pride Month, we must abstain from taking any strong position either against or for the LGBT community. Let the story unfold itself! Let us be neutral and moderate!

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