LGBT rights in Bangladesh

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LGBT rights in Bangladesh Bangladesh
Same-sex sexual activity legal? Illegal
According to Section 377 of the Bangladeshi Penal Code, "Whoever voluntarily has carnal intercourse against the order of nature with any man, woman or animal, shall be punished with imprisonment for life, or with imprisonment of either description that is, hard labour or simple for a term which may extend to ten years, and shall also be liable to fine".
Gender identity/expression No
Discrimination protections No
Family rights
Recognition of
Adoption No

In Bangladesh same-sex sexual or romantic activities are not respected, with LGBT people facing discrimination, verbal and physical abuse, and unique legal and social challenges. Same-sex sexual activity, whether in public or private, is illegal and punishable with fines and up to life imprisonment. Consequently, Bangladesh does not recognize a marriage, civil union or domestic partnership between adults of the same sex. As of 2012, discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity has not been prohibited by a civil right law in Bangladesh. Likewise, no law exists in Bangladesh to address harassment against the LGBT community, and there appears to be no organized movement to advance LGBT rights.

Constitutional and criminal code[edit]

The constitution has several provisions that could apply to LGBT citizens:[1]

  • Part II Article 19 – Promises equal opportunity for all citizens.
  • Part III Article 27 - Promises equality before the law for all citizens.
  • Freedom of religion and the press are both promised, but subject to restrictions based on "decency or morality".
  • A citizen is not eligible to be a member of Parliament if they are convicted of a "criminal offense involving moral turpitude".

377. Unnatural offences: Whoever voluntarily has carnal intercourse against the order of nature with any man, woman or animal, shall be punished with imprisonment for life, or with imprisonment of either description for term which may extend to ten years, and shall also be liable to fine.

Explanation: Penetration is sufficient to constitute the carnal intercourse necessary to the offense described in this section.[2][3]

The ambit of Section 377, extends to any sexual union involving penile insertion. Thus, even consensual heterosexual acts such as fellatio and anal penetration may be punishable under this law. [4][5]

Social attitude[edit]

In 2003, Dr. Gary Dowsett, an Australian professor, published a report titled A Review of Knowledge About the Sexual Networks and Behaviours of Men Who Have Sex with Men in Asia as part of a study on how the AIDS pandemic is impacting the nation.[6] The bulk of the report focused on male prostitution, but it did generate some public discussion about LGBT issues, with Indian movies and water poisoning through arsenic being blamed for making homosexuality more common.[7]

A research-based engagement with a school of public health at a university in Bangladesh recently aimed to raise public debate on sexuality and rights in a very sensitive political context. By bringing together stakeholders, including members of sexual minorities, academics, service providers, media, policy makers and advocacy organisations, the research engagement worked to bring visibility to hidden and stigmatised sexuality and rights issues. Critical steps towards visibility for sexual minorities include creating safe spaces for meeting, developing learning materials for university students and engaging with legal rights groups.[8]

Bangladeshi LGBT organizations[edit]

A rainbow flag for Bangladeshi LGBT people designed by John Ashley

The first attempt to create an LGBT community in Bangladesh came as late as in 1999, when a man called Rengyu, described as a "middle aged foreign educated guy from an indigenous tribe", opened first online group for Bangladeshi gay people, called Gay Bangladesh.[9] It drew a number of over 1000 members, however, after Rengyu's death, its activity slowed down and the group itself became neglected.[9] In 2002, two other online groups were appeared on the Yahoo! portal, Teen Gay Bangladesh, moderated by Prakash and Abrar, and Boys Only Bangladesh, created by Quazi Haque. Both groups were deleted by Yahoo! authorities in December 2002, and after several re-appear attempts and name changes, the only surviving group remains Boys Only Bangladesh, now called Boys of Bangladesh (BoB). The group, whose current moderator is Tanvir Alim, is the largest network for Bangladeshi gay men, organizing numerous LGBT rights-related events in Dhaka since 2009. Boys of Bangladesh aims at building a gay community in the country and repealing Section 377.[10]

Another initiative towards promoting LGBT rights in the country is an online blog Mukto-mona (মুক্তমনা), described by its management as a "secular site for Bengali humanists and freethinkers".[11] In 2010, Dr. Avijit Roy, an independent researcher and a science writer associated with Mukto-mona, published a book titled Homosexuality – A Scientific and Socio-Psychological Investigation (Bengali: সমকামিতা : একটি বৈজ্ঞানিক এবং সমাজ-মনস্তাত্ত্বিক অনুসন্ধান).[12] The publication attempted to provide a scientific view and accessible account of homosexuality on several grounds. It was the first book in Bengali language to deal with LGBT people and their human rights.[13]

HIV and AIDS[edit]

In 1985, a National Governmental Committee was established to research and develop a policy for handling the HIV/AIDS pandemic. A year later, a drug smuggler became the first official person living with HIV, with hospitals beginning to receive patients. However, the government remained leery about a comprehensive public health campaign in light of economic realities and the taboos involved.[14] As a result, much of the work has come from non-governmental organizations (NGOs).

Since 1995, CARE Bangladesh has been providing HIV/AIDS prevention education for prostitutes, drug addicts, migrant workers and men who have sex with other men.[15] Other NGOs, including the Bandhu Social Welfare Society and the Red Crescent, have since introduced or supported similar efforts.[16]

In 2006, the government required the teaching of "life skils", including basic HIV/AIDS education, starting in secondary schools.[17] The government's goal was to have a comprehensive educational campaign, with treatment for all infected citizens, by the year 2010.[18]

LGBT Rights and the Bangladeshi Government[edit]

Bangladesh has a law against any kind of intercourse between homosexuals. It criminalizes any intercourse that is seen as going against nature (Powell). In 2009 as well as in 2013, the Bangladeshi parliament has refused to overturn section 377. In a statement released by Mohammed Abdul Hannan, the representative of Bangladesh in the United Nations office, it was said that activities that concern the law are not considered the social norm of the country.[19] While activists have tried to get the law overturned, the government is strong on their stance.

On 23 July 2013, a lesbian couple was arrested for marrying in secret. Shibronty Roy Puja, a 16-year-old Hindu, and Sanjida Akter, 21-year-old Muslim fled their town and went to Dhaka, the capital, and got married in a Hindu ceremony. They were then arrested and threatened with life imprisonment.[20] Similarly, another lesbian couple was arrested in October 2013 for their relationship. One half of the couple was described as having short hair and identified as the husband. The police had them take sex identification tests, and the doctors stated they were both female. The case was filed under section 209, which is about unsocial activities.[21]

On 11 November 2013, hijras, who do not consider themselves male or female, were recognized as a separate gender by the Bangladeshi government in a cabinet meeting. Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina that along with males and females, hijras will also be identified as a separate gender on official documents. A survey done by the Ministry of Social Welfare showed that as of 2013, there are 10,000 hijras in the country.[22] Hijras do not consider themselves women nor transgender. They identify themselves as intersex. This is considered a huge step for the country because it is said to promote equality amongst everyone in the country.

Social Attitude Towards LGBT Rights[edit]

LGBT rights rally during the Pohela Boishakh (2015) in Dhaka.

In January 2014, Bangladesh’s first LGBT magazine was published. The magazine’s name is Roopbaan, a Bengali folk character who represents the power of love.[23] At the magazine’s launch, British High Commissioner Robert Gibson and Barrister Sara Hossain were present to hear the speakers. The magazine is being printed in Bangla and is accepting submissions from volunteers. The editor said the main goal of the magazine is to promote love.

The Internet has allowed individuals to connect with one another. Cyber communities have become a way for the LGBT community in Bangladesh to communicate and feel less isolated. It makes up for their lack of physical contact.

There is a difference between the poor and the rich. They are given different labels as well. Men who identify themselves as gay are usually well educated and have more resources. They access different LGBT communities through travel and Internet. They harbor connections to the global gay community. In contrast, the socioeconomically challenged gay men are referred to as MSMs. The term MSM is an umbrella term created by public health officials to describe men who are considered to be high risk for HIV and AIDS. Their economic statuses are usually low and common jobs include cooks, dancers and rickshaw pullers (2). They do not have any adequate resources and often remain anonymous when visiting health resources and do not provide sufficient details about their lives. These men are usually in secret relationships and sometimes lead double lives if they are married to women. These men do not have access to books or the Internet unlike the upperclassmen. There is an evident class gap between the socioeconomic classes in terms of LGBT rights. A person’s sexuality is tied in with his/her class in the country. Each group faces different troubles and woes.

The Bangladeshi community is socially conservative and heteronormative and the dominant religion (Islam) makes it extremely difficult to decriminalize homosexuality. Homosexuals are ostracized from their families, communities and workforce.

LGBT Organizations and their Relation to Bangladesh[edit]

Many people have turned to Boys of Bangladesh, an online gay forum to discuss their feelings and connect with similar individuals who face the same problems they do. The forum has not registered as an organization because they do not want to associate themselves with the MSM label. They do not wish to fall under the umbrella of being MSMs because they believe it is a degrading term. The group’s coordinator has stated that the MSM label is only about men having sex with other men. It is considered more than that.[24] The online forum arranges events for gay men to meet and socialize. Not all people have access to their group because they do not have access to Internet. Nonetheless, BoB has more than 2,000 registered members and they include Ph.D. holders and doctors.[24]

The UN Population Fund and Non-Government Organizations have put pressure on Bangladesh to address issues such as gay rights and sexuality education (Zaman). These issues were discussed at the Sixth Asian and Pacific Population Conference which began on 16 September 2013. Bangladesh altogether opposed the UNFPA’s idea to support LGBT rights. Bangladesh’s Permanent Representative to the UN AK Abdul Momen said that adopting such policies would go against the country’s social norms.[25]

In September 2014, At the International Conference on Population Development, Bangladesh, Bangladesh refused the idea of providing rights to the lesbian and gay community. Abdul Momen had similar comments in regards to the situation as he did last year at the Sixth Asian and Pacific Population conference. He was quoted in saying that like other Muslim or even Christian countries, Bangladesh does not support it because it does not support their values.[26] Momen reiterates that they cannot endorse it or be a part of it because the country would not be accepting of something that goes against all of their values. He said that if they allow comprehensive sexuality education, they will be showing young children videos of sex.

Bangladesh is a predominantly Muslim country. A few Islamic foundations[which?] such as the Al-Fatiha Foundation[citation needed] which is based in the United States support homosexuality.[citation needed] Their group identifies it as a natural thing and advocates same-sex relationships. A few Muslim Scholars[who?] say that while the Quran condemns same-sex lust, there is nothing written about homosexual love. They advocate and support homosexual relationships and wish for Muslim countries like Bangladesh to change their views.[citation needed] More and more groups are advocating for the rights of the lesbian, gay, transgender and bisexual community in Bangladesh. Religious as well as social groups are a part of this movement.[citation needed] While the country is still relatively behind compared to countries such as the U.S. on LGBT rights, people are making certain strides.

Summary table[edit]

Same-sex sexual activity legal No (Penalty: Up to life imprisonment)
Equal age of consent No
Anti-discrimination laws in employment only No
Anti-discrimination laws in the provision of goods and services No
Anti-discrimination laws in all other areas (incl. indirect discrimination, hate speech) No
Same-sex marriages No
Recognition of same-sex couples No
Step-child adoption by same-sex couples No
Joint adoption by same-sex couples No
Gays and lesbians allowed to serve openly in the military No
Right to change legal gender No
Access to IVF for lesbians No
Commercial surrogacy for gay male couples No
MSMs allowed to donate blood No

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Constitution of the People’s Republic of Bangladesh". Retrieved 27 April 2011. 
  2. ^ "Sodomy Laws Around the World". 24 April 2007. Retrieved 1 September 2007. 
  3. ^ "Indian Penal Code" (PDF). District Court Allahabad. Retrieved 11 December 2013. 
  4. ^ "Bangladesh: Treatment of homosexuals including legislation, availability of state protection and support services". Retrieved 9 December 2012. 
  5. ^ "Bangladesh_Penal_Code_1860_Full_text.pdf (application/pdf Object)" (PDF). Retrieved 9 December 2012. 
  6. ^ "Report - HPP000890". Retrieved 20 January 2011. 
  7. ^ "Why gay men flee Bangladesh". 16 April 2003. Retrieved 20 January 2011. 
  8. ^ Farah Ahmed, Hilary Standing, Mahrukh Mohiuddin, Sabina Rashid. "Publications - Creating a public space and dialogue on sexuality and rights: a case study from Bangladesh". Retrieved 24 May 2012. 
  9. ^ a b "The Boys of Bangladesh". Retrieved 9 January 2013. 
  10. ^ "Bangladesh: Treatment of homosexuals including legislation, availability of state protection and support services". Retrieved 9 January 2013. 
  11. ^ "Mukto-mona (মুক্তমনা ) : A Secular site for Bengali humanists & freethinkers" (in Bengali). Retrieved 15 January 2013. 
  12. ^ "Samakamita: The first Bengali book on homosexuality". Retrieved 15 January 2013. 
  13. ^ "সমকামিতা : একটি বৈজ্ঞানিক এবং সমাজ-মনস্তাত্ত্বিক অনুসন্ধান" (in Bengali). Retrieved 20 January 2011. 
  15. ^ "Charity Fuels Hopes of Bangladesh Sex Workers". 14 June 2004. Retrieved 20 January 2011. 
  16. ^ "Key Achievements". Retrieved 2 April 2013. 
  17. ^ Henry J. Kaiser (8 February 2005). "Bangladesh Students to Be Taught About HIV/AIDS Issues in Schools for First Time". Retrieved 20 January 2011. 
  18. ^ Henry J. Kaiser (21 April 2008). "Daily Star Examines Antiretroviral Access in Bangladesh". Retrieved 20 January 2011. 
  19. ^ Pawar, Yogesh. Bangladesh Refuses to Abolish Criminalisation of Same-Sex Ties; in Denial about its 4.5 Million-Strong LGBT Community, Dhaka Shoots Down the United Nations Human Rights Commission Recommendations., 2013. Print
  20. ^ Kuddus, Omar. "Bangladesh Lesbian Couple Threatened with Life in Jail for Getting Married." Gay Star News. N.p., n.d. Web. 25 Oct. 2014.
  21. ^ Kuddus, Omar, and Tris Reid-Smith. "Bangladesh Jails 'married' Lesbian Couple." Gay Star News. N.p., n.d. Web. 25 Oct. 2014.
  22. ^ Karim, Mohosinul. "Hijras Now a Separate Gender." Dhaka Tribune. 25 October 2014.
  23. ^ Sadeque, Syeda Samira. "First Ever LGBT Magazine Launched." First Ever LGBT Magazine Launched | Dhaka Tribune. N.p., n.d. Web. 25 Oct. 2014.
  24. ^ a b Ebert, Rainer, and Mahmudul Hoque Moni. "In Bangladesh, Dies a Vestige of Colonialism." Gay & Lesbian Review Worldwide 18.3 (2011): 45-. Print
  25. ^ Zaman, Sheikh Shahariar. "UNFPA for Gay Rights in Bangladesh." UNFPA for Gay Rights in Bangladesh | Dhaka Tribune. N.p., n.d. Web. 25 Oct. 2014.
  26. ^ Zaman, Sheikh Shahriar. "Bangladesh Opposes ICPD's LGBT Rights Move | Dhaka Tribune." Bangladesh Opposes ICPD's LGBT Rights Move | Dhaka Tribune. N.p., n.d. Web. 25 Oct. 2014.. The IPCD proposed to provide rights to the LGBT community