LGBT rights in Bangladesh
|Status||Illegal (inherited law under the British Indian Government)|
|Penalty||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 labor or simple for a term which may extend to ten years, and shall also be liable to fine".|
|Gender identity||Third gender recognised|
|Recognition of relationships||No|
Lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) rights are heavily suppressed in Bangladesh. Due to the conservative mentality of Bangladeshi society, negative attitudes towards homosexuals are very high. Homosexuality is illegal under Bangladeshi law, which is inherited from the British Indian Government's Section 377 of 1860. According to the law, the punishment for homosexuals is up to life imprisonment, therefore it is dangerous for those who identify as homosexuals to openly come out in society because of social rejection, hate or assault.
Legality of same-sex sexual activity
Section 377 of the Penal Code forbids carnal intercourse against the order of nature, regardless of the gender and sexual orientation of the participants.
377. Unnatural offenses: 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 a 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.
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.
In 2009 and 2013, the Bangladeshi Parliament refused to overturn Section 377.
Recognition of same-sex relationships
Bangladeshi law does not recognize same-sex relationship, civil unions, as well as any kind of domestic partnership for couples of opposite genders. Bangladeshi society does not support these either. Consensual romantic relationship and marriage between two opposite genders is supported, though social conservatism is an impediment in this context (society is less supportive) as culturally society is based on 'marriage arranged by guardian' system.
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 for Dhaka, the capital, and got married in a Hindu ceremony. They were then arrested and threatened with life imprisonment. Similarly, another lesbian couple was arrested in October 2013 for their relationship. One member 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 females. The case was filed under Section 209, which is about unsocial activities.
- 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 offence involving moral turpitude".
Since the birth of the country, homosexuality was never defined by anyone, nor was there any incident or record that it existed in society. No writer had written about homosexuality, as it was a huge taboo among Bengalis. Any writing regarding it was homophobic. Homosexuality was seen in some brothels in the 1980s, though at that time no one in Bengali used the word. Instead, the word sodomy (in Bengali: payukam or 'anal sex') was used to indicate homosexuality. There were some homosexual prostitutes at that time, which was published in major Bengali-language newspapers.[failed verification]
Bangladesh is a country where friendship between two same genders are allowed by the society but the people do not allow friendship between two opposite genders; in the context of homosexuality, it is still taboo in the whole Bangladesh and most of the Bangladeshi people do not know the real meaning of it. As homosexuality is taboo (the word is also taboo) and secret, the society is in the dark about the original definition of it. Some people consider it sodomy like the British colonial era; they do not possess the general idea of same gender romance, are unaware of it, and only see friendship (or no sexuality) between people of the same genders. Bangladeshis also disallow talking with strangers of opposite genders.
Bangladeshi literature sector has a rich community of writers and the top authors have never promoted homosexuality though they have promoted heterosexual romance. Among them is Humayun Ahmed, a very popular among Bangladeshi novel-readers community. Ahmed wrote many romantic (heterosexual) novels.
Formal laws against homosexuality were imposed by the British in 1860 when Bangladesh was a part of British India. These laws were carried over into the Pakistan Penal Code following the partition of India in 1947, and continue to be part of Bangladesh's legal code since its independence from Pakistan in 1971. In 2010s a magazine named Roopbaan was published, the magazine was for general readers which publicized homosexuality, before it no Bangladeshi local magazine was seen which talked on behalf of homosexuality.
Gender identity and expression
On 11 November 2013, hijras were recognised as a separate gender by the Bangladeshi Government in a cabinet meeting chaired by Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina Wazed. Along with males and females, hijras will be identified as a separate gender on official documents. A survey by the Ministry of Social Welfare showed that as of 2013, there are 10,000 registered hijras in the country. Despite this, Bangladesh does not have policies outlining measures individuals must undergo to legally change their gender on their official documents, nor is there clarity about who may qualify as a hijra. In December 2014, the Ministry of Social Welfare invited hijras to apply for government employment. In January 2015, the Ministry of Health issued a memorandum requesting that "necessary steps are taken to identify hijras by conducting thorough medical check-ups". These check-ups resulted in hijras having to publicly strip naked and have their genitals touched. Photographs of these check-ups were later released to the media who then claimed that hijras are "really men". In July 2015, after a hijra witnessed the murder of a secular blogger, and successfully helped in the arrest of the perpetrators, who were Islamic radicals, the Bangladeshi government announced plans to recruit and enlist hijras as traffic police. In April 2019, it was reported that Bangladesh will allow the "hijra" to vote under their proper gender identity, as officials have introduced "hijra" as a third gender option on voting forms for the first time.
Although public display of affection between friends of the same gender in Bangladesh is commonly approved and does not raise any controversies, there appears to be a strong objection towards homosexuality as such. This hostile attitude results from conservative culture of the country, with Islam being professed by approximately 90% of the population. Society's miscreants can involve in mob justice as they also consider homosexuality 'immoral' and 'abnormal' and also a social crime. These "morality minders" are not sanctioned by the government, thus miscreants take the advantages of the absence of civil rights law.
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. 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. In reply, some people criticized these negative viewpoints as being unsound scientifically and based on prejudice.
In 2011, a research-based engagement with a school of public health at a university in Bangladesh had aimed to raise public debate on sexuality and rights in a very sensitive political context. By bringing together stakeholders, including members of sexual minorities, academicians, service providers, media, policy makers and advocacy organizations, the research engagement worked to bring visibility to hidden and stigmatized 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.
Bangladesh opened its first religious school for transgender people in Dhaka. More than 150 students were initially expected to study Islamic and vocational subjects for free. Classes started from 7 November 2020. There was no age limit set for the enrollment of students.
Bangladeshi LGBT organisations
The first attempt to create an LGBT organisation in Bangladesh came in 1999, when a man called Rengyu, described as a "middle-aged foreign-educated guy from an indigenous tribe", opened the first online group for Bangladeshi gay people, called Gay Bangladesh. It drew over 1,000 members; however, after Rengyu's death, its activity slowed down and the group itself became neglected. In 2002, two other online groups appeared on the Yahoo! portal: Teen Gay Bangladesh (TGB), and Boys Only Bangladesh. Both groups were deleted by Yahoo! authorities in December 2002, and after several restarts and name changes, TGB formed under new name Bangladesh Gay Boys (BGB) and Boys Only Bangladesh, now called Boys of Bangladesh (BoB). The group is the largest network for Bangladeshi gay men, organising 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.
Since 2014, every year at the beginning of the Bengali new year on 14 April, a Pride event called Rainbow Rally had been organised in Dhaka. After threats, the 2016 event had to be cancelled. In 2014, Bangladesh held its first Trans Pride parade. On 25 April 2016, Xulhaz Mannan, founder of Roopbaan magazine and organiser of the Rainbow Rally, was killed in his apartment together with a friend.
Many people have turned to Boys of Bangladesh to discuss their feelings and connect with similar individuals who face the same problems they do. The forum has not registered as an organisation because they do not want to associate themselves with the MSM (men who have sex with men) label. They do not wish to fall under the umbrella of being MSMs because they view it as 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. The online forum arranges events for gay men to meet and socialise. Not all people have access to their group because they do not have access to the internet. Nonetheless, BoB has more than 2,000 registered members, including Ph.D. holders and doctors.
The UN Population Fund and several NGOs have put pressure on Bangladesh to address issues such as LGBT rights and sexuality education. 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, Abulkalam Abdul Momen, said that adopting such policies would go against the country's social norms.
In September 2014, at the International Conference on Population Development, Bangladesh refused the idea of providing rights to the LGBT community. Abdul Momen made similar comments in regards to the situation as he did the previous year at the Sixth Asian and Pacific Population Conference. He was quoted saying that, like other Muslim or even Christian countries, Bangladesh does not support LGBT rights because it does not represent their values.
In April 2016, LGBT activist Xulhaz Mannan, founder and publisher of Roopbaan, the only magazine for the LGBT community in Bangladesh, was killed along with Mahbub Rabbi Tonoy, another LGBT activist. Ansar-al-Islam, an Al-Qaida-linked group, claimed responsibility for the murders stating as he had himself confirmed his sexuality he needed to be killed according to shariah law. In May 2019, eight extremists were charged by Bangladesh police for the murders. Four of the eight are in custody and police are still searching for the others.
Human rights reports
2017 United States Department of State report
In 2017, the United States Department of State reported the following, concerning the status of LGBT rights in Bangladesh:
- "The most significant human rights issues included: extrajudicial killings, torture, arbitrary or unlawful detentions, and forced disappearances by government security forces; restrictions on civil liberties, including freedom of speech, press, and the activities of non-governmental organizations (NGOs); a lack of freedom to participate in the political process, corruption, violence, and discrimination based on gender, religious affiliation, caste, tribe, including indigenous persons, and sexual orientation and gender identity also persisted and, in part, due to a lack of accountability."
- Freedom of Expression, Including for the Press
"Non-governmental Impact: atheist, secular, and lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex (LGBTI) writers and bloggers reported they continued to receive death threats from violent extremist organizations. In November, a human rights lawyer claimed he received death threats for writing about and advocating for the country’s LGBTI community."
- Acts of Violence, Discrimination, and Other Abuses Based on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity
"Consensual same-sex sexual activity is illegal under the law. LGBTI groups reported police used the law as a pretext to bully LGBTI individuals, as well as those considered effeminate regardless of their sexual orientation, and to limit registration of LGBTI organizations. Some groups also reported harassment under a suspicious behavior provision of the police code. The transgender population has long been a marginalized, but recognized part of society, but it faced continued high levels of fear, harassment, and law enforcement contact in the wake of violent extremist attacks against vulnerable communities.
Members of LGBTI communities received threatening messages via telephone, text, and social media, and some were harassed by police.
In May, RAB forces raided the Chayaneer Community Center in Keraniganj Upazila during a dinner organized by the LGBTI community from that area. According to witnesses, 28 individuals were arrested of the 120 persons present at the time of the raid. The witnesses also stated RAB separated the diners into small groups and beat them before identifying individuals for arrest. During the raid RAB announced to the media the raid was conducted based on suspicion of homosexual activity and allowed the media to photograph some of the arrested individuals. RAB later announced the attendees were not engaged in “illegal sexual activities” at the time of the raid and were instead arrested for possession of narcotics—specifically yaba (a combination of methamphetamine and caffeine) and cannabis. The court system remanded four of the individuals. Of the remaining 24 individuals, 12 were detained for further questioning and 12 were sent directly to jail.
Following these events and continued harassment, many members of LGBTI communities, including the leadership of key support organizations, continued to reduce their activities and sought refuge both inside and outside of the country. This resulted in severely weakened advocacy and support networks for LGBTI persons. Organizations specifically assisting lesbians continued to be rare. Strong social stigma based on sexual orientation was common and prevented open discussion of the subject."
- HIV and AIDS Social Stigma
"Social stigma against HIV and AIDS and against higher-risk populations could be a barrier for accessing health services, especially for the transgender community and men who have sex with men."
- Discrimination with Respect to Employment and Occupation
"The labor law prohibits wage discrimination on the basis of sex or disability, but it does not prohibit other discrimination based on sex, disability, social status, caste, sexual orientation, or similar factors."
|Same-sex sexual activity legal for men|
|Same-sex sexual activity legal for women|
|Equal age of consent|
|Anti-discrimination laws in employment|
|Anti-discrimination laws in the provision of goods and services|
|Anti-discrimination laws in all other areas (incl. indirect discrimination, hate speech)|
|Recognition of same-sex couples|
|Stepchild adoption by same-sex couples|
|Joint adoption by same-sex couples|
|LGBT people allowed to serve openly in the military|
|Right to change legal gender|
|Recognition of a third gender||(Recognition of hijras since 2013)|
|Access to IVF for lesbians|
|Commercial surrogacy for gay male couples||(Illegal for all couples regardless of sexual orientation)|
|MSMs allowed to donate blood|
|Wikimedia Commons has media related to LGBT rights in Bangladesh.|
- Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor. "Bangladesh 2016 Human Rights Report" (PDF). state.gov. United States Department of State. p. 45. Archived from the original (PDF) on 7 March 2017. Retrieved 28 March 2017.
Consensual same-sex sexual activity is illegal under Section 377 of the Code of Criminal Procedure, but the law was not enforced.
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- 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
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- "Abuses in Bangladesh's Legal Recognition of Hijras". Human Rights Watch. 23 December 2016.
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- "Bangladesh: Treatment of homosexuals including legislation, availability of state protection and support services". United Nations High Commission for Refugees. Archived from the original on 16 April 2013. Retrieved 9 January 2013.
- "First ever LGBT magazine launched". Dhaka Tribune. 19 January 2014. Retrieved 13 February 2016.
- Toppa, Sabrina (23 November 2014). "In Photos: Bangladesh's Trans Pride Parade Was Massive and Fabulous". Vice News. Retrieved 16 January 2019.
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- Eliott C. McLaughlin; Don Melvin; Tiffany Ap. "Al Qaeda claims #Bangladesh LGBT murders". CNN. Retrieved 29 April 2016.
- "Bangladesh charges eight over murder of LGBT+ activists". Reuters. 13 May 2019. Retrieved 28 June 2019.
- "Bangladesh charges extremists over gay activist murders". CNA. 12 May 2019. Archived from the original on 12 May 2019.
- "Bangladesh 2017 Human Rights Report" (PDF). 21 April 2018. Archived from the original (PDF) on 21 April 2018.
- "28 'homosexual' youths arrested in Keraniganj". Bdnews24.com. 19 May 2017.
- "Hijras legally 3rd gender but yet to get rights". The Daily Star. 24 July 2016. Retrieved 18 December 2018.
- Bilkis Irani (19 April 2019). "Members of the third gender can vote as 'hijra'". Dhaka Tribune. Retrieved 26 January 2020.
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