LGBT rights in Bangladesh

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LGBT rights in Bangladesh Bangladesh
Bangladesh (orthographic projection).svg
Same-sex sexual intercourse legal status Illegal since 1861 (inherited law under the British Empire)[1]
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".[2]
Gender identity/expression Third gender recognized
Discrimination protections No
Family rights
Recognition of
Adoption No

Lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) individuals in Bangladesh do not enjoy the same rights that non-LGBT individuals enjoy. Due to the traditional mentality of the predominantly Muslim Bangladeshi society, negative attitudes towards those in the LGBT community are high. Homosexuality has been illegal under Bangladeshi law since 1861, which was inherited by the British Empire,[3] punishable by up to life imprisonment, though this law is often not enforced. It is still very dangerous for those who identify as LGBT to openly come out in society because of communal rejection, shame, assault, or murder.[1]

Human Rights Watch states that "Discrimination against lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) people is pervasive in Bangladesh".[4][5]

Transgender individuals (called hijras in South Asia) are legally recognized as a third gender in Bangladesh. Nonetheless, they still face societal discrimination and rejection, despite being part of Bangladeshi (and South Asian) culture since the Kama Sutra period (400 BC to 200 AD).

Legality of same-sex sexual activity[edit]

Section 377 of the Penal Code forbids anal or oral sex, regardless of the gender or sexual orientation of the individuals, and regardless of the fact that it was consensual and done in private.

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.[6][7]

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.[8][9]

In 2009, as well as in 2013, the Bangladeshi Parliament refused to overturn Section 377.[10]

Recognition of same-sex relationships[edit]

LGBT flag map of Bangladesh

Bangladesh does not recognise same-sex marriage nor civil unions.

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.[11] 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.[12]

Constitutional rights[edit]

The Constitution has several provisions that could apply to LGBT citizens:[13]

  • 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".

Gender identity and expression[edit]

Similarly to neighbouring India, Bangladesh has a significant transgender people, commonly called "hijras", who do not consider themselves male or female.

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. Along with males and females, hijras will 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 registered hijras in the country.[14] Despite this, Bangladesh does not possess policies outlining measures individuals must take and undergo to legally change their gender on their official documents, nor is there clarity about whom may qualify as a hijra. Given the fact that there are no guidelines, officials act and rely on their own personal understanding of hijra when tasked to change official documents, thus potentially resulting in discrimination for hijras.

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 abuses and public humiliation for hijras who had to have their genitals touched and had to strip naked in public. Photographs of these check-ups were later released to the media who then claimed that hijras are "really men".[15] 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.

Living conditions[edit]

In 2003, Dr. Gary Dowsett, an Australian professor, Jeffrey Grierson and Stephen McNally published a report titled A Review of Knowledge About the Sexual Networks and Behaviors of Men Who Have Sex with Men in Asia as part of a study on how the AIDS pandemic is impacting the nation.[16] The bulk of the report focused on male prostitution.[17][18]

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, policymakers 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.[19]

Another initiative towards promoting LGBT rights in the country is the online blog Mukto-Mona (মুক্তমনা), described by its management as a "secular site for Bengali humanists and freethinkers".[20] 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).[21] 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.[22]

In 2013, the Dhaka Tribune wrote and editorial against Section 377 of the Criminal Code stating their belief that while most people in Bangladesh were against homosexuality, they did not want to see people put in jail for it or for the Government to waste resources treating it as a crime.[23]

Bangladeshi LGBT organisations[edit]

The first attempt to create an LGBT organisation 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 the first online group for Bangladeshi gay people, called Gay Bangladesh.[24] It drew a number of over 1,000 members; however, after Rengyu's death, its activity slowed down and the group itself became neglected.[24] In 2002, two other online groups 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, 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.[25]

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.[26]

Since 2014, every year at the beginning of the Bengali new year on 14 April, a Pride event called Rainbow Rally has been organised in Dhaka. After threats, the 2016 event had to be cancelled. On 25 April 2016, Xulhaz Mannan, one of the founders of Roopbaan and organiser of the Rainbow Rally, was killed in his apartment together with a friend.[27]

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 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.[28] 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 and they include PhD holders and doctors.[28]

The UN Population Fund and several NGOs have put pressure on Bangladesh to address issues such as LGBT 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.[29]

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 as saying that like other Muslim or even Christian countries, Bangladesh does not support it because it does not support their values.[30]

Public opinion[edit]

A rainbow flag for Bangladeshi LGBT people designed by John Ashley

According to a 2017 poll carried out by ILGA, a plurality of 47% of Bangladeshis agreed that gay, lesbian and bisexual people should enjoy the same rights as straight people, while 38% disagreed. Additionally, 50% agreed that they should be protected from workplace discrimination. 49% of Bangladeshis, however, said that people who are in same-sex relationships should be charged as criminals, while 38% disagreed. As for transgender people, 44% agreed that they should have the same rights, 50% believed they should be protected from employment discrimination and 40% believed they should be allowed to change their legal gender.[31]

Additionally, according to that same poll, a third of Bangladeshis would try to "change" a neighbour's sexual orientation if they discovered he/she was gay.

Human rights reports[edit]

2017 United States Department of State report[edit]

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 nongovernmental 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."[32]
  • Freedom of Expression, Including for the Press
    "Nongovernmental 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."[32]
  • 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 Keranigan 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."[32]
  • 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."[32]
  • 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."[32]

Summary table[edit]

Same-sex sexual activity No (Penalty: up to life imprisonment)
Equal age of consent No
Anti-discrimination laws in employment 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 marriage No
Recognition of same-sex couples No
Stepchild adoption by same-sex couples No
Joint adoption by same-sex couples No
LGBT people allowed to serve openly in the military No
Right to change legal gender No
Recognition of a third gender No
Access to IVF for lesbians No
Commercial surrogacy for gay male couples No (Illegal for all couples regardless of sexual orientation)[33]
MSMs allowed to donate blood No

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor. "Bangladesh 2016 Human Rights Report" (PDF). United States Department of State. p. 45. 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. 
  2. ^ "Is it time to review Section 377". The Hindu. 1 September 2017. Retrieved 29 November 2017. 
  3. ^ Gwynn Guilford (December 11, 2013). "India's latest ban against gay sex has its origin in a five-century-old British power struggle". Quartz. Retrieved 23 December 2013. 
  4. ^ "World Report 2015 – Malaysia". Human Rights Watch. 
  5. ^ "Nowhere to turn for Bangladesh′s LGBT | Asia | DW | 17.05.2016". DW. 2017-05-15. Retrieved 2017-05-19. 
  6. ^ "Sodomy Laws Around the World". 24 April 2007. Archived from the original on 8 August 2007. Retrieved 1 September 2007. 
  7. ^ "Indian Penal Code" (PDF). District Court Allahabad. Archived from the original (PDF) on 11 February 2014. Retrieved 11 December 2013. 
  8. ^ "Bangladesh: Treatment of homosexuals including legislation, availability of state protection and support services". Archived from the original on 16 April 2013. Retrieved 9 December 2012. 
  9. ^ "Bangladesh_Penal_Code_1860_Full_text.pdf (application/pdf Object)" (PDF). Archived from the original (PDF) on 12 March 2014. Retrieved 9 December 2012. 
  10. ^ 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
  11. ^ Kuddus, Omar. "Bangladesh Lesbian Couple Threatened with Life in Jail for Getting Married." Gay Star News. N.p., n.d. Web. 25 October 2014.
  12. ^ Kuddus, Omar, and Tris Reid-Smith. "Bangladesh Jails 'married' Lesbian Couple." Gay Star News. N.p., n.d. Web. 25 October 2014.
  13. ^ "Constitution of the People's Republic of Bangladesh". Retrieved 27 April 2011. 
  14. ^ Karim, Mohosinul (25 October 2014). "Hijras Now a Separate Gender". Dhaka Tribune. 
  15. ^ "Abuses in Bangladesh's Legal Recognition of Hijras". Human Rights Watch. December 23, 2016. 
  16. ^ "A Review of Knowledge About the Sexual Networks and Behaviours of Men Who Have Sex With Men in Asia". Australian Research Centre in Sex, Health and Society (ARCSHS), Melbourne, May 2006. Retrieved 20 January 2011. 
  17. ^ "Why gay men flee Bangladesh". 16 April 2003. Retrieved 20 January 2011. 
  18. ^ Buncombe, Andrew (2008-12-30). "Independent Appeal: Sex workers dicing with death in Bangladesh". The Independent. Retrieved 2017-05-19. 
  19. ^ 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. 
  20. ^ "Mukto-mona (মুক্তমনা ) : A Secular site for Bengali humanists & freethinkers" (in Bengali). Archived from the original on 21 August 2012. Retrieved 15 January 2013. 
  21. ^ "Samakamita: The first Bengali book on homosexuality". Retrieved 2013-01-15. 
  22. ^ "সমকামিতা : একটি বৈজ্ঞানিক এবং সমাজ-মনস্তাত্ত্বিক অনুসন্ধান" (in Bengali). Archived from the original on 9 March 2011. Retrieved 20 January 2011. 
  23. ^ "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 28 January 2016. Retrieved 2016-02-13. 
  24. ^ a b "The Boys of Bangladesh". Retrieved 9 January 2013. 
  25. ^ "Bangladesh: Treatment of homosexuals including legislation, availability of state protection and support services". Archived from the original on 16 April 2013. Retrieved 9 January 2013. 
  26. ^ "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 30 April 2016. Retrieved 2016-02-13. 
  27. ^ "Founder of Bangladesh's first and only LGBT magazine killed". The Guardian. Retrieved 2 May 2016. 
  28. ^ a b Ebert, Rainer, and Mahmudul Hoque Moni. "In Bangladesh, Dies a Vestige of Colonialism." Gay & Lesbian Review Worldwide 18.3 (2011): 45-. Print
  29. ^ Zaman, Sheikh Shahariar. "UNFPA for Gay Rights in Bangladesh." UNFPA for Gay Rights in Bangladesh | Dhaka Tribune. N.p., n.d. Web. 25 October 2014.
  30. ^ 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 October 2014. The IPCD proposed to provide rights to the LGBT community
  31. ^ ILGA-RIWI Global Attitudes Survey ILGA, October 2017, download the country-specific data
  32. ^ a b c d e BANGLADESH 2017 HUMAN RIGHTS REPORT This article incorporates text from this source, which is in the public domain.