Bangladesh’s Leading English Daily Calls for Decriminalizing Same-Sex Relations In The Country

Gay BangladeshIn a landmark move, Dhaka Tribune, a leading English language daily of Bangladesh, published an editorial on Aug 29th titled “Decriminalizing Same-Sex Relations” which asserted full support for same-sex relationships in the country. Homosexuality is currently outlawed under Section 377 of the Bangladesh Criminal Code. In its editorial, Dhaka Tribune states, “Everyone has the right to live his or her life without fear, and nothing is gained by making people a target for persecution.”

The pro-LGBT stance from the daily has come days before the 2nd cycle of the United Nations Universal Periodic Review (UPR) for Bangladesh is to conclude in September 2013. The UPR aims at improving the human rights situation on the ground in each of the 193 United Nations (UN) member states. Each UN member state is subjected to this review every four and a half years.

In the first session of the 2nd cycle of the UPR held in April-May 2013, gay activists from Bangladesh raised the demand for decriminalisation of homosexuality as well as educating law enforcers about LGBT issues, but the Government rejected these recommendations. Further, several newspapers and elected government officials have politicized the issue of homosexuality in a negative way in the country, and thus the pro-LGBT stance taken by a leading English daily is of great significance. Talking to Gaylaxy on behalf of Boys of Bangladesh (BOB), a leading LGBT organization of the country, Shakhawat Hossain Rajeeb and Tanvir Alim said, “Dhaka Tribune have set a milestone by writing an editorial on the issue and calling for action. This is historic and undoubtedly encouraging for the voice of the minority. We know that one editorial will not bring any change to the statement of the foreign minister but we believe public discussion on sexuality is much needed.”

“Country’s first ever pro-LGBT editorial comes out in Dhaka Tribune right before the 2nd cycle of the United Nations Universal Periodic Review (UPR) in September 2013. We believe this editorial is a result of all the discussions happening in media on decriminalization of Section 377 raised by Boys of Bangladesh (BoB) in April in UPR 2013. Consensual sexual acts between adults remain criminalized with penalties up to life imprisonment under Section 377. Thus the right to non-discrimination, equality, freedom from torture, liberty and security of person, freedom of speech, and association, right to a family life, the right to equal recognition before the law is affected. A state cannot marginalize or exclude an individual or a group of people from their citizen rights because of ‘different’ sexual orientation and gender identity,” Mr. Alim added.

Bangladesh is a conservative and traditional country where anything overtly sexual is frowned upon, thus providing little room for sexual diversity. The editorial didn’t call for approval of same sex relationships, but simply asked for the end of legal persecution of LGBTs. “We understand that in a conservative and traditional country, such as Bangladesh, many may have deep-seated religious or other objections to homosexuality. We do not seek to legislate tolerance or approval of homosexuality…We believe that the well-meaning citizenry of Bangladesh, whatever their feelings about homosexuality, would agree that everyone has the right to live his or her life without fear…” Dhaka Tribune wrote.

Sounding optimistic about change in the country, Mr. Alim told, “A bold step like this from a responsible media will encourage other media to bring the issue into public and thus we believe a social change will come someday. Perhaps that day would not have been so far if the government upholds the rights of the entire minority for an equitable society but sooner or later, there will be a day when all the diversified people of Bangladesh can live their own life with dignity and social justice.”

Hadi Hussain