INSIGHT – LGBTQ BANGLADESH
Koushin Unber, Aranyo Rishi
While the West’s notifications are riddled with Dave Chappelle comedy specials and his indirect transphobic jokes, the media grows forgetful of the direct LGBTQ-hate cases that a lot of people face in full throttle in other parts of the world, especially in developing countries such as our own.
Anti-queer bigotry and intolerance have always been almost oppressively prevalent in Bangladesh, so much so that the mere mention of LGBTQ+ issues in conversations is enough to draw stares of shock, disdain, and disgust. This kind of suppression creates a stifling air around the discourse itself, and speaks volumes about just how entrenched discriminatory tendencies towards the queer community are in our society. In order to start undoing these societal trends and fixing people’s mindsets, we must begin at the individual level and first unravel the thought processes behind prejudice: How do bigoted beliefs come to be?
The seeds of prejudice are often planted early on in a person’s life, usually either through indoctrination or through contact and communication with other prejudiced people. Among the youth, terms describing LGBT+ people are regularly recontextualised as derogatory and brandished as insults. One of the most predominant of these is the use of the word “hijra”, once representing a proud, sacred community of people, now flung around as a common slur by middle schoolers. This in turn creates a trend of shaming anyone who does not concretely fit into the gender binary, where any kind of deviation into androgyny is met with ridicule and mockery. These trends are therefore particularly detrimental to the trans community in our country.
Perhaps the most deep-rooted reason for hatred towards transgender communities is not disgust, but fear. A lot of this fear comes from risk assessment. Studies have shown that those who cannot identify something find it threatening or scary. And it is this fear of the unknown that often channels into hostility towards those whose biology people do not or will not take the time to comprehend. A lack of understanding creates frustration. And the frustration gives way to destruction and ostracisation of what you can’t understand, and for a small percentage of people, curiosity to figure it out.
Multiple studies have proved that the more we delve into these topics and the more we educate ourselves about these communities, the less the animosity we garner about these particular groups. So at grassroots levels, it is extremely important for the majority of the country to receive the proper tools of education regarding gender diverse individuals and communities. When people are left to remain ignorant, things like exaggerated rumours and false narratives propagate, further fuelling the fire of hatred against these communities.
So, who is going to provide this education that’s integral to eliminating queer-centric bigotry? The obvious answer would be the state. By mandating and implementing education programmes to help understand these misunderstood and misrepresented communities better, the state could alleviate a significant amount of these people’s suffering. However, time and time again we have seen not only an utter lack of initiative on the state’s part in this regard, but also a fundamental misunderstanding of what queer people are.
Can we trust a state that still refers to trans people as “the third gender” to educate the masses on these issues?
Wouldn’t trusting them with that task just spread even more misinformation about a group of people who’re already poorly represented and understood? In order to truly help these people, the state needs to actively communicate with them to understand them better before disseminating information about them.
Another very important factor at play here that a lot of people tend to overlook is a particular phenomenon known as In-group bias. In-group Bias (also known as in-group favoritism) is the tendency for people to give preferential treatment to others who belong to the same group that they do. After a study done in 1970 by Henri Tajfel and his colleagues, it was confirmed that even under the most minimal conditions, people tend to allocate resources, show stronger and implicit favouritism, and standardise the characteristics of those who belong in the same societal “group” as them.
In this case, since LGBTQ+ people still make up a minority of the populace of Bangladesh, the rest of the country experiences in-group bias which causes them to feel threatened, and hence, appalled by the idea of homosexuality or anything not in line with cis-heteronormative ideals.
Other than harming the relationships we have with people who don’t belong in the same group as we do, in-group bias can also pave the path for religious fanaticism. Fundamentalists in our country have been the biggest proponents of anti-queer hate, and their baseless depictions of the queer community in Bangladesh have largely shaped the masses’ views of these people. As most people here get their information about LGBTQ people from the condemning sermons and teachings of these zealots, it’s obvious as to why queer people are seen in such a negative light in our country.
Rampant disinformation about queer people is not only spread in this way, but also through disinformation campaigns in cyberspaces, propped up by bigots who cling on to their fervent, misguided beliefs about these minorities. Anti-queer communities online are so hell-bent on propagating bigotry that often the immediate response to content made by local creators that advocates for equality and rights for queer people — is death threats.
Ignorance born from a lack of proper understanding, left unchecked, is the driving force behind bigotry and shaping people to be prejudiced from an early age. It not only perpetuates bigotry and LGBTQ-centric bullying, but at its worst, it can result in violence and even murder on the basis of queer prejudice and intolerance. The queer community in Bangladesh is all too familiar with these extremes, and to prevent any similar kind of incident in the future, and to make the lives of these neglected members of society better, we must start at bettering the dissemination of education on these topics.
In terms of individual effort, the best any of us can do is educate ourselves about these people and either spread that knowledge to others or urge them to do their own research before coming to baseless, speculative conclusions that are harmful to these minority groups. However, to implement actual systemic change, we need the state to intervene and educate the masses about these largely misunderstood people and remove misconceptions surrounding them. The first step to undoing LGBTQ-centric bigotry and alleviating the pain of the long-suffering queer community of our country is education.
The writers are part of TDA Editorial Team.