This year I went to Pride and I had a wonderful day. In the crowds I watched CEMB marching to defend the rights of LGBT, apostates and blasphemers. They protested because homosexuality is punishable by the death penalty. Peter Tatchell welcomed CEMB to the London parade stating, that they are doing an important, fearless work, exposing Islamic countries that have the death penalty not only for the LGBT people but also for Muslims who leave the faith, women who have sex outside marriage, and those who decent from Islamic orthodoxy.
In my firm I have represented many times members of the LGBT community. Today I would like to share a story of the consequences of returning one of my clients to Bangladesh.
Islamic law is unequivocal with regard to the prohibition of homosexual acts. However, Islam does not explicitly prohibit the cohabitation of same sex couples or the legitimacy of love for a non-relative same sex partner. Based on ecclesiastical evidence, punishment and defamation for homosexuality only extends towards the physical act of penetration for which the sanction if accused, remains unrepentant, and is particularly harsh. Equally, there are fundamental texts of Islam which affirm that whenever a male mounts another male, the throne of God trembles, and that those who commit the same acts as the people of Lot, be they active or passive, should be stoned to death.
Although homosexuality is not culturally or legally recognised in Bangladesh, this does not imply that homosexual relationships do not exist or that the Bangladeshi society is necessarily tolerant towards same sex liaisons. On the contrary, as Bangladesh is a predominantly Islamic country, homosexuality is not accepted as an acceptable lifestyle choice.
A gay identity in the western sense is confined to more affluent homosexual groups based in urban centres with connections, access and familiarity with transitional LGBT communities and conventions. These men by virtue of their wealth and privilege are able to evade persecution and health problems. It is rare for homosexuals to declare their sexuality publicly. This will lead to community stigmatisation which may include violence and individuals are likely to be ostracised indefinitely. Some gay men recourse to heterosexual marriages as a means to appease social expectations, who at the same time maintain extra marital relationships with same sex partners.
Non-Government organisations such as the Bandhun Boys provide meeting spaces for gay men, advocates of homosexual rights and equality and work to repel section 377 of the penal code. However, this law is rarely enforced and used primarily to bully the LGBT community. Acts of violence are unlikely to be reported officially and homosexual attacks do commonly occur within communities and by law enforcers. Homosexual men who choose to live openly as gay men, will be at risk anywhere in the country!
Our client would be particularly at risk there from family and religious extremists, but the risk of ill-treatment is considerably wider and more pervasive than that. Law enforcement agencies main principles provide protection if our client abstains from sexual activity. However, in practice such agencies have been ineffective in the prevention of murder of scores of similar political activists in the recent past.
If he wished to live openly as a gay man upon return to Bangladesh it is highly likely that he would be actively targeted by the police and the local community. In most cases the police delegate the policing of homosexuality to local communities.
A lone male without any family support and an openly gay man will struggle to relocate to any part of Bangladesh, because Bangladesh is a society where social participation in the local community is mandatory.