In April, two men were hacked to death in Bangladesh putting a spotlight on a hidden population in the small Southwest Asian country: LGBT people.
Xulhaz Mannan, the editor of an LGBT magazine, and Mahbub Tonoy were killed in the Bangladeshi capital by six attackers, leaving a third man seriously injured.
“It’s a really painful thing for us,” said Mir Abeureyad, the acting general secretary and a volunteer at Boys of Bangladesh (BoysOfBangladesh.org). “We can’t express ourselves as an LGBT person in Bangladesh. So it’s really tough for us.”
Mannan and Tonoy were both also involved with BOB. The social group began as a Yahoo group in 2002, members using fake names and in the company of other gay men who could relate. Slowly, the group began to meet in person.
Bangladesh has no laws on the books protecting LGBT people from discrimination, and same-sex marriage and civil unions are not legal. More than 90 percent of the population practices Islam.
Abeureyad said only two cousins and two friends know he is gay.
“If it is expressed, then I think it would be a shameful thing for me,” he said. “They will just hate me, they shall just not talk to me, they will try to avoid me. They will just try to make me leave this community, be straight. It’s a sin — be normal, go to doctor.”
But with BOB, there was no judgment. Members organized seminars, workshops, picnics, parties, movie nights, and could talk to each other about school and boyfriend troubles.
Rupban magazine, the LGBT publication Mannon was editor of, is the only one of its kind in the country. It also made waves by planning the first Rainbow Rally, which aligned with the Bengali New Year’s Day. However, after receiving threats from extremists, the police wouldn’t allow the parade to happen a third time in 2016, Abeureyad said. Still, some people came together to continue with the parade and four people were arrested.
Then, things got worse. Days later, Mannan and Tonoy were slaughtered by a gang. BOB members were in fear for their lives and being outed — they had moved to more visible social media networks, like Facebook, so they took down the page and disconnected from the Internet.
“Everybody was so worried, and we were just seeing on the TV what was happening there,” Abeureyad said. “We were so scared.”
Now, more than half a year later, the hurt is still there with the deaths of their close friends, but shows just how important BOB is to its members. Right now, it has about two dozen members.
“I can’t even think of myself without BOB,” Abeureyad said. “BOB is my confidant.”