Sometimes your most spontaneous decisions are your best decisions. About a year and a half ago I was looking for a GPA boosting class for my winter term at Rutgers University. I selected a ‘Gender, Race, and Sexuality’ course that challenged me to explore the most taboo subjects in modern day society. I loved it.
I come from a South Asian background, one flooding with diversity on a plethora of levels. However, coming from a South Asian background I have a tendency to question the orthodox beliefs of my culture vs. the new waves of western thinking.
The United States is currently run by a right-wing president and a government that believes the best way to promote moral behavior is by controlling personal decisions of human beings (i.e. abortion rights, immigration bans, etc.). While these matters are being handled far from ideally, there’s a faint silver lining around the fact that, in the United States, people have been exposed to the broad spectrum of gender identities and orientations. Other countries are still working to get there. This gap in exposure inspired me to research the triumphs and failures of NGO’s in promoting LGBTQ rights across three major countries – Bangladesh, India, and Pakistan.
“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 TERM WHICH MAY EXTEND TO TEN YEARS, AND SHALL ALSO BE LIABLE TO FINE.” (Section 377 of the indian penal code)
It was an eye-opening experience that also made me realize the governments of all three countries impose a hierarchy within the LGBTQ community. In the media we see the pride countries have for acknowledging the transgender population as a third gender, but I always noticed a lack of discussion around the rights of lesbians and women transitioning to become men.
For instance, the Bandhu Social Welfare Society of Bangladesh(BSWS) targets specifically MSM (Males who have Sex with Men) and Hijras (transgender people born male) for their assessment of HIV/aids and other social issues. BSWS organized the 1st national consultation meeting on male and sexual reproductive health in Bangladesh, but it was targeted towards maintaining the rights of the Hijra and male community.
Even in India, local NGOs target HIV/Aids education towards Kothis (feminine men/ cross dressers who don’t live in the same intentional communities as Hijras/ haven’t necessarily undergone body modification) and MSM over other members of LGBTQ community. In India there are other transgender categories, especially those who are female but identify as male. In Tamil Nadu, there are the Thirunambigal, in Andhra Pradesh there are the Magaraida and in Karnataka the Jogappa.
I think the richest experience that defined this disparity within the LGBTQ community was when I had the opportunity with my peers to chat online with a Bangladeshi woman who was hiding her sexuality from her parents. She was in her late 20’s and emphasized that if she was more open about her sexuality, the main concern wasn’t solely around being disowned by her parents. She knew that, as an out lesbian, she would be vulnerable to physical attacks within her community. I remember wondering how someone could stand living their entire life as someone other than their authentic self?
I don’t mean to discredit any work NGO’s have done so far as members of these groups risk their lives on a daily basis to help others. My purpose was to study the extent of progress keeping legal forces in mind.
Strides of progress do include:
I admire the people who really go out and challenge taboo topics under conservative roofs, because LGBTQ equality is an international human rights issues that we can’t ignore.