Issue 20, LGBTIQ+


The publication of this special issue has an important place in the life of Shuddhashar. In Bangladesh, when Shuddhashar was focusing on discovering valuable new ideas and writings and bringing them to a larger audience, our paths intersected with the LGBTIQ+ community. Everything about that intersection was, in retrospect, impactful. This occurred during the wake of Shahbag protests in 2013, and as uncertainty around the security of secularist, bloggers, and various minorities increased. This insecurity eventually erupted into violence with the horrific killing of several individuals, including Xulhaz Mannan, LGBTIQ+ activist and co-founder of Roopbaan, which had just published a book of queer poetry (Roopongti 2015) with us, and Avijit Roy, author of Shuddhashar’s Homosexuality (2009) and other books. Another slain LGBTIQ+ activist Mahbub Rabbi Tonoy was at the helm of Roopongti.

Looking back at the pain and suffering that ensued, I can honestly say we could not and would not have done anything differently. Shuddhashar knows we did right to support and promote dialogue about LGBTIQ+ rights. The fault is not in what our authors wrote or what we published; the fault lies completely in the hands of a society built on fear and prejudice and a government that does not act to protect its citizens through laws and security measures. With this special issue, then, we return to acknowledging and celebrating the importance of LGBTIQ+ people in our community. We’re proud to have this opportunity to share this issue with our readers.

This special issue has been organized by our guest editor Shakhawat Hossain Rajeeb, a long-time gay activist who had to leave Bangladesh due serious threats and persecution. The articles in this collection reflect diverse perspectives and experiences. Several document incidents of harassment and violence in various countries. Others analyze local, global, or historical systems of oppression including legal and political dimensions. Yet others interrogate the role of neoliberalism in discourses about sexuality and gender diversity. Some articles contain personal stories. Naturally, many perspectives come from Bangladesh. We also have strong voices from Azerbaijan/Germany, Albania, Algeria/France, Denmark, India, Latin America, Nepal, Sweden, and the US among others.

Through listening to each other and through empirical observation, our understandings of the world and humans have changed. Notably, simplistic ideas about dualities have been challenged. True, the world looks simple and easy when seen through a lens of dichotomies. Good/Evil. East/West. Right/Left. Black/White. Us/Them. Male/Female. And in fact, social, religious, and political actors have repeatedly tried to build themselves up on pillars of dualities, asserting their power while standing on the backs of others. Yet each time we try to shove something into one of these categories, we do violence upon it. The real world is more nuanced and diverse than this, a fact that should be evident – and celebrated – by everyone by now. We now know, for instance, that gender and sexuality are on a spectrum and not simply male or female. We know that biologically, not all persons are born as distinctly male or female – and yet they are undisputedly and fully human. We know that people’s gender identity does not always match their sex at birth – and this isn’t an aberration that requires societal interventions. We know that people don’t choose which sex or gender they are attracted to and fall in love with – and this doesn’t make their love and desire any less genuine and deep.

Unfortunately, we also know that whenever progress is made to improve the rights of marginalized people, significant backlash follows. In Bangladesh, this hateful and dangerous backlash continues, as just recently imams were giving Friday prayer speeches in their masjids against LGBTIQ+. The same actions are occurring in Pakistan and elsewhere.

Setbacks and tragedies, however, should strengthen our resolve to support each other, to remain open to learning, and to be the best allies and community members possible. We are very fortunate that the world is more than black and white, right and left, male and female.  We are fortunate that the world is colored with multiple hues. The richness of that diversity leads to our creativity and resilience as human beings.

In solidarity.

Struggle for queer*-led spaces in Bangladesh

But as we have recoiled and adapted to organize virtually, how have our aspirations for physical spaces evolved?   In present-day Bangladesh, there is no doubt that infinitely diverse populations of gender & sexually variant people do exist beyond the realms of and sometimes even in the cracks and shadows of law, order, prejudice, and …

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Just behind or left behind by the queer movement in India?

In their dance of privileges and ignorance, Savarna Hindu queers benefit from, and hence have supported, the capitalist structures that have violated other marginalized communities.   India is a casteist society, and class has been a product of this caste division. Given the dominance of Savarna (Upper caste) scholarship, voices, and access to resources, caste …

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Law-making in South Asia on Intersex Rights: Breaking free from the binary

SOGIESC identities in most South Asian countries continues to be driven by a Eurocentric lens.   The equal rights movement in the South Asian region has seen several milestones in the last decade. Issues related to sexual orientation, gender identity and expression and sex characteristics (SOGIESC) are increasingly becoming part of the mainstream civil rights …

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Intersectional, inclusive, and contemporary Islam: A personal reflection

Since I founded the first European intersectional network of the kind, which is hybrid [1] and at the junction of queer[2] activism, feminism, and an inclusive intellectual or artistic approach, our international movement has moved to another level of expertise.     I have lived and grown up partly in France and partly in Algeria. I …

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The Politics and Meanings of “Coming Out” in Bangladesh

Queer visibility and coming out has to be seen through organizing experiences and power struggles that are currently unfolding in Bangladesh and how they are shaped by histories of gender and sexual communities in the region. Visibility is the chicken-or-egg question that divides queer organizers in Bangladesh.   In global LGBTIQ+ politics, “coming out” has …

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The Political Is Personal: Limitations to Coming Out as a Social Justice Strategy 

To believe that greater visibility on the part of LGBTQ individuals—however courageous their actions might be—will lead inevitably to greater enlightenment or tolerance in these regions/countries is a form of magical thinking.     On the weekend of February 27, 1988, nearly 200 gay and lesbian activists met in Warrenton, Virginia, a small town 50 …

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Theorizing my pain for queer de-liberation

We should (re)consider how the homophobia, transphobia, and fear of queerness of the colonial past are incorporated with our social and cultural environment and subsequently shaped domestic discourse of sexuality and gender. Therefore, we have to choose queer emancipation that includes socio-economic transformation rather than assimilation to existing societal and structural norms.   For years, …

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Current state of organizing in the times of increased opposition in the Western Balkans

Across the region, it seems like the advocacy, awareness and lobby efforts of LGBTI+ organizations are falling on deaf ears with government after government not taking things forward at the needed speed.   Discussing and advocating for the rights of LGBTI+ people in the Western Balkans is a “recent phenomenon” when looked at from an …

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A publisher’s disclaimer about LGBTIQ+ solidarity

In the early days of Shuddhashar, there was excitement around new ideas, different ways of looking at the world, and information that challenged our societal assumptions. Day by day, our mentality shifted because we were opening up.   Some subjects are very difficult to write about. There are so many scattered events, contexts, and emotions …

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