In recent times, one of the most discussed and debated issues is how to deal with the LGBTQ+ community at the state and community level. The understanding of LGBTQ+ is about the different types of sexuality and the autonomy to identify own gender as contrary to the natural identity by birth. As the definition goes by LGBTQ+ with lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer, more other identities are added into and now have the shape of LGBTQQIAAPPO2S. So, it is to say that newer dimensions of sexualities and gender identities are forming that are creating more discussions and debates surrounding those ideas.
As discussions and debates go on about the challenge posed, by the idea of LGBTQ+ and the movement created by the supporters of this idea, on the traditional practices and norms of sexuality and gender identity, we can find out interestingly that the more it is discussed, the more divided the world is on this topic. Throughout human history, the traditional view of sexuality is on the side of heterosexual norms and behaviors. And to engage in contrary to this traditional norm of sexuality, meaning homosexuality was not treated as ‘normal behavior’ and often was rewarded with severe punishment. Also, in the question of identification of gender, this is a very new idea that one can identify oneself as male, female, or several other types even though one is born with a particular sex. It completely breaks down the traditional gender identities consisting of only two categories: male and female.
Before discussing further, we can tour some history about how the idea emerged and how it was treated previously. In societies and cultures influenced by Abrahamic religions (Islam, Christianity, and Judaism), homosexuality is seen as a deviation from the Rule of God and as a crime against nature. The law and the church have traditionally applied punishment for such behavior. About listing homosexuality as prohibited intercourse, the Old Testament (Chapter 20, verse 13 of Leviticus) clearly verses: “If a man lies with a man as with a woman, both of them have committed an abomination; they shall surely be put to death; their blood is upon them.” The Holy Bible also clearly and unequivocally condemns homosexual acts (Romans 1:26-28): “For this reason God gave them up to dishonorable passions. For their women exchanged natural relations for those that are contrary to nature; and the men likewise gave up natural relations with women and were consumed with passion for one another, men committing shameless acts with men and receiving in themselves the due penalty for their error. And since they did not see fit to acknowledge God, God gave them up to a debased mind to do what ought not to be done.” From the Surah Al Araf (80-81), the Holy Quran verses, “And (remember) Lut, when he said to his people: ‘Do you commit the worst sin such as none preceding you has committed in the ‘Alamin’ (mankind and jinn)?’ Verily, you practice your lusts on men instead of women. Nay, but you are a people transgressing beyond bounds (by committing great sins).” Ibn ‘Abbas said: “The Prophet Mohammad (PBUH) said: ‘Whomever you find doing the deed of the people of Lut, kill the one who does it and the one to whom it is done.” (Narrated by al-Tirmidhi, 1456; Abu Dawud, 4462; Ibn Majah, 2561). As the major parts of the world, especially Asia, Africa, Europe, and the geographical West, were and many still are influenced by the Abrahamic Religions, it was and, in many areas, still is common to view homosexuality as a sinful activity and to consider it as a serious crime.
In the question of the emergence of the LGBTQ+ idea as a movement, we need to know that there is no central organization representing LGBTQ+ people and their interests all over the world. Rather, there are many organizations actively working and promoting the movement worldwide. So, the goals to be achieved by the movement are diversified. From them, the most common goals are equal rights for LGBTQ+ people constitutionally, ending the criminalization of LGBTQ+ people, enacting laws to recognize same-sex marriage, and the legal rights to identify and transform one’s gender according to one’s feelings and understanding. As stated in the goals to decriminalize LGBTQ+ people, early efforts to comprehend the range of human sexual behavior originated from European doctors and scientists including Carl von Westphal (1869), Richard von Krafft-Ebing (1882), and Havelock Ellis (1897). They showed affection in their writings to the concept of a homosexual or bisexual orientation by marking them as natural phenomena in an identifiable segment of humankind. Sigmund Freud also did not view homosexuality as an abnormal behavior or a crime. Their writings garnered the attention of the people through magazines and presentations and started to gather more attention. In continuation with the writings for the voice of LGBTQ+ people, German researcher Magnus Hirschfeld founded Berlin’s Institute for Sexual Science to collect a broad range of information on gay cultural history. In the United States, Donald Webster Cory published ‘The Homosexual in America’ in 1951, confirming that gay men and lesbians were a legitimate minority group, and in 1953 Evelyn Hooker, Ph.D., won a grant from the National Institute of Mental Health to study gay men. Her ground breaking paper, presented in 1956, explored and illustrated that gay men were as well-adjusted as heterosexual men, often more so. In 1965, as the civil rights movement successfully outlawed racial discrimination, longtime activists Frank Kameny and Barbara Gittings led the first gay rights processions in Philadelphia and Washington, D.C. Thus, different research and activities continued to be conducted and it was in 1973, the success of aforementioned continued effort came with the removal of homosexuality as an illness or mental disorder by the American Psychiatric Association. And in 1993, the World Health Organization’s removal of homosexuality from its list of mental illnesses brought another success to the movement. To understand more about the movement’s impact, the UN declaration on LGBT rights, proposed in 2008, has now been signed by 67 members of the UN in total, mostly in Europe and the West. An opposing statement put forward by Muslim nations was signed by 57 member states, mostly in Africa and Asia. 68 out of the total 192 countries have not yet signed either statement. In 2011, the United Nations Human Rights Council passed a resolution initiated by South Africa, supporting LGBT rights. And now as of 2023, same-sex is legally permitted and recognized in 34 UN member states.
The LGBTQ+ movement, along with the abovementioned success in the national and international arena, has achieved acceptance within more and more countries in the last two decades. From the report titled ‘The Global Divide on Homosexuality Persists’ in 2020, by the Pew Research Center, it is evident that the world is gradually accepting homosexual people. In their study, they showed that the acceptance of homosexuality increased from 33% to 54% in South Africa, from 25% to 44% in South Korea, from 51% to 72% in the US, from 15% to 37% in India and from 1% to 14% in Kenya. For this study, the center surveyed 38,426 respondents, in total, across 34 countries. The study claims that people in wealthier and developed economies are more accepting of homosexuality than those in less wealthy and developed economies. The study also explores that highly educated people, women, and ideologically left-wing supporters are on more favorable views on homosexuality. But, the people with the right wing in Europe and the West and the followers of Islam are of lower percentage in accepting of homosexuality. Thus, in light of the study, it is necessary to mention that the debates surrounding the acceptance of LGBTQ+ people in society comprise divided opinions and standpoints, but the topic in discussion has been more relevant than ever before and cannot be ignored like before.
Such a vibrant and successful movement, in terms of reach, is bound to touch the civil society of Bangladesh to discuss it. According to the law of Bangladesh, homosexuality is illegal and a punishable offense. Section 377 (unnatural offenses) of the Penal Code forbids anal and oral sex, regardless of the gender and sexual orientation of the participants: “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 a term which may extend to ten years, and shall also be liable to fine.” And in support of this law, the Parliament of Bangladesh refused to overturn Section 377 in 2009 and 2013. The legal standpoint is clear, yet the discussion on accepting the LGBTQ+ movement positively has already taken an important place in the academia anyway and a group of people are there promoting to achieve common goals of the movement discussed before, though the volume of the discussion is comparatively low. Only the status of Hijra is unique in Bangladesh as they have been recognized officially as ‘third gender’ by the Bangladesh Government in 2013 and a particular category, ‘third gender’, has been included in the voter lists. Other than that, the law still now is as it is described above.
According to a report ‘Understanding the lives of Bangladesh’s LGBTI community’ by the International Republican Institute (IRI) in 2021, they conducted an anonymous online survey distributed through snowball sampling where 16 questions were posed with regards to the LGBTI community’s interests. Between February and June 2020, 579 respondents completed the questionnaire, which makes it the largest published survey of Bangladesh’s LGBTI community. The respondents were mostly young (52 percent were 29 or younger) and skewed toward lower education attainment (36 percent completed a secondary school certificate at 10th grade or above, while 64 percent did not). 79 percent were Muslim, 11 percent were Hindu and the rest held other religions or beliefs. And 78 percent of the sample came from Dhaka, Mymensingh, and Chittagong. Hijra, gay men, and bisexual men comprised 78 percent of the sample. Thus, the participants’ number and their categorization can help us to clarify that people with different ages and education levels and with different sexual orientations do belong in this society. To mark the existence and activism of the LGBT community in Bangladesh, we can look at other incidents such as in 2014, a magazine named after Roopbaan, a Bengali folk character representing the power of love, published as a nations-first LGBT magazine in Bangladesh. The founder of the magazine also initiated a pride event ‘Rainbow Rally’ in Dhaka in 2014. There is also a group called Boys of Bangladesh (BoB)’, the largest network for Bangladeshi gay men, which is actively functioning and organizing events in Dhaka.
The situation, thus, as it stands that the debates surrounding the LGBTQ+ idea, is growing and will grow in Bangladesh. In the Muslim community, especially in the West, some scholars are even trying to liberate the views of Islam on homosexuality. For example, Scott Kugle, in his book ‘Homosexuality in Islam: Critical Reflection on Gay, Lesbian, and Transgender Muslims differently interprets the verses of the Holy Quran and the narration of the Hadith. His argument to side with the LGBTQ+ people within the Islamic faith system, in his language, is, “The Qur’an encourages solidarity with the oppressed and this is an essential component of its message. It is inseparable from the divine charge to act with justice and responsibility. The Qur’an calls those who are oppressed al-mustad‘afun fi al-ard or those who are held down.” Several others also have provided arguments in support of this viewpoint. But, the maximum portion of Muslim scholars have sided with the traditional view of Islam, considering homosexuality and same-sex marriage as unacceptable and sinful activities. The Ulemas of Bangladesh are also in favor of the traditional Islamic view. Thus, Islamic faith and LGBTQ+ activism contradict each other and the debates continue.
To understand some other debates, we need to know the questions that have been raised to and by the LGBTQ+ movement. The goal of the LGBTQ+ movement, as they say, is to ensure legal rights to practice their freedom of choice of sexuality and gender identity and they have achieved that in many of the countries in the West. Yet to know, what the boundary is as there are many other discoveries of sexualities and gender identities happening. They are expressing that it is boundless and one can have more than 100 possible gender non-conforming identities. It becomes more and more complex as many now argue that father and mother are not gender specific, but rather role specific. So, according to their view, to portray the father as a masculine figure and the mother as a feminine figure is a wrong practice and needs to be reformed with gender-neutral words. In February 2021, Australian National University updated its Gender Institute Handbook to offer new words for ‘mother’ and ‘father’. Also in February 2021, UK health officials asked nurses at two hospitals to substitute the term ‘breast milk’ for ‘chest milk’ or ‘human milk’ to be more inclusive to trans and non-binary parents. The gender-inclusive phrases were introduced in prenatal units in Brighton and Sussex University Hospitals.
In the US and Europe, the LGBTQ+ movement is working for changes in the curriculum to promote its ideas and to teach children that they can identify themselves as one of those more than 100 gender non-conforming identities. The school boards in there are even ignoring the choice of the parents and children not to learn through this curriculum. It has created controversies within the US and Europe as LGBTQ+ has seemingly become a movement promoting a particular ideology and ignoring the demands of the parents and children. The movement starts with the demand for their rights as they are victims of traditional practices. But it is now creating a situation where others are becoming victims of its compelling attribute to agree with its ideologies.
Furthermore, they are advocating for the medical prescription of hormonal changes if one wants to change one’s gender identity. As they suggest, even children will be applicable under this prescription. They are even arguing in the US Senate to incorporate it in the laws and the question rises about how one can now want to follow the prescription and after regrets but finds no way to undo it. For the children, it is unimaginable that they have this capacity to make decisions on such a life-altering matter. The argument is about the confusion many gender identities can make a presence within a person and it can lead to building up a person with low confidence. For instance, an LGBT+ young people’s charity, ‘Just Like Us’, surveyed 2,934 pupils aged 11-18, including 1,140 pupils who identify as LGBT+, between December 2020 and January 2021 found that 68% of LGBT+ young people had experienced suicidal thoughts, compared with 29% of young people who were not LGBT+. Lesbian (74%) and transgender (77%) young people were the most likely to have experienced suicidal thoughts and feelings. The Trevor Project estimates that more than 1.8 million LGBTQ youth (13-24) seriously consider suicide each year in the U.S. and at least one attempts suicide every 45 seconds. The Trevor Project’s 2022 National Survey on LGBTQ Youth Mental Health found that 45% of LGBTQ youth seriously considered attempting suicide in the past year, including more than half of transgender and non-binary youth.
Moreover, the idea of a family consisting of a man and a woman has been shambled and stumbled by the movement which is also an important debatable issue. As it is necessary to give birth to continue humankind, the question raises that the more the LGBTQ+ movement grows, the more the continuation of humankind will be in question. There are other reasons though, still, the number of broken families and the divorce rates are infinitely higher than at any other time in history. Fertility rates are declining at a steady speed in the Western world. For instance, in the US, the national general fertility rate was down 15.9% in 2020 from its average over the decade ending in 2010, with 10 states experiencing reductions exceeding 20%. Mostly Western states led the way in incurring the most dramatic long-term fertility rate declines, despite often experiencing strong population gains overall, due largely to migration.
As it is clear now, the debates will continue on this issue. However, the issue of LGBTQ+ is now a reality and cannot be ignored simply. Also, the approach of the LGBTQ+ movements regarding having rights has generated more acceptance within the wider audience but the approach to promote and function as an ideology seems to have been rejected by the larger audience as it is doing the same thing as it was under to compel to do things with force and not by persuasive action. The focus should be on the individual’s rights and happiness but the collective welfare and continuation of humankind in question is a much more important question to answer for the LGBTQ+ idea.
The author of this article is a Researcher and Phd Candidate
Bonnie, J. Morris. (2017). A brief history of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender social movements. Washington D.C.: American Psychological Association.
Pousther, Jacob & Kent, Nicolas. (2021). The Global Divide on Homosexuality Persists. Washington D.C.: Pew Research Center.
Macdonald, Geoffrey. (2021). Understanding the Lives of Bangladesh’s LGBTI Community. Washington D.C.: International Republican Institute.
Kugle, Scott Alan. (2009). Homosexuality in Islam: Critical Reflection on Gay, Lesbian, and Transgender Muslims. London: Oneworld Publications.
Trevor Project. (2021). Accessed at Facts About LGBTQ Youth Suicide | The Trevor Project.
The Guardian. (2021). Accessed at LGBT+ youths twice as likely to contemplate suicide, survey finds | Young people | The Guardian
Pew Research Center. (2022). The Long-Term Decline in Fertility—and What It Means for State Budgets. Accessed at https://www.pewtrusts.org/en/research-and-analysis/issue-briefs/2022/12/the-long-term-decline-in-fertility-and-what-it-means-for-state-budgets