A gay rights group has launched the country’s first gay comic strip character in a bid to raise awareness about the plight of homosexual people.
Homosexuality is still a criminal offence in the conservative Muslim-majority nation – with gay people being forced to keep their identity secret.
However, the country’s largest official gay rights group – the Boys of Bangladesh – says it now hopes to use the comic to spread the message that “people should be free to choose who they love”.
“By creating Dhee [the character], we want to shape perception of LGBT people, because we should be free to choose whom to love,” said Mehnaz Khan, one of the four content developers of the comic.
“It’s about carrying the message to all.”
Dhee – which is the Bengali word for intellect or wisdom – will feature in a comic to be handed out at LGBT rights seminars and other events.
It tells the story of a girl who is attracted to other girls and falls in love.
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Facing intense pressure to conform, Dhee mulls over her enormous challenges and asks readers whether she should consider suicide, marry a man to please her family, flee the country or stay and follow her heart.
Hundreds of people showed up the launch of the comic at the British Council in Dhaka – although security was tight amid fear of protests by conservative extremists.
“We hope to take such events outdoors next time as we don’t want to live our lives indoors and in secret,” social activist Khushi Kabir said.
Gay rights groups have consistently criticised the Bangladeshi government’s refusal to decriminalise gay relationships – despite recommendations by the United Nations to do so.
Hijra – often subsumed under the trans umbrella in the West – is a South Asian feminine gender identity.
It is sometimes – but not always – adopted by intersex people.
The group – along with the rest of an ever emerging LGBT community – have held small Pride marches in the country over the past two years, often carrying banners which read: “The days of stigma, discrimination and fear are over”.