No space for love in Bangladesh

Bangladesh is currently suffering from, perhaps not a wave but more of a persistent flood of extremist attacks, manifesting in the form of assassinations of various free-thinking, secular or atheist bloggers, publishers, writers and journalists. While this trail of blood may be linked to a point of origin with the murder of blogger Avijit Roy in February last year, this is something that has existed under the surface of Bangladeshi society for much longer. Conservatism, the quashing of more progressive ideals, rising belief in Islamic homogeneity, and a vicious intolerance for anything that does not fit the Sunni, Bengali Muslim identity. As mysterious men, armed with machetes chip away further and further at all opposing ideologies with violence, the space for liberal and progressive ideals in my country is disappearing. The latest in this bloody spree of “divine” executions came on April 25, when gay rights activists and editor of the country’s first and only LGBT magazine, Xulhaz Mannan, along with his friend, colleague, and fellow activist, Mahbub Rabbi Tonoy were brutally murdered by unknown assailants, linked with larger, global Islamic terrorist outfits.

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The two murdered activists – Xulhaz Mannan (left) and Mahbub Rabbi Tonoy (right)

(Source: Dhaka Tribune)

Mannan started the magazine, Roopbaan, to promote LGBT rights in Bangladesh. This by itself is an amazing achievement in such a conservative country. In the face of such disapproval and adversity, Roopbaan took off in 2014. Long an advocate in the development sector, especially working with LGBT rights, Mannan’s work went from strength to strength. In fact, on 14 April 2015, when Mannan successfully organized a “rainbow rally”, Bangladesh’s version of a pride parade, during the Bengali New Year celebrations, for a second, Bangladesh’s liberals believed again that the country was moving forward and for the LGBT community, especially the gay and lesbian communities who are legally oppressed, it was a landmark achievement – an announcement that these people not only exist, but are unafraid to stand up and be counted, as people, in Bangladeshi society. For me as well, long having been frustrated by regular news of tragedy, misfortune, oppression and intolerance, reading about the “rainbow rally”, during the New Year celebrations no less, brought me immense pride, and in one of those rare moments, I may have felt something akin to patriotism.

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Pride parade in Dhaka, 2015

(Source)

I could swell with pride for how far my country has come, and like the rest of Bangladesh’s liberals, once a proud tradition in its own right, feel hope for the future. Mannan’s murder feels like a nail on the coffin for a dream that I once thought could be reality.

This dream now seems a long way away. This year, the second “rainbow rally” was cancelled due to death threats and intimidation from a section of society that cannot bring themselves to respect (or even tolerate) other human beings. And the worst part is, this seething hate is winning. And we, Bangladesh as a nation, are allowing it to win. A Buddhist monk had his throat slit earlier this week. University professors, a profession held in such high esteem in my society, are being hacked down for no good reason. The violence is more senseless than usual. The government refuses to acknowledge that we have a terrorist crisis on our hands for fear that we start remembering that their role in how we got here. So they tell us that these murders are unrelated. That we should stay quiet. They tell us to be silent and let hate win. But for Xulhaz, for the LGBT community in my country that have now had to flee for their safety, we cannot. The pride parade is a symbol of love triumphing over everything else, and I hope, for our sake, I see it next New Years. Only then will I remember the dream that me, Xulhaz and everyone that looks forward and looked forward in my country once dreamt.

-Bareesh

Cover photo source: Wikipedia Commons

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Are Men’s Resource Centers Necessary?

college-weight-gain

A subject that recently piqued my interest is the new movement at Clark University to add a men’s resource center on campus. Recently, on April 14th, there was a forum open to all students who wished to learn more about this new resource center, ask questions, or voice their opinions. This forum was led by Clark faculty member Dr. Michael E. Addis whose research for the past 17 years has largely been focused on masculinity and men’s mental health.

Dr. Addis opened discussion explaining that it was the University Administration who had approached him for his take on how to solve several on-campus issues concerning male students such as high attrition, excessive partying, and lack of use of counseling services. Since the University’s request, Addis has been constructing his proposal for a men’s resource center on his own time while receiving absolutely nothing in return. Despite being only the volunteer harbinger, Dr. Addis was riddled with accusatory questions and comments such as “Why a men’s and not a women’s resource center”, “Why are we not considering the LGBTQ community”, “Why are we only hearing about this now?” – All questions that could be much better answered by Clark University administrators.

A male student in attendance made the point that perhaps the fact that most men aren’t using on-campus counseling service is reason enough for the addition of a men’s resource center. In response Michael Addis clarified that a new men’s resource center would not be a counseling center, but instead a well of knowledge containing anything from movies to modern day research regarding masculinity.

This resource center would mirror the many attempts to support male students at schools across the country, as male collegiate performance has become an increasingly widespread issue. Between 1947 and 2005 male college enrollment has plummeted from 71% to 43%. Between the years of 2005 and 2002 enrollment rates indicated that an incoming freshmen class often lost around 4% of their male population by the time graduation rolled around (Conger et. al, 2008). I could keep throwing statistics out there, but it seems there is plenty of evidence indicating that males are simply not flourishing in college anymore. What is more concerning is how little known these facts are- and how little has been done to remedy this rather overlooked problem.

Addis believes that having resource centers for men would encourage male students to “acknowledge their vulnerability and develop a respect for each other and oneself.” Though a clear step in the right direction, I also believe other on-campus populations (such as the female and LGBTQ communities) deserve a specialized support system as well. I don’t think it unlikely that in the near future Clark University will start investigating how to better support other communities on campus, but Michael Addis explained that since there is always so much going on at the University “Clark is a limited resource kind of place.”

It was made abundantly clear through Addis’ forum that in order for changes to happen, or for projects to come to fruition, there needs to be student and faculty support. What do you think about specialized resource centers? Raise your voices and start talking about things that matter!

 

Coming out as ME

Outsiders know Clarkies as open-minded, strong students who strive to create changes that will benefit the community.  But some of these Clarkies have overcome a lot of obstacles growing up; to become the individuals they are today. OPEN’s event “Coming Out Stories” left its audience proud and humbled by the brave group of individuals who shared their stories in the event. They were brave to stand in front of a room full of people and talk about what many had always thought were their darkest truths. Also, they were brave enough to reach a point in life where they were comfortable and accepting of who they are.

For those of you who don’t know, OPEN is a group on campus that serves the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender and Queer community and also helps spread awareness about them.  As a first-timer going to their event, “Coming Out Stories”, I expected it to be about individuals coming out as their sexual orientation or gender identity. To my surprise, the event was not just about the LGBTQ community rather it was a space for anyone to speak up and come out as whoever they wished to be.

Set in the perfect ambience of the Grind, the audience cheered as Sully Donahue said “I am coming out as home-schooled.”

Sully                  Sully quote

 

On the other hand Emily Denny shared her story about coming out to her sister as a lesbian and how her sister was not shocked or surprised, but rather indifferent to her confession. This indifference meant the world to her because it made her feel normal.

Emily quote                                 Emily coming out stories

Many had shared stories close to their hearts.  These included surviving suicide, anorexia and coming out to their parents as lesbian, gay, bisexual, pansexual or queer. These stories left the audience smiling, shocked and sometimes in tears. A plethora of emotions had taken over the Grind halfway through the event.
Surprisingly “Coming Out Stories” was not just for Clarkies. Scott Keete, who lives with a few Clarkies on Woodbine Street, had decided to come to the event with a slightly different agenda.

scott                                            scott quote

Scott had taken the opportunity to come to OPEN’s event and talk to us about his alcoholism and the initiatives he has been taking with the Clark administration to start up an Alcoholics Anonymous group on campus. Amidst everyone sharing how they had overcome their fears and obstacles, it was inspiring to see an individual trying to help others overcome what he had struggled with for many years.

Similar to past years, “Coming Out Stories” was a success again this semester. As a whole,  it represented Clark for what it truly is; a place  filled with diversity and with  individuals who are strong-minded fighters. Those of us present at the event can agree that it was an inspiring experience led by brave individuals who humbled us with their stories. These stories were a mixture of humor, struggle and tragic events in the lives of our peers.  Many of us took away more than just inspiration from this event. We now hold a broader perspective about the individuals we see around us every day.  It was more than just the stories of people coming out as their sexual orientation and gender identity. It had stories of people coming out as who they believe they are.

 

by Suaida Firoze

Opinion: Russia’s Gay Rights

Tilda Swinton standing up for rights in the LGBT community in Russia

Tilda Swinton standing up for rights in the LGBT community, Russia

Advocates for the LGBT community have turned the spotlight on Russia. Under President Vladimir Putin, a “propaganda law” was which incurs fines for providing information about homosexuality to people under the age of 18. This makes it so young, uninformed Russian citizens don’t have information that many feel is crucial for those who are going through puberty and developing a sexual identity.

As if coercing an entire generation to a biased world view wasn’t enough, the wording of this new amendment: “the propagandizing of non-traditional sexual relations with minors” is rather ambiguous and gives Russian law enforcement a range of interpretation.  Any sort of LGBT event can arguably be illegal if local authorities deem you are propagandizing homosexuality to any onlooker under the age of 18.

Although Russia started moving toward inclusivity in 1993 by decriminalizing homosexual relations, some fundamental rights for the LGBT community are still lacking. Neither civil partnership nor marriage is an option for LGBT partners, and even more concerning- there are no laws prohibiting discrimination on grounds of sexual orientation. This imbalance is personified well through a quote from Russia’s foreign minister Sergei Lavrov: “Homosexuality, as you know, used to be a criminal act in the Soviet Union. The article in the criminal code has long been repealed and homosexuals can do their thing absolutely freely and without punishment…” Lavrov naturally goes on to say “(gay people cannot be allowed to) aggressively promote their values, which are different from those of the majority, and to impose them on children.” So great, now you aren’t a criminal for loving someone of the same sex- you just have to hide yourself from a chunk of the population!

Hiding behind false political objectivity is not fooling anybody, this amendment is discriminatory. The Putin administration is showing its true colors by passing an amendment that silences the LGBT community in Russia. It would be a breath of fresh air for the Putin administration to come out and say that they are not allowing homosexuals and their allies to express their own values and ideals, rather than subdue an entire population to a false sense of freedom.

Let us know what you think!