Contributor : Tanveer Rouf
Co-Founder, Somota Foundation & Kotipona Queer Media Project
Although Pride is synonymous with celebration and visibility in western countries, queer people in Bangladesh have a traumatic history of Pride since our first Pride March in 2016, which had been courageously organized as a “rainbow rally” by Roopbaan as part of the Pahela Baishakh (Bengali New Year) parade since 2014. The trauma started when the Pride rally organizer and leading queer activist Xulhaz Mannan was murdered in his own home for trying to reorganize it. Since his murder in 2016 at the hands of fundamentalists who were too scared of his message of love and tolerance, Bangladesh’s queer activists have been suffering in silence and fear. But, the tide finally seems to be turning after five years of invisibility. When the pandemic further derailed LGBTIQ+ activism last year, new ways of carrying forward the work and reaching a wider audience started opening up virtually. Leveraging this window of safety and opportunity, the Bangladesh Queer Partnership Platform (EQUAL) managed to organize the first-ever virtual Dhaka Pride 2021 on the 4th of June. The organizers and diversity of performers from our community (trans, non-binary, queer and cis gay) wanted to energize LGBTIQ+ community members from every corner of Bangladesh. With the tagline “Pride to Power”, Dhaka Pride 2021 tried to empower grassroots community members and activists with a safe platform for visibility where they can be themselves and showcase their talent.
EQUAL, a member of Interpride, organized this virtual event jointly with all of its six-member organizations. The event was hosted by Bangladeshi LGBTIQ+ activists, Tushar Baidya, Tanveer Rouf, Saroar Zubair, and Tashnuva Anan, Bangladesh’s first openly trans newscaster and founder of Shree (EQUAL member). The event was opened with a calming dance performance by Arghya Adhikary (he/him), who is a popular movie artist from West Bengal, India. Arghya is globally famous for his heart-wrenching performance in the queer identity-focused movie “Miss Man”. Everyone felt very happy to have support from a part of our queer family in India.
Bangladesh’s emerging young queer artists were some of the highlights of the event. Anushmita Khan Aqeeq (they/them), a non-binary individual, shared their message of love and acceptance to all queer folks in Bangladesh. They highlighted their journey of family acceptance and self-love through a monologue and a song.
Another performance was by Manisha Meem Nipun (she/her), a young transgender rights activist and founder of Pathchola Foundation – Walking the Way (EQUAL member). She is also the winner of the Xulhaz Mannan Memorial Award of Diversity 2021. Manisha is openly trans and she made a place in the audience’s hearts, especially the GenX or the parents’ generation, with a soulful dance performance to the evergreen Bangla song “Chupi Chupi Bolo Keu Jeney Jabey” by Khurshid Alam. The lyrics translate into “Tell me how you love me very discreetly or else everyone will find out”. This song was an allegory for the state of queer people in Bangladesh because millions of Bangladeshis have to hide their/our beautiful selves in fear of what other people might do to them/us. But, the performance also wanted to show that despite all the queerphobia we have to face, we continue to love each other and even our homophobic parents.
A solo poetry recitation composed in the “Ulti” language was performed by Shaikh Md. Mominul Islam (he/him), the founder of Prantoz Foundation (EQUAL and ILGA member). Mominul is an educator, social worker, and human-rights activist. He is also an expert in the ancient “Ulti” language, which was created and continues to be used by Hijra/marginalized queer and other gender-diverse communities in South Asia for discrete internal communication. Mominul recited his heartbreaking, yet powerful self-composed Ulti poem “Hamsio Manush“, which translates into “I am also a Human being”. Several viewers instantly shared how touched they were by the poem and its story of how marginalized queer people continue to be oppressed in Bangladesh.
Next was a mesmerizing performance by Sharar Khan Shweching (he/him), a singer and makeup blogger from Bangladesh. Shweching is openly queer and sang a soulful rendition of Lady Gaga’s “Born This Way”, which is a very special song for our SOGIESC community.
The sixth performance was a dance by Moumita Hiya (she/her), who is a proud young transgender woman, active social worker, and human rights defender from the Northern part of Bangladesh. She has been working with Noboprobhaat (EQUAL member, founded by Md. Yasin Ali) as their trans lead to network and self-develop marginalized trans voices. Moumita performed to the popular queer social media app Blued’s Holi song for 2021 titled “Man Mora Tere hi Rang Me” (translated: “I am in love with your colourful personality”).
This virtual Pride tried to showcase the diversity of our audiences with a plant-based recipe video by Bangladesh’s first openly gay/queer vegan couple Tanveer Rouf & Saroar Zubair, who co-founded Somota Foundation (EQUAL member). They started the first queer social media visibility initiative called “Kotipona Queer Media Project” to highlight Bangladeshi LGBTIQ+ content creators.
A special Pride Make-up Tutorial by Saad Bin Rabi, also widely known as SaadMua, was presented at the pride event. Saad is the first male beauty blogger of Bangladesh and an inspiration to millions of people who love art and makeup. He is inspiring thousands of queer people in Bangladesh through his magic of makeup.
Shashwata Roy Turzo (he/him), a queer individual, passionately recited the famous poem “O Meye Shono” by Bangladeshi author and feminist Taslima Nasreen as the ninth performance of the evening. The poem translates into “Dear Girl, listen..”, but the core message of persevering in the face of oppression also applies to queer people in Bangladesh. Turzo is a writer, researcher, and blogger from Bangladesh who reminded us of our inner queer strength and that we need to reclaim our queerness in the face of widespread queerphobia as a coping mechanism. He reminded us to stand strong and be ourselves.
The final dance performance was presented by Indian dance star and choreographer Kian Gupta (he/him), who performed dances to several hit songs. He entertained everyone with his jaw-dropping dance moves and that beautiful smile that melted everyone’s hearts. Most viewers shared how they were dancing to Kian’s dance moves.
As this article went to publication, the event had been seen by more than 9,000 people on Facebook and had reached more than 20,000 people in less than one month. EQUAL and the organizers are truly touched by the response to this initiative. EQUAL’s main objective to arrange this groundbreaking event was to break the silence that was suffocating queer activism in the country. We tried to offer a model to safely organize and celebrate our queerness in a suboptimal environment like Bangladesh. EQUAL plans to hold a similar virtual Pride in the next three years until a safe environment for an offline event can be ensured.