On June 2, 2016 Vice reported: “People in Dhaka are now saying that Xulhaz made us gay,” says the frightened voice across the line. “Xulhaz and Tonoy did not make anyone gay. We are gay because that’s the way we were born. There’s nothing anti-Bangladeshi or unnatural about being different, but the prejudice is steep.”
This is the first time that Mahbub Rabbi Tonoy’s friend, who I will not name for his own safety, has lost anyone close to him. It’s 2 AM in Dhaka, but he has been unable to sleep properly since Tonoy, an activist, was murdered, alongside former US embassy employee Xulhaz Mannan, by half a dozen machete-wielding extremists in Bangladesh on April 25. The Bangladeshi government claims that the extremists were homegrown, while al Qaeda and ISIS, along with religious extremist groups in Bangladesh, take credit for the dozens of public executions around the country. Extremists have issued warnings that the killings will continue, and that those who report on LGBT issues will be hunted down. Many members of the LGBT community remain in hiding as a result of these attacks, and the prejudice displayed by many of the country’s ordinary citizens.
Mannan and Tonoy were both involved in Roopbaan, Bangladesh’s only LGBT magazine. Over the last year, Roopbaan became very visible in Bangladesh, starting a nationwide youth leadership program, an online platform, a film festival, and an HIV awareness and testing program called Pink Slip.
“My bosses laugh at the fact that Xulhaz and Tonoy were unmarried. They say the two ‘deserved’ their fate because they were homosexual. My bosses don’t even know that I am gay, and neither does my family,” the friend confides. “Imagine having to hide grief like this? Now I have nothing. No life. No future.”