Mahamood Rakibul Hasan (or simply ‘Rakib’) hasn’t eaten a decent meal in days.
It’s a scorching hot morning in Kathmandu, Nepal, and we’re sitting in the pretty courtyard of my hotel, where I offer to buy him lunch.
Over a triple decker sandwich and iced coffee, the handsome 23-year-old tells me his story – beginning with right here, right now. He can’t find work, is low on funds and feels terribly homesick.
‘I miss my family so much,’ he tells me in very good English, which he taught himself. ‘My home district is Patuakhali [South-central Bangladesh]; my parents and my younger brother are still there. I call them, but they tell me: “If you will be a straight son, you can come back. We don’t accept a gay son in our family.”‘
He continues: ‘My brother once told me “Whether you’re gay or not you’re still my brother.” I believe my parents are stopping him having contact with me.’
Rejected by his parents, Rakib left home at 19 for Dhaka, the Bangladeshi capital.
There, he got involved with a local LGBTI organization, but later fled when he began to receive threats from Muslim extremists over social media.
Rakib claims to have known, Xulhaz Mannan, editor of Bangladesh’s first queer magazine, and his friend Tanay Mojumdar, whose murders at the hands of such fundamentalists made headlines a year ago.
Rakib’s now been living as a refugee in Nepal, recognized by the United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR), for over a year.
Although he’s scared of getting caught, Rakib wants to be named and pictured in this article.‘
I have already exposed myself as a gay activist,’ he says. ‘I don’t have that insecurity. In the past I had lots of bad experience, but the LGBTI is a sensitive community in the world. I have to be brave.
’My interview with Rakib is a fitting end to a fascinating stay in Nepal – a scenically beautiful country where same-sex sex has been legal since 2007. In Bangladesh, it is illegal and punishable by up to 10 years in prison.‘It’s not as safe as Western countries, but it’s safe compared to Bangladesh, India and Pakistan,’ explains Rakib. ‘It’s more advanced.’
He has applied for resettlement in Canada with the help of the Rainbow Railroad. ‘They are too kind to me, but it is taking a long time,’ he says.
In the meantime, he has to make it work in Nepal.
Here, Rakib shares his heartbreaking but inspiring story in full – from coming out to his mother at 12, to being raped and abused by police in Dhaka at 19, to sleeping on the office floor of Nepal’s only LGBTI organization The Blue Diamond Society at 23…