More than 20 years ago, when I was studying in the United States between the years 2004-2006, I first became close friends with a group of LGBTQI+ activists on campus. Unfortunately, even in a 'so-called' liberal country like America back then, some couldn't fathom why I had befriended as a best friend the President of their committee, while being a straight heterosexual person myself. I was a young and reckless person myself, but what I didn't like is the fact that once upon a time my homosexual friend had been attacked and beaten up for coming out as he is.
Since then, I have left America. America has also legalized same-sex marriage since the year 2015. I on the other hand, after a hard struggle with personal mental health issues, have come back to my home country, Bangladesh, and settled down forgetting about the struggle of my comrades from the other side. Occasionally though, among all the people I met in America, my referred best friend is one of the fewest people I still keep in touch with online. Unfortunately, we haven't had the chance to meet in the last 17 years.
Few months ago though, the fight hit home hard for me personally. I was working as the Head of Gender at an international non-profit organization working across Asia and Africa, when I was asked to look for a new job. The verbal reason given was that my boss has received multiple complaint calls from our country offices that 'I am promoting transgender rights in Africa, while Africa is not ready to work on transgender rights yet.'
It came as quiet a career shock to me. First of all, because I had not promoted transgender rights in Africa. Secondly because transgender rights is a human rights, and I couldn't fathom why any one in the development sector would go against the principles of human rights and international gender standards.
While I continue to search for a new job though, I at least feel safer at my home than my LGBTQI+ comrades in Africa, whereby recently this year 2023, for example Uganda has passed an anti-homosexuality bill with provisions for up-to death penalty for LGBTQI+ individuals. Such severe pre-existing violations of human rights also continue to exist in African countries such as Sierra Leone and Tanzania, with a penalty up-to life imprisonment for homosexuals.
Surprisingly though, while America felt like a lost country when it came to LGBTQI+ human rights when I lived there more than 20 years ago, in recent times, US President Joe Biden is also one of the fewest foreign governments that have directly threatened Ugandan politicians with visa sanctions for their recent anti-homosexuality bill being a gross violation of human rights.
Some may say laws may not be able to protect you if the people are not aligned with the thought, as was the case of my American friend not too many years ago. But what is more important is that there is a law in place that not only protects people against discrimination and abuse, but also does not proactively violate human rights through state-sponsored homophobia.
First they came for the socialists, and I did not speak out—because I was not a socialist.
Then they came for the trade unionists, and I did not speak out—because I was not a trade unionist. Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out—because I was not a Jew.
Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak for me.
~ Martin Niemöller
~ Guest Writer: Mehzabin Ahmed