Two words—#MeToo—started an uproar on social media, particularly among women who shared horrors of assaults they face on a daily basis. The number of men taking part in this movement is significantly less. One Facebook user brilliantly explained one possible reason why: “this is exactly what male privilege is. And it is why we men, try as we might, will never know what it is like to be a woman in this world.”
Centuries of being in a patriarchal society put women in a vulnerable position. However, as a gay man from Bangladesh—which has the Article 377 sodomy law and is predominantly Muslim—LGBTQ assault victims are also extremely vulnerable and afraid of speaking out. Talking about an assault may require someone to reveal their sexual orientation, which could lead to harsh government action or religious threats. There is also an extreme lack of empathy since many societies still struggle with accepting homosexuality. Even heterosexual male victims are subjected to humiliation and negative comparisons to gay men.
Only a few of the privileged or rebellious assault victims come forward. Most remain silent.
The lack of political inclusion also adds to the silence. The number of queer women holding positions in government is negligible, compared to men. In few rare cases where an LGBTQ leader occupies a prominent office, it does not guarantee high acceptance. Rhetoric about prosecuting LGBTQ people under the sodomy law is often used for political gain. And religion plays a big role, with politicians quoting religious verses against LGBTQ people.
The deliberate oversight from government and society puts members of LGBTQ communities in a compromising position in many countries. Any form of abuse goes unreported for fear of being subjected to violence and rejection. Unlike in America where sharing stories of sexual assault leads to personal closure, in many countries speaking out risks lives.
This puts queer communities around the globe in a tricky position. They want to be a part of actions like the #MeToo movement but rightly fear the consequences. Comments on social media said women should stop using their stories to shame men.
Interestingly, as a number of feminist linguists have pointed out, often when women need to make a point they are either systematically silenced or they have to be over assertive and adopt male behavioural characteristics to be recognized. Many women have been able to overcome these barriers and come forward to challenge the patriarchal society, thanks to a recognition of the need for collective solidarity around being women.
This is not the case with the LGBTQ community as sexual orientation and gender identity does not occupy a position of “normalcy” in most countries. When queer communities in Bangladesh, Indonesia, Egypt and many other nations come forward to express themselves in any form, they are either arrested by the government or tortured to death by extremist groups.
These deep-rooted problems of freedom of speech exist even in developed nations such as the USA where they take a different form. A Bangladeshi LGBT activist living in the USA was recently abused and almost beaten up in front of his house. The assaulter used multiple homophobic slurs. When the activist reported the incident to the police, he was informed that as long he was not physically assaulted, any verbal homophobic attack will not lead to legal action as that falls under the assaulter’s freedom of speech.
The idea of freedom of speech is to give voice to minorities and as a brown gay man in America, the Bangladeshi young man is in the minority. Assault is not only physical but verbal and psychological. When he is subjected to hate comments, it should be considered as a form of abuse and subjected to legal protection and action.
This is just one example of many forms of assaults which get overlooked because of loopholes in law and policy. The actions taken by bigger nations such as the US and Russia have global impact. When the US government bans transgender servicemembers from the military or the Russian government stays silent on Chechen gay hunt, it not only impacts the LGBTQ communities in these nations but sends a red signal for millions of people around the world who struggle with their sexual orientation everyday.
Silence and inaction assault every LGBTQ person around the world as our dignity and self-respect is attacked.
Can the LGBTQ community be part of the #MeToo movement? Yes. There are millions of queer people who want to vent over years of abuse and get one moment of relief. However, they are unable to out of fear, especially in this era of increased anti-LGBTQ sentiments. Movements such as #MeToo are important to make sure that power and assault do not go unchecked.
This makes it even more mandatory to make these liberation and solidarity movements accessible to everyone. Never has the need been stronger than today for a global stance where no queer voice goes unheard.
— Tausif Sanzum is a freelance journalist and a member of the LGBTQ community of Bangladesh.