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NEWS

Bangladesh's gay prostitutes take a step out of the closet


October 3, 2003

NABINAGAR, Bangladesh — Shunned since youth by their families, Bangladesh's male prostitutes are finding a furtive sense of community as they fight together against rampant discrimination.

Khokhon, 22, has sold his body for the past two years in the parks and transport terminals of this small town near the capital Dhaka.

He left his impoverished village in the eastern Narsinghdi district before his relatives could throw him out for being gay.

But he remains a dutiful son, sending back to his family some of his earnings from the flesh trade.

"I knew I wanted to love another man and my family will never accept it. They will say I am bad," said Khokhon, who like other male prostitutes interviewed would only give his first name.

Khokhon, who lives with a partner, also works at a garment factory.

"I am prostituting myself as I need the extra money to send home," he said.

Faced with common problems, the male sex workers, with some help from social workers, organise private meetings together to discuss their plight and compare techniques in countering violence at the hands of police and hooligans.

"They are slowly working to be united so that they can defend themselves and their rights from castigation and constant harassment," said Mohammad Nasiruddin of the Organisation of Development Programme for the Underprivileged, a non-governmental group here.

M. Salehin of another non-governmental organisation, CARE Bangladesh, said the number of sex workers was not necessarily increasing but demand for them was, in part due to more exposure to homosexuality through the internet and Western films in the Muslim country.

"There are two sides to consider when we say the gay population is growing because it could be that many led a secret life and are now coming out discreetly to meet like-minded people," Salehin said.

"Or thanks to the internet, younger people were being drawn into it thinking men having sex with men is normal because it is practised in the West," he said.

Tomiz, a smartly dressed 18-year-old, said his clients often felt compelled to pretend to be straight.

"I service married men who are women inside," he said. "They get married for social reasons or to get family property." Bangladeshi laws dating back to the British colonial area describe homosexual intercourse as "unnatural." Prostitutes, men or women, face light jail sentences if arrested.

But male sex workers are worried less about court action than about physical attacks. Many of the prostitutes are quickly singled out for being effeminate.

Milan, 20, said he left home when his family learned of his orientation. After renting his first house on his own he was forced to move out when the owners also discovered his lifestyle.

"My family did not accept my way of life as they noticed I was feminine and so I started prostitution to feed myself. What else could I do?" he asked.

Milan said he has been beaten publicly -- and that the assailants would secretly come to him later for sex.

"They don't want to know us during the daytime," he said. "I want my right to move freely and earn my bread." –Sapa-AFP


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