Catholic officials in Bangladesh have condemned the brutal murders of two LGBT advocates, criticizing too the discrimination that sexual and gender diverse communities face in a nation which still criminalizes homosexuality.
Four days ago, Xulhaz Mannan and Mahbub Rabbi Tonoy were killed by militants affiliated with Ansar Al Islam. Mannan founded and edited Roopbaan, the nation’s first and only LGBT magazine, and worked for the U.S. Agency for International Development. Tonoy was an actor who advocated for gay rights. Both were hacked to death by machete
Mannan and Tonoy’s murders add to a spree of targeted killings by militants against liberal figures and intellectuals. Al Qaeda and Islamic State affiliates are seeking to grow in the majority Muslim nation, and their campaign includes targeting LGBT advocates.
The brutality of these murders by machete, coupled with the victims’ gay identities, has propelled the story into the international spotlight. Two Catholic officials in Bangladesh have reacted forcefully against the murders.
Fr. Albert Thomas Rozario, head of the Archdiocese of Dhaka’s Justice and Peace Commission and a Supreme Court lawyer, told UCA News that justice must be ensured for the two gay men murdered:
” ‘The church always supports the demands of LGBT people for equal rights and opportunities as ordinary citizens. . .We call on the authorities to ensure justice is meted out for the killings, and also to take steps to end discrimination against this community.’ “
Rosaline Costa, a Catholic who is Executive Director of Hotline Human Rights Trust Bangladesh, said the government must do more than just investigate these killings:
” ‘God has given us freedom of choice and nobody is allowed to persecute people for their sexual orientation because of so-called traditional values based on conservative religious norms. A truly democratic society can’t accept abuse in the name of religion. . .
” ‘A proper probe and justice for the killings won’t do much protect the community. The government must ensure that the discrimination of LGBT people ends in this country even though the so-called protectors of Islam might not like it.’ “
The situation for LGBT people in Bangladesh is highly oppressive. Being gay is criminalized with sanctions including life imprisonment. While the law criminalizing homosexuality is a leftover from British penal laws, strong current prejudices lead to cultural disapproval and discrimination. Bangladesh, a predominantly Muslim nation, is highly religious, though there are only about 300,000 Catholics or 0.2% of the population. An anonymous advocate with the gay rights group Boys of Bangladesh told UCA News that being LGBT “can result in the denial of every opportunity and rights” and that they are considered “dreadful sinners.”
The deep tragedy of these murders is shining light on the suffering of Bangladesh’s LGBT communities, both in country and abroad. Fr. Rozario and Rosaline Costa countered the idea that religious belief entails LGBT condemnation, and they rejected violence in the name of religion. They acted because of their Catholic faith, not in spite of it, to not only seek justice for Mannan and Tonoy but to demand government action against anti-LGBT discrimination and violence. In this way, where fundamentalist religion and anti-LGBT hate had culminated in the brutality of these murders, Catholics found a way to mediate God’s love and cry out for God’s justice.
But the church’s response must move beyond reactive calls for justice when LGBT people are attack to a proactive solidarity which seeks protections before tragedy occurs. Words from Pope Francis condemning LGBT criminalization would go a long way towards this goal, but he has remained silent. Thankfully, clergy like Fr,. Rozario and lay people like Rosaline Costa are not waiting, but immediately standing with marginalized communities to demand justice and fair treatment.
If Pope Francis would condemn criminalization against LGBTQI people, he would clarify a sometimes ambivalent Catholic stance regarding violence against sexual and gender minorities. Catholics across the world have asked Francis to send a clear message through the #PopeSpeakOut campaign – and you can add your voice by clicking here and learning about a variety of ways that you can contact the pontiff!
–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry