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Change of attitudes is all what is needed to help LGTB communities

I interveiwed Mr. Ramachadran, a Sri Lankan, living in Bangladesh. He is a business analyst by profession working for a leading multinational company based in Chittagong and volunteers with many organizations. When he declared to me that he has recently returned from a conference that had reflected on homosexuality. I became interested on this controversial topic as I felt that he has something different to share with us. I was inspired to take a small interview from him on his adventures to different countries and his work for the development of community. Also, his busy life and commitment towards other family obligations, community service, while playing the role of a father of two children and a husband, allows me to question how he manages his time to look into all aspects of life. This issue is relevant to the contemporary society. I became inquisitive to know situations where women who are pressured to become homosexuals.

Interview Questions
Q1. How did you end up working for NGO’s, despite your busy schedule and other commitments? Are you primarily interested in community service?

Mr. Rama said that Community service is what really interests him and balances his work in order to do something that keeps him happy. From childhood days he had actively engaged himself in community service and recognizes himself as an expertise in youth development and HIV/AIDS awareness programs. He strongly believes that we do not always have to join an organization or a team to make a difference. Being an individual we can do so; the idea is to help others and none of our actions are unimportant or can be considered unworthy, it is the thought that counts and not the time, money or energy we put in. Volunteerism promotes positive attitudes in him by encouraging him to be more engaged in his own community. He has started volunteering as an option to fight boredom, and as an opportunity and it turned out to be an exciting way of investing his time and energy in a worthy cause.

Q1. What do you think that makes a homosexual?
“It is a difficult question to answer”. According to Mr. Rama, “Homosexuality is the strange feeling of love towards someone of the same sex”. He thinks that little research has been done so far to prove what exact reasons might cause someone to be gay. He also stated an interesting fact, “It’s probably by our genes or hormones, I know for a fact that it’s not something that people want to choose”. He believes that we are born with our sexual orientations and not our environment that changes it. He also contradicted himself from one of his previous statements by saying that sometime in some rare occasion’s people can choose to become homosexuals. For instance, he shared with me a painful experience of a young lesbian who changed herself entirely after being sexually assaulted by a boy in her village. She has hated men since then and is comfortable living with her sexual orientation and does not want to change it at any cost. He has met her during one of his visits to Singapore on business purpose. “Maybe some feel threatened and mentally disturbed by the opposite sex and want to have a change in order to feel safe”. I have seen a number of situations where women turn into become so after their break ups, when they don't feel secured to carry out a relationships with men. Women go through alot of pain when confronted by isloation and discrimination.

Q2. Is homosexuality immoral or wrong? Why or why not?
He thinks that many religions have taught and some still continue to teach that homosexuality is immoral, for example he stated that in Christianity and Islam it is considered immoral. “These ideas are based only on a few isolated passages from the holy Bible and Quran”. He offered me an extensive look at how often religious texts have been used to justify such things as slavery, sexuality, marriage, and the inferior status of women. He said that currently there are a few banks, companies and clubs recruiting homosexuals and are supportive of the gay community. For example, HSBC local bank in Sri Lanka is offering employment irrespective of one’s sexual orientation as it has the unique western culture absorbed into it. He also said that people make their own assumptions on what religion texts and society has believed for a long time that homosexuality is immoral. He said that we should look at genuine reasons of why a person transforms into a homosexual just as the special case he stated above. If this is practiced people would not want to interfere in homosexual’s lives as they might feel that homosexuals are not harming their existence directly and are helpless for being who they are. He said that, “people should come up with new ways to involve these groups in development of the country rather than debate on the negative impact they consider homosexuals have on a society. It is our view or attitude that suggests if something is immoral or not and not something we owe by nature”. He also stated that people can be helpless if their fate and birth decides their sexual orientation or even if they meet with a tragic situation that determines their future role. He said that people should not merely based on religious views should think homosexuality is a sin or they are evil.

Q3.Can you tell if people are gay or lesbian by their appearance or are there any other ways to identify them?
He said No. He says that as we believe the homosexuals who adapt to a certain type of life style different from us are the ones we can see. Basically, others as he states do not come into terms with the various stereotypes we hold about homosexuals. He said that their sexual orientation is invisible to us because they appear, act and talk normal just as you and me. He said that we categorize homosexuals in two special ways too apart from their relationships they hold; the effeminate man or the masculine woman who dress in the clothing of the opposite sex. “And the other problem is that they reveal their sexual orientation to only a few trusted friends, so you and I may not be aware of it most of the time. In fact they keep it hidden, as long as they don’t get caught, they are safe”. He said that most of them are heterosexual, and only a few adapt to these styles. He gave me a wonderful example he had learnt, “If I ask you to ask all your male and female friends to gather here and then asked you to identify which were gay and which were straight, I’m very sure that you won’t be able to say it. He said that we still tend to make assumptions about homosexuals. He told me an interesting idea that in case if I meet a man who has a soft personality, little feminine. I don’t necessarily think that he’s gay, but the question arises in my mind if he can be gay. He told me that I won’t draw the conclusion at a first glance by confirming that he should be gay. Instead he said that I might wonder if he’s gay. On the other hand, he told me that if I see a serious type of man with a strong personality I won’t think if he is heterosexual or if I see a woman dressed in skirts and blouses I won’t think she is masculine because he said that I won’t be interested in that man’s or woman’s sexual orientation because I am born to believe that men have a strong personality than women and women are shy and wear a certain type of dresses.

Q4. There are some people among us who would argue that Homosexuality cannot be changed or it should be. How do you address this issue?
Mr Rama said, asked me a question if it would be easy to me if someone tried to change me to a homosexual. He said that it would be difficult to a homosexual just as it would be to me. “It’s completely up to the individual”. He said that he can’t say whether homosexuals should change or not because he does not know how one feels about being one. “I don’t even know what it feels like to try to make that decision”. He said that at a recent conference called ICCAP he had met with a gay individual who had changed for his parents. This guy’s religion says that homosexuality is wrong and he doesn’t want to risk losing his parent’s or wealth, because his parents have decided to leave him to his own devices and not call upon him as a family member anymore. He thinks that peace in his family is what’s most important to him that has changed him to what everyone wants him to be changed to. “No scientists have found ways that show that psychotherapy, counseling, lectures, or religion to stop homosexuality has been successful”. In fact, he said that many doctors believe that these methods can be harmful and unsuccessful. “It is not as easy as rehabilitating someone to come out of drug addiction, because it involves a lot of emotions and breaking relationships can last deep unhealed wounds”. He stated that only the particular person based on his priorities can he change and not anyone else. “If I do not want to change, one can be successful in making me want to change, but not change completely”.

Q5. What can we do to get rid of prejudice and discrimination against lesbian and gay people?
Mr. Rama said, that many forms of discrimination towards homosexuals can be changed by laws. For instance granting loans, recruiting them, granting them membership to clubs etc.. “But what’s more important is that we change our way of thinking”. He spoke of a new way of discrimination we can do unintentionally. He said that even we being so sure of being heterosexuals’ spoon feed into society’s already existing fear by making it clear that we don’t want to be mistaken for a homosexual. He said an excellent example that even when we are with our friends, colleagues we tend to use homosexuals as our subjects to mock at a friend who may dress up like a girl for a party or may sound like a woman. What we are doing here is looking down upon the role of a homosexual unintentionally and not willing to see the emotions a homosexual would have to deal with from their perspective. “We consider it a big deal to be a heterosexual”. He said that what we need to be doing is to have people who are clearly heterosexuals to be saying that they’re supportive of homosexuals. He said, “I used to intermingle with boys and girls who were homosexuals during my higher studies abroad, it never provided me the opportunity to isolate them, instead I valued their presence a lot”. He told me how we need to be encouraged to develop friendships with people who are prone to be marginalized in a society. “This is what is expected from educated, matured individuals”. He clearly stated again that a change of attitude is necessary before we think of any other programs to uphold their rights.

Q6. How Do You Help People with Homosexual Problems, from a NGO point of view?
He thinks that people will have to want the help from NGO’s and that there has to be such Ngo’s that serve their interest. He further states that not all homosexuals want to change because some look at their conditions as unchangeable and make it a positive part of their lives and avoid rehabilitation programs. “So far as I know the government of Bangladesh is not serving for the interests of homosexuals or taking initiatives to enlighten their livelihoods as they consider this to be a minor issue. It is not only in Bangladesh, but many Asian countries are way behind in contributing compared to western countries”. However, he declared that he had come across several instances when he was abroad where people have approached effective counseling sessions and psychotherapy programs conducted by organizations dedicated to work of this caliber. “Sometimes it works for them some time it won’t”. He said that the organizations of some of these states are requesting the government to enforce laws that would protect homosexuals from social discrimination and ensure their basic rights. He also stated that the organizations are taking an immense interest in standing up for the rights of marriage and sexuality between same sexes. He said that now some conferences, clubs and organizations, internships are specially designed or seats are reserved specially for homosexuals.

Q7.Do lesbians and gay men hate the opposite sex or do they act on that aspect?
His answer was a No. He said that homosexuals do not hate the opposite sex. He told me that lesbians and gay men want themselves to be identified in their names set for them. He also stated that it is not always because sometimes it can be discrimination if they are called upon by those names. He said that neither of them have these relationships because they hate the other gender, but because they adore being what they are. “Many lesbians have close male friends and many gay men have close women friends and they do associate with each other. I myself have had many friends during my university days that resemble either of them”. Also, he said that we can say that Lesbians and gay men do not want to be the opposite sex. Mr. Rama also stated an important view that within the gay community, there are many who have challenged and got rid of stereotypical sex roles and by doing that it does not mean that they want to be the other gender. “They may want to be called straight or not straight it’s all up to them as I said earlier”.

Q8. Should Homosexuals be given equal rights as others?
Mr. Rama thinks that even if they are given rights that do not necessarily give homosexuals special privileges or they are asking for privileges that gives them a boost in their lives than heterosexuals. It is believed that these civil rights laws entitle them to basic necessities as employment, membership etc...without fear of discrimination. Unfortunately, some people believe according to what he said that homosexuals should not be allowed to hold certain responsible careers as teacher, counselor or religious leader. People fear homosexuals are sexually irresponsible and not trustworthy or can set good example to the future generation of a country than heterosexuals. For example he said that a teacher can set a bad example to his students if he was a homosexual and can create negative thoughts among children. He says that not granting them basic rights can lead to conflicts and public unrest, and that they need to be given basic rights which can allow them to sustain their livelihoods and become productive citizens to the country. He said that he is unaware of any state level protection provided to homosexuals in Bangladesh through organizations that are committed to work for the rights of homosexuals. He said that recently there was a small scale protest by the homosexual community, but the government was not interested to pay heed to their reflections and that the strike was subsided as usual. He said homosexuals have to face larger threats especially if they live in a country with a Muslim majority because in Islam it is said to be forbidden.

Q09.Why are lesbians and gay men are considered to be by some people as notorious and indecent characters?
He said that homosexuals are often accused of being indecent for instance holding hands, kissing in buses, parks or parties or talking and writing about homosexuality, or holding get-togethers for their groups. However he stated that it is never to be seen in Bangladesh because it would be very threatening to them to appear as that in public. “Our culture accepts their existence only if they remain silent or invisible’. He said, “Especially, in Bangladesh if you happen to hold hands with a girl it will not be very identical, but if you do so in a European context, it becomes obvious and highlighted”. However, he said that the trend has changed where now friendships among groups of girls and boys are also mistaken by the new generation where a girl can be mocked if she was very affectionate of her friend in public”. He also spoke about how censorship works by saying that “heterosexuality is rarely questioned. Today ads on TV, song lyrics, movies all mostly focus on heterosexuality and if it talks about homosexuality it is banned”. He says that heterosexuals are rarely criticized for talking about their love lives, or being affectionate in public or throwing in parties. In Bangladesh, he said that the assumption of heterosexuality is so strong that unless one openly accepts her homosexuality, one is automatically assumed to be heterosexual. Mr. Rama concluded by saying that he believes in a change of attitudes as he feels that homosexuals are in rigid religious, social and political trappings, created only to undermine their ability and role. He said that condemning homosexuals does not make heterosexuals sacred, exemplary figures because they too commit crimes and indecent activities.

Q10. Is there anything else you feel I did not address and wish you could have stated?
He said that he wish to say that much of the prejudice against homosexuals is based on stereotypes, traditional and cultural beliefs and lack of information. He said that people need to educate themselves and be open minded to different mindsets and actions of people. This can be only achieved if people keep their minds, ears and thoughts open to new ideas, inventions and attitudes. After all he said that we are all gifted by nature to be intellectual human beings and not act as animals that relate to differences among themselves. He emphasized on the importance of changing our attitudes and looking at them in a positive way, rather than condemning them. He concluded by leaving me with some touching words, “It does not matter if you are homosexual or heterosexual what matters most is we live according to god’s word and understand that we are all one god’s children”.

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