At 28 years, Mir Abu Reyad, is currently working as the senior youth link associate in HIMSTER, a project jointly implemented by UNICEF and Bandhu Social Welfare Society in Bangladesh which aims to create an enabling environment for young adolescents. Mir engages with young adolescents who are gay and transgender aged 14 – 24 in Dhaka and collaborates with other divisions organizing interactive events, awareness sessions, HIV & STD testing sessions and as required providing condoms and lubricants.
Mir has also been working with “Right Here Right Now” Bangladesh Platform as a youth focal from Bandhu Social Welfare Society. The Right Here Right Now (RHRN) intervention in Bangladesh (RHRN-BD) is being implemented by a platform consisting of 11 organizations with unique expertise in the respective areas of SRHR and SOGI issues. The RHRN-BD platform aims to work for young people’s sexual and reproductive health and rights irrespective of their sexual orientation and gender identity and focuses on creating stigma, discrimination and violence free access to comprehensive youth-friendly services; access to comprehensive information and space for young people’s voices. The Asian-Pacific Resource and Research Centre for Women (ARROW) in Malaysia is the regional partner and Rutgers in The Netherlands supports the platform as development partner.
Growing up in a city outside the capital city, Mir, moved to Dhaka when he was 16 for his higher education. He recalls how isolated he felt in his home town knowing that he is different but with no way to find out others who may be like him. Mir is one of those lucky ones who did not face significant bullying, discrimination or physical harassment at school. The only time he faced some teasing was when he wanted a school mate of him to become his “friend”. He didn’t know what he exactly wanted but he knew that he is attracted to his school mate.
“I had the same dilemma that almost all young LGBTQ people have. I was questioning whether I am the only person in the world who feels this way. I had no idea how to find anything about myself or who I was, even there was no one I could share my feelings with.”
Mir remembers how one of his school mates was constantly bullied by his other friends because he was “different”.
“My friends bullied him because he acted feminine and called him girlish or half-lady. They simply didn’t know what else to do but to bully and tease”.
However, Mir recalls that this boy enjoyed the bullying and all the attention that bullying brought to him. In hind sight Mir now realizes that it must have been his way of coping with bullying. Being an adolescent, his school mate did not know about his identity and nor did the other students knew about how to understand and act to such differences.
As an adolescent, Mir had not access to information about the changes that he is experiencing as he reaches his secondary sexual characteristics. He had no information about the difference that he sees in him and in his attraction to other boys. As in most other South Asian countries , the lesson about sexual health was limited to HIV and the teachers asked them to read it at home. Mir’s understanding of himself took a huge a leap when he moved to Dhaka. He found Boys of Bangladesh (BOB) one of the two organizations working with LGBTQ community in the country. Through BoB he gathered information about gender and sexuality which cleared his doubts about himself and gave him courage and strength to accept himself. Later on he became a core volunteer and a management board member of BOB and started working on some promising projects to sensitize the society. “Project Dhee” is a massive Bangladeshi project that aims to advance the LGBT movement in Bangladesh. BoB produced a comic book to educate people with some basic terms and terminologies as part of sensitizing the society.
Reminiscing about growing up without proper information about gender, sexuality and sexual and reproductive health, Mir now reflects that many unfortunate incidents such as his attempt to suicide could have been avoided if he had access to information through school or any other means that was easily available to him as an adolescent. He believes that comprehensive sexuality education should be provided through schools and teachers need to be trained to provide students with this knowledge with a non-judgmental attitude.
As a fellow of the “Young Connectors of the Future” fellowship program implemented by the Swedish Institute, one of Mir’s goals is to advocate for legal changes in Bangladesh to amend/reform article 377 of the penal code. He believes that change/reformation should happen within and change makers need to be where the change needs to take place.