Internet in Bangladesh was an expensive affair even in the new millennium. Only the privileged upper class y had access to the virtual world.IRC fast became a popular chatting platform where a room for Bangladeshis was created and soon it was a major hub for Bangladeshis worldwide to mingle and giggle. The platform also helped queer Bangladeshis find each other using witty but effective pseudonyms obviously for security reasons.
Owing to the massive popularity and rapid expansion of the internet, local entrepreneurs opened up chatting rooms and the first one to lead that was BDChat. This being a site with lots more facilities, BDChat gained attention in no time and soon people were joining in numbers, which of course included quite a few gay men. These men were scattered and kept in touch only through mobile phones and Internet. There was no gay community as such though a need for unity had been identified. BOB (BoysOnly_Bangladesh) was created on 2nd November 2002 arranging the first ever offline get-together on 7 December. A few brave men who dared to meet in broad daylight in public place. On 25th December 2002 BOB was deleted by Yahoo without any warning. BOB was reopened on 4 Jan, 2003 with a slightly different name BoysOnlyBangladesh. BOB remained discreet and went on with its highly guarded get-togethers and it grew slowly but steadily. Since the first get-together there has been at least one get-together every month with more and more people attending. The security concerns increased in parallel to this expansion.
Initially membership was restricted and people could join only by invitation. The moderators invited people they knew from chatting rooms, dating websites and through other people. The group was listed under the adult category and could not be found by a regular search. Even after invitation if a member wanted to join, he had to go through a formal procedure of writing an application to the moderators giving a brief introduction, a name (not necessarily a real one), age, location and how he got to know about the group. Only after getting a filled out application, would moderators approve an application. This was done because of the obvious security concerns.
In 2006, a new management team was formed who decided to radicalize the BOB by changing the membership system and becoming more visible. And the result was overwhelming. In just a month, the number of members reached a whopping 600+ from 300. The offline events also got bigger and better. Parties were introduced along with regular film shows, river cruise, picnics etc. A new permanent “hangout” was also selected where we all would meet together at a particular time of a particular day and eventually this became a common place to meet. The idea was to create an option for people just to drop by and have a casual fun meeting. Visibility became a new strategy.
BOB members were already forming friend groups among themselves and were meeting outdoors quite bravely. They were more comfortable with their sexuality and weren’t afraid to flaunt it publicly. A community, a sense of belonging was ultimately formed giving the strength and inspiration to move forward.
The risk of becoming visible was taken and it turned out to be positive. As a part of security plan for this visibility BOB started sending letters to the daily news papers talking about gay issues. The response was mixed with some great support and extreme criticism. Safe sex campaign was also initiated and lots of members were encouraged to go for voluntary HIV testing. As a result, in 2006 BOB had a meeting with the then country representatives of UNAIDS and facilitated a survey on sexual diversity carried out by ASK.
After the country went into emergency rule with recent caretaker govt. coming into being, BOB ceased all its regular activities to avoid any negative reactions. 2007 saw no offline events and the year went by without any activism. The political situation didn’t even permit heterosexual parties. In 2008 when the political situation stabilized, BOB revived its regular parties and started organizing get-togethers. On May 17th 2008, BOB celebrated the International Day against Homophobia (IDAHO) launching its logo and plans for future events. It was the first event where BOB appeared openly as a gay group with the approval of the restaurant. For the first time a public venue recognized BOB and its crowd. With pride we displayed our logo and rainbow symbol all over the venue.
In these years lots of other e-groups have been formed with different promising slogans, but none of these groups have managed to survive. The initial careful steps helped BOB a great deal to gain the trust of its members and to be at the position it is now. BOB plans to stick to the strategic approach and move forward cautiously for days to come.
Comments by Ashok DEB:
This manual for the Protection of LGBTI Defenders has been adapted from the New Protection Manual for Human Rights Defenders Researched and written by Enrique Eguren and Marie Caraj, of Protection International (P I). This manual has been produced for the benefits of the Human Rights Defenders and can be produced, quoted and photocopied for non-commercial purposes as long as the source is acknowledged.
You can download this manual (English Version) from this following link:
The case study on BOB, e-groups a case study: BoysOnlyBangladesh- BOB appears on page 109 in the hard copy of the Protection Manual for LGBTI Defenders. However,that very page 109 is strangely missing across the downloadable version of the manual.