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Social media ‘a precarious place’ for LGBTQ people in Bangladesh, activists say

In the early days of blogs and platforms such as Facebook, trans Bangladeshis embraced the online space to connect with each other, said Shaikh Md Mominul Islam, an activist who identifies as non-binary – neither a man or a woman.

“The digital space, which had earlier helped the gender-diverse people find their voice, has now turned into a precarious place to be,” Islam said.

They often live in poverty and have no opportunity for a proper education, much less a job, forcing many to beg or engage in sex work to survive.

A government decision last year to roll out new school textbooks featuring a segment on trans people was hailed by LGBTQ campaigners as another sign of growing acceptance.

But the measure caused a furore on social media, including a video that went viral of a part-time university teacher ripping pages out of the book in protest.

The government responded by setting up a committee to review the books, fuelling fears among rights campaigners that anti-trans sentiment online could lead to rollbacks in real life.

The backlash has also led trans people to fear for their personal safety, and revived memories of the 2016 murder of Xulhaz Mannan, a transgender rights activist.

Ho Chi Minh Islam, the country’s first transgender nurse and a human-rights activist, left Bangladesh after she said her life was threatened by transphobic campaigns.

Earlier in November last year, she was named to speak at an event at a local university, but then posts were made on social media platforms like Facebook opposing the inclusion of a trans woman – and she ended up excluded from the event.

Since then, she has faced a flurry of hate and doxxing – the malicious posting of personal information – online as well as abuse in real life, and