History of the E-Groups and BoB's Evolution
Internet in Bangladesh was an expensive affair even during the dawn of the new millennium. As such only the privileged upper class of the society had access to the virtual world. Internet Relay Chat (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. No wonder such a platform also helped the queer Bangladeshis to find each other under witty but effective pseudonyms obviously for security reasons.
Owing to the massive popularity of IRC and rapid expansion of Internet, our own local entrepreneurs opened up desi chatting rooms and the first one to lead was BDChat. This being a desi site and with lots more facilities, BDChat gained attention in no time and soon people were joining in numbers, which of course had quite a few gay men. These men were scattered and kept in touch only through mobile phones and Internet. There was no gay community. But they all felt the need of getting united.
It was Rengyu, a middle aged foreign educated guy from an indigenous tribe who came up with the first e-group for queer Bangladeshis called ‘GayBangladesh’ in 1999. The group drew a good number of members (1000+) and was quite active online. But in 2004 Rengyu died in a road accident and the group’s activities halted there. There was another active group before BoB. by the name of Teen_Gay_Bangladesh (TGB). In October 2002, the founder of BoB, Joy went to meet the moderators of this group (Prakash and Abrar) and first got the idea of helping the gay people from these two bright young boys. Since the name TGB exclusively was meant for teen gays, Joy decided to open BoB (BoysOnly_Bangladesh) on 2nd November 2002.
BoB first brought this idea that gay people in Bangladesh can meet for other reasons than sex and arranged the first ever offline get-together on 7 December, 2002 with a few (3 to be precise) brave men who dared to meet another gay man in broad day light at a public place. It should be mentioned here that TGB or GayBangladesh didn't organise any offline events before BoB. From then on the two groups BoB and TGB were working hand in hand until the Yahoo! authority deleted both these groups without any warning on 25th December 2002.
The moderators of TGB opened a new group with a new name called Bangladeshi Gay Boys (BGB) and BoB with a slightly different name (BoysOnlyBangladesh) was reopened on 4 Jan, 2003. Since BGB could be found by searching under Yahoo groups, it attracted a lot more people and became very active online while BoB remained discreet and went on with its highly guarded get-togethers.
But unfortunately again BGB got deleted by Yahoo and later on didn’t emerge for the lack of efforts from its moderators. But BoB grew steadily, slowly and silently.
Initially the membership was restricted and people could join only by invitation. The moderators invited people they knew from chatting rooms, matchmaking websites and through other people. This all was just for security concerns. The monthly offline gatherings continued for next few years bringing in a bunch of new faces each time. Apart from these events, the online forum worked as the soul of BoB where members found great solace in sharing their emotion and untold stories.
In 2006, a new management team was formed who decided to go a bit radical by withdrawing the membership system and becoming more visible. The security concern was side lined. And the result was overwhelming. In just a month, the number of members reached a whooping 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 hang out place was also selected where we all would be gathering at a particular time of a particular day and eventually make this a common meeting place. The idea was to create an option for people just to drop by and have a casual meeting.
The reason to be more open was that BoB felt that there was a larger portion of gay men, who lived outside the virtual world, may be because they didn’t want to or, have the means to or, have the access to Internet. And BoB felt it must reach out to them if it wanted the community to grow. Moreover, BoB members were already forming friend groups among themselves and were meeting outdoors quite bravely. They were more comfortable with their sexuality and were not afraid to flaunt it publicly which meant that they the security issue became less important. A community, a sense of belonging was ultimately formed giving the strength and inspiration to move forward.
At the same time BoB also started sending letters to the daily newspapers talking about gay issues just to shed a bit of light this otherwise invisible social taboo. 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 at a sister concern of International Center for Diarrhoeal Disease Research, Bangladesh (ICDDR,B). In the same year BoB also had a meeting with Ayeen O Salish Kendro (ASK - Law and Arbitration Center) and helped with a survey on sexual diversity carried out by ASK.
After the country went into emergency rule in 2006, BoB ceased all its regular activities to avoid any unwanted misfortune. For that matter 2007 saw no offline events and the year went by without any activism. It’s not that there was any looming threat, but BoB had to consider the overall political situation. Even the straight parties were canceled!
But in 2008 when the political situation settled down a bit, BoB planned to revive its regular activities and started organizing get-togethers again On May 17, the International Day Against Homophobia (IDAHO) was celebrated at a prominent cafe in Dhanmondi. BoB also launched its logo and future events there. This is worth mentioning because it was the first event where BoB appeared openly as a gay group with the approval of the venue authority. For the first time a public venue recognized BoB and its crowd. There was a display of BoB logo with the rainbow props scattered all around at the venue. It was a moment of pride indeed!
September 2008 is another big milestone in BoB’s journey. It was the month when BoB crossed the national boundary and participated in an international workshop in Kathamandu, Nepal. The workshop was titled ‘South Asian Partnership Building Workshop’ organized by Blue Diamond Society of Nepal in cooperation with LLH, Norway. A good number of organizations and activists participated in this workshop, which opened up a whole new world for BoB: the world of LGBT activism. Since then BoB has become a leading voice in LGBT advocacy, campaigning and networking in the country.
As its grand entrance into the LGBT political arena, BoB, with the help of LLH, Norway facilitated a workshop in February 2009 in Cox’s Bazaar. It was titled ‘Workshop on Sexual Diversity, Partnership Building and Networking’ and was the first ever workshop in Bangladesh that brought together the diverse LGBT community to talk about their issues and concerns from a human rights perspective. It was also the first time BoB worked with an international donor organization. The workshop itself gave rise to a wave of more activism and solidarity.
Only very recently BoB has been able to secure a small space to be used as office and a resource center. On March 20, 2010 BoB hoisted a Rainbow Flag in the office premise to announce its existence as well as express its solidarity with the worldwide LGBT movement. This was the first time a Rainbow Flag had been unfurled at a public place and it is still flying high with all its pride and glory.
From a mere online group, this vision called BoB has now emerged as a leading platform of Bangladeshi LGBT people. This website itself bears the testimony to BoB’s achievement.
In all these years lots of other e-groups were also formed with different and promising mottos, but none of these groups could sustain for various reasons. It was only because of BoB’s strong will to work for the community, a dedicated pull of volunteers and immense support from a trusted circle of friends that BoB could still run strong.