To cheers from colleagues, Bangladesh’s first transgender news presenter broke down in tears on Monday. But only after her word-perfect debut was beamed to the nation and the cameras were off.
Bangladesh is home to an estimated 1.5 million transgender people. They face rampant discrimination and violence. They are often forced to live by begging, the sex trade, or crime.
The experience of Tashnuva Anan Shishir, who delivered the three-minute news bulletin on the private Boishakhi TV, was typical.
She was born as Kamal Hossain Shishir. But her body was trapped in a man’s body. People sexually assaulted and bullied Shishir for years.
“The bullying was so unbearable I attempted suicide four times. My father stopped talking to me for years,” Shishir, now aged 29, told Reuters.
“When I couldn’t cope with it anymore, I left home…I couldn’t stand the neighbors telling my father about how I should act or walk in a masculine way.” She fled her home in a southern coastal district to live alone in the capital Dhaka. And then in the central city of Narayanganj.
There she underwent hormone therapy, took jobs working for charities, and acted in theatres. All the while keeping up her studies.
In January, she became the first transgender to do a master’s in public health at the James P Grant School of Public Health in Dhaka.
Discrimination in Bangladesh
The LGBT community faces widespread discrimination in Bangladesh. With a colonial-era law still in place punishing gay sex with prison, though enforcement is rare. In 2013, Bangladesh identified trans people as a separate gender. In 2018, they were allowed to register to vote as a third gender.
Shishir’s broadcast on Monday coincided with International Women’s Day. It follows a series of steps by public and private firms to overcome deep-seated prejudices against the community.
Julfikar Ali Manik, a spokesperson for Boishakhi TV said the channel wanted to give Shishir a chance to shine. Despite the risk of backlash from some viewers in the conservative country. Her debut marked a “historic step,” he added.
Transgender live a miserable life in Pakistan too. Last year, a transgender Beenish had died from multiple gunshot wounds in Islamabad. We need to be the voice that speaks on their behalf, fights for their rights, and makes living less painful for them.
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