A Catholic bishop congratulated a woman who recently made history as the first transgender person to become a Union Council chairperson in Bangladesh.
Bishop James Romen Boiragi of Khulna—which includes the district where the election occurred—praised the newly elected chairperson, Nazrul Islam Ritu, for her historic victory. Boiragi commented that Ritu’s election marks a turning point in how transgender people are perceived in Bangladesh.
As the Union of Catholic Asian News (UCA News) reported, Boiragi stated:
“I congratulate her on her victory because the challenge she has taken is truly admirable. This victory will give courage to more transgender people.”
The UCA News article commented that Ritu’s election is particularly noteworthy because Bangladesh is a conservative country where stigma and discrimination remain the norm for many transgender people.
The Union Council is a regional unit of local government in Bangladesh, usually consisting of about nine wards or villages.
Activists say that while there are at least 10,000 people who identify as transgender in Bangladesh, there are certainly many more who keep their identities secret in an effort to avoid discrimination or violence. As UCA News explains, trans people in Bangladesh face significant barriers to accessing education, employment, and housing, and they often confront violence or harassment because of their identities.
Although trans people’s identities are now legally recognized by the government as a “third” or “separate” gender, the public perception of trans people is only shifting slowly. Ritu has garnered a great deal of media attention for breaking this glass ceiling.
One voter from Ritu’s constituency said that the victory proves that transgender people are contributing members of Bangladeshi society who deserve “love and care after long-running hatred toward them.”
“We have to change the mentality of looking down on transgender people. It should not be limited to our area but all over the country,” the voter stated. “If we learn to stand by their side, our society will become more beautiful.”
Boiragi’s willingness to comment directly and positively on the importance of a trans person winning an election set him apart from many of his fellow Catholic bishops around the world. His words of affirmation for Ritu model the gospel of accompaniment that Pope Francis calls on all Catholics to practice, as well as the pope’s efforts to make space for greater acceptance of LGBTQ people in the church. Around the globe, the church’s relationship with LGBTQ people remains complicated, but events such as this bishop’s celebration of a trans woman’s victory, are a glimmer of hope for a more inclusive future.
—Grace Doerfler (she/her), New Ways Ministry, December 17, 2021