Home » An Autoethnography of a South Asian (Muslim) Queer Scholar of Color in American Higher Education

An Autoethnography of a South Asian (Muslim) Queer Scholar of Color in American Higher Education

by Nur Makbul


Bangladesh is a South Asian country that criminalizes homosexuality (following the British colonial penal code) and disowns the existence of millions of LGBTQ+ citizens. The queer community in Bangladesh faces legal, medical, social, and cultural obligations that not only force them to limit their gender expressions and sexual preferences but also deny them basic human rights. In addition, the recent rise of Islamic militancy has generated an environment of fear and tension, particularly for the Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, Trans (LGBT), gender non-conforming, and/or Queer people. While terrorizing activities have been partially in check, the queer community in Bangladesh lives under terror and distress, and that has already caused them to face serious consequences such as the fear of being stabbed, murdered, humiliated, stigmatized, and isolated. In this article, I contextualize the life experience of a South Asian queer person of color (POC) who escaped murder and found a new home in the United States. In doing so, I employ the theoretical frameworks of autoethnography, narrative trespass, and intersectionality to demonstrate how multiple identities and personal narratives have helped me navigate and negotiate with uncertainties and personal struggles during graduate school as a queer person of color scholar and liberated me from the silence of the past 25 years. Finally, I demonstrate the implications of autoethnography in understanding communication practices in teaching, research, and academic settings.

“Pvt univ teacher gets extortion SMS from ‘Ansarullah”[1]

In November 2015, the Dhaka Tribune reports a private university teacher receives life-threatening text messages from Ansarullah Bangla, (ABT-3). Ansarullah Bangla team is one of the most dangerous Islamist militant groups in Bangladesh who are fighting for establishing Islamic political agendas in Bangladesh. They demanded 500000 BDT, and the text messages read— “no one can protect you (RAB, police, etc.)“, … “donate money”, and … “come into the light of Islam”.


Bangladesh is one of the most homophobic countries in South Asia. Because it is a Muslim populist country, the constitution declares “Islam as the only official religion of the state,” and that limits the space for the people of other distinct beliefs and ideologies, including the Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, Trans, Queer (LGBTQ+) individuals. “LGBTQ” is used in this paper to describe the experience of non-heterosexual groups (Leung, 2021). Although LGBTQ identity experiences and the LGBTQ community are not homogeneous across the various subgroups of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer people, and though transgender and gender non-conforming people do not always go through the same stages of identity development, the acronym can effectively encompass the experience of non-heterosexual groups (Mollet & Lackman, 2018). This paper focuses on the experience of a non-heterosexual Bangladeshi scholar who has experienced a profound journey of self-discovery, identity development, and cultural assimilation and, as a result, argues their contribution to the US higher education from diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) perspectives.

While homosexuality was one of the culturally accepted sexual behaviors in the Indian subcontinent since ancient times, British rulers enshrined their religious (e.g., Christian) and/or imperialistic ideologies in the Indian constitution, such as declaring homosexuality “illegal” in the British Indian Government’s Section 377 of 1860, that Bangladesh’s constitution later inherited (Boyce, 2015; Kemp et al., 2019). Although Bangladesh’s constitution states that “penetration is sufficient to constitute the carnal intercourse necessary to the offense described in this section,” the society still does not permit same-sex romantic relationships, and/or marriage (Hossain, 2020, p. 377). Section 377 of the Penal code of Bangladesh read:

“Whoever voluntarily has carnal intercourse against the order of nature with any man, woman, or animal, shall be punished with imprisonment for life, or with imprisonment of either description for a term which may extend to ten years, and shall also be liable to fine” (Section 377, the panel code of Bangladesh)

Although Bangladesh’s constitution, Part II Article 19, “promises equal opportunity for all citizens,” and Part III Article 27, promises “equality before the law for all citizens,” LGBTQ+ individuals in Bangladesh face barriers to legal, medical, and emotional support they need from the family, community, and educational institutions (Omar and Smith, 2014). On 23 July 2013, a lesbian couple in Bangladesh, Shibronty Roy Puja, a 16-year-old Hindu, and Sanjida Akter, a 21-year-old Muslim, escaped their hometown for the capital, Dhaka, and married in a “secret” Hindu ceremony, and therefore, they were detained and faced legal charges (“Lesbian Couple Arrested After Marrying in Secret in Bangladesh,” 2013). They were subjected to a forceful sex identification test and were charged with unsocial activities under Section 209. Likewise, on May 19, 2017, Bangladeshi police raided in a community center outside of Dhaka and detained 27 cisgender men, primarily students aged 18 to 20, on suspicion of being homosexual/gay. Major Monjur Morshed, a camp commander with the elite force Rapid Action Battalion (RAB) said defendants could face life in prison if found guilty of sodomy, specifically for “unnatural offenses” such as “carnal intercourse against the order of nature” (Bangladesh Police Arrest 27 Suspected Gays at Community Center, n.d.; Hossain, 2020). Similarly, Xulhaz Mannan, the editor of the first LGBT magazine in Bangladesh,”Roopbaan,” and his friend, Mahbub Rabbi Tonoy, were assassinated inside an apartment in Dhaka, Bangladesh’s capital in April 2016. Mannan’s killing came just two days after the so-called Islamic State claimed responsibility for the hacking death of university professor Rezaul Karim Siddique in northeastern Bangladesh. Islamist extremists have murdered many secular academics, authors, bloggers, including Avijit Roy, a secular blogger and the author of a book about homosexuality in Bangla (Amundsen, 2018; Khan, 2017; Makbul & Goni, 2022; Syed, 2016).

A Thomson Reuters Foundation report states that Bangladesh’s LGBT community remains in hiding, with more than a dozen LGBTQ+ individuals and/or activists fleeing to other countries in the fear of murder and torture. The report also says, LGBTQ+ people who left Bangladesh are gradually reconnecting and attempting to organize as a transnational diaspora to analyze the situation, and those who remain in Bangladesh are trying to preserve the history of the LGBT+ movements through blogs and digital archives (Rashid, 2022). While many are aware of the persecutions of LGBTQ+  individuals and/or community in Uganda, Indonesia, Malaysia, and many Islamic and/or Muslim nations, few are aware of the discrimination that they endure in Bangladesh (“In Fear after Attacks, Gay Bangladeshis Retreat into Closet and Flee Abroad,” 2016). This article contextualizes the experience of surviving the struggles and challenges and, therefore, offers a nuanced academic understanding of how to read and teach queerness and the Global South, taking into account the concerns of living in a country where homosexuality is not only constitutionally prohibited but also has serious consequences such as murder, stabbing, social shame, isolation, prosecution, and more.

Homosexuality, Islamic Beliefs, and Punishment

Despite widespread fear of persecution for LGBTQ+ individuals in most Muslim populist nations, each country treats them differently, ranging from “very strict” to “relatively liberal.” Although Islamic theologians sometimes refer to the tale of Lot and the destruction of Sodom to defend their viewpoint, the Quran has no clear instructions on how homosexuals should be treated. For example, sexual relations between men are illegal and are subject to the death penalty in several Islamic countries. According to the International Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans and Intersex Association, countries including Iran, Saudi Arabia, Yemen, Sudan, Mauritania, and some of Nigeria and Somalia  execute people who practice same-sex relationships (Arimoro, 2018). On the other hand, Islamic scholars couldn’t agree on the jurisdiction of the death penalty, while many scholars claim that based on the situation and circumstances, there are several options to pursue liberal attitudes toward homosexual individuals (Boellstorff, 2005; Halstead & Lewicka, 1998; Jäckle & Wenzelburger, 2015; Yuzgun, 1993).

Second, social acceptance of homosexuality differs greatly between the West and the East. According to a poll conducted by the Public Religion Research Institute, 40% of American Muslims approve of same-sex marriage, while on the other hand, five nations, including Saudi Arabia, Sudan, Yemen, Iran, and Mauritania, have trials to kill homosexual individuals (Cox et al., 2014). Likewise, Islamic State (IS) believes that homosexual people should be thrown from a high-raised building and stoned to death (Puar, 2018). For instance, homosexuals were executed in Afghanistan during the Taliban era by being buried beneath crumbling stone walls. Similarly, in Egypt, Turkey, and Tunisia, homosexuals exist under strict police surveillance and often face trials for “violating public morality” (Acconcia et al., 2022; Walsh-Haines, 2012).

Bangladesh’s LGBTQ+: Intersectional Violence and Invisibility

“Intersectionality” is a vivid term coined by Kimberly Crenshaw (1989), and widely used in gender, communication. and legal studies refer to the idea that “the interconnected nature of social categorizations such as race, class, and gender as they apply to a given individual or group, regarded as creating overlapping and interdependent systems of discrimination or disadvantage”(Crenshaw, 1990; Columbia Journal Review, 2018. p. 1242). Although Crenshaw introduced the idea to discuss just two intersections— gender and race—in recent times, critical scholars apply this theory to explain the multiple intersections of identities such as physical ability, race, ethnicity, gender, nationality, politics, citizenship, or socioeconomic status, especially to explain the idea of intersectional violence or social inequalities. Crenshaw’s idea of “intersectional violence” provides a foundation to understand violence against women of color from the perspectives of race and gender. It can also be understood from queer and religious perspectives, especially focusing on the context of Bangladesh to explain how Bangladeshi LGBTQ+ people experience intersectional violence, particularly caused by the state authority and religious (e.g., Islamist) extremist groups because of their sexual orientation and/or gender expressions.

Intersectional violence in Bangladesh may be classified into two major categories: structural and representational. Structural violence is characterized by subordinate social status (Nash, 2008; Walby et al., 2012) and frequently results in acts of rape, domestic violence, harassment, and occupational discrimination. Because the LGBTQ+ community in Bangladesh has no legal recognition, violence against them is widespread.  On top of that, the state does not provide any legal, medical, or psychological assistance, resulting in systemic structural discrimination such as social stigma, hostility, and employment exclusion. Second, violence against LGBTQ+ individual and/or community is frequently neglected because the state is ignorant of the existence of the LGBTQ+ population. For instance, violence against LGBTQ+ people receive little to no attention from the public or the media. Due in large part to religious feeling, the majority of these violent incidents—including physical and verbal harassment, rape, kidnapping, and other forms of violence—are portrayed in such a way that it further stigmatizes those who identify as LGBTQ+ (Hossain, 2020). Overall, this silence places an “additional burden” (Crenshaw, 1990) on the LGBTQ+ community because they have nowhere to go to seek justice; and likewise, it restricts their ability to come out publicly with their sexual orientation and gender expression because they are constantly subjected to life-threatening situations while also experiencing fear, stigma, and hatred.

Autoethnography, Personal Narrative, and Pedagogy

Autoethnography, as a personal narrative, allows us to relate stories that have never been told before in such a meaningful way to better comprehend wider social-psychological phenomena (C. Ellis et al., 2011). According to Abdi (2014), we frame our lives through narratives, that stem from pre-existing social norms, culture, time and space, and the society we live in. To address the question of how autoethnography contextualizes power, this essay suggests a variety of ways it could guide our thinking about personal narrative, pedagogy, and diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI). Autoethnography, for example, informs us about ourselves in the first place when it is utilized as a pedagogical tool to redefine, rethink, and reaffirm the value of our existence and living experience in meaningful ways. Likewise, autoethnography upholds the power of subjectivity and confronts our presumptions of normalcy—that helps us to situate ourselves or finding very own voice in academia within DEI contexts. Second, writing auto-ethnography serves as an innovative form of academic writing. What is referred to as “experimental representations,” “alternative forms of qualitative writing,” or a “public/civic/everyday life ethnography” call into question not only the style of academic writing, but also the objectives and readership (Banks & Banks, 2000, p. 234). Since writing is more of a personal activity for me, I insert my sentiments, personal experiences, and emotions into texts, and create subjectivity, authority, and credibility to texts. I write in the hopes that readers will be moved by my emotional responses to my work as an academician, and that my writing will help both academic and non-academic readers in their quest to gain a better understanding of the world we live in. The final connection I make between pedagogy and autoethnography is the necessity to encourage self-disclosures in our teaching and learning process, not only with our students and colleagues but also with our institutional authorities.

Autoethnography provides personal and cultural perspectives, allowing for a deeper understanding of culture concerning identity, politics, and power dynamics (Edwards, 2021; C. Ellis et al., 2011; Purdy et al., 2008). As I mentioned, narrative can contextualize power and identity, and therefore, autoethnography can be a powerful means of communication to persuade others by telling personal narratives. The cultural narratives we share have cultural values to understand, and they can create new connotations in our life to redefine, rethink, and reinforce the significance of our life and living experience in meaningful ways (Abdi, 2014). For example, an autoethnographic narrative of a closeted homosexual man’s living experience in South Asian society might help us better comprehend the internal tensions of power, politics, and the coexistence of multiple sexual orientations and gender expressions in South Asian society. The narrator can exercise their freedom of expression through writing, particularly by telling their own stories, which can help us better comprehend the world around us and liberate both the narrator and the readers, commonly referred to as narrative trespass (Boulton, 2006; Abdi, 2014).

Finally, as a method of inquiry, autoethnography has not been without criticism. Some would claim that autoethnography is narcissistic in nature, lacking the rigor of a critical/cultural research technique (Eguchi, 2015). However, in response to this assertion, Muoz (1999) says that “autoethnography is a tactic that tries to destabilize the hierarchical economy of colonial images and representations by making apparent the existence of subaltern energies and urgencies in metropolitan culture” (p. 82). Using this framework, I argue that autoethnography is a strong and radical tool for investigating historically oppressed experiences by disrupting normative knowledge production processes (e.g., Eguchi, 2015; Eguchi & Spieldenner, 2015; Orbe, 1997). As a result, autoethnography as a personal narrative is a strong, powerful, and persuasive means of communication to practice academic/nonacademic scholarship, learning and teaching pedagogy, and freedom of expression. It not only offers a wider awareness of personal, political, and ideological perspectives in various cultural contexts to help one better comprehend their surroundings, but it also frees one from silence by providing the opportunity to allow them to express their narratives.

25 Years of Silence

From the moment I first became aware of my desire until I was a young adult and successful university lecturer, I kept my sexual identity a secret. I could never tell anybody about my feelings, thoughts, emotions, or struggles. Because the Bangladeshi community lacks a solid grasp of what it means to be LGBTQ+, there is no support from family, friends, or the community. Homosexuality is still prohibited in Bangladesh, and hundreds of thousands of LGBTQ+ people keep silent to avoid societal stigma and humiliation. While a forced silence may cause fear, isolation, and insecurities, body of research found that “individuals who have not disclosed their sexual orientation often experience guilt and anxiety as well as loneliness and isolation” (Evans & Broido, 1999; p. 659). Likewise, guilt, anxiety, loneliness, and isolation can develop self-hatred, shame, embarrassment, or some other negative psychological phenomenon among young adults (Grov, David, Jose and Jeffrey, 2006). However, I was always looking for ways to escape the stress, so I got involved in community service, school debates, music, and other social activities. That would keep me occupied and distract me from my fears, prosecutions, and obligated silence. I taught gender and communication classes while working as a lecturer at two research universities in Dhaka, Bangladesh. I allowed my students to openly talk about gender and sexuality issues. I also invited a few underground LGBT activists as guest speakers in my class to speak about gender fluidity and social justice. I became acquainted with a few underground groups who work on LGBTQ+ rights in Dhaka through social media. Boys of Bangladesh (BoB) was such a platform where I met many openly LGBTQ+ people who shared my struggle, pain, panic, and miserable experiences. I worked for them on various initiatives to the best of my capacity in promoting the idea of gender fluidity among young university students. When I think back on those days, I am proud of myself because those memories remind me of a strong feeling to become more authentic—despite all my life’s challenges. I was quiet, but I was also on a profound journey of self-discovery through my intellectual endeavors, particularly in gender identity, gender fluidity, and underground activism.

I Never Had a Safe Place

I was born and reared in a picturesque Bangladeshi village in 1991. Even before I was born, my 90-year-old grandmother predicted that “there will be a son” in the family. My grandmother used to believe in the power of omens. My dad, who is a professor of English literature, named me “Fortune” because he believed I would bring him prosperity and good fortune. Everyone was happy, especially my mother, because she was expecting a “baby boy,” particularly with a male genital, as she had gone through social shame for giving birth to three daughters before me. Indeed, my mother is not the first woman who experienced social shame, but it is one of the ancient Indian social constructions where women are expected to “give birth to sons as a cultural production of patriarchy” (Bhattacharji, 1990).  So, on one fine Friday afternoon, I was born while everyone was busy performing the Jumu’ah: (the Friday prayers) at the nearest mosque. My family and relatives were overjoyed, and my mother was liberated from a stereotypical social shame.

As I grew older, I realized that I didn’t have the socially and culturally anticipated “masculine” traits. This explained why I had been subjected to body shaming, verbal aggression, and harassment in the family, community, educational institutions, and, most importantly, in public gatherings for my “femme” voice. It is just not a Global South issue, but in the United States. A 2021 study  estimates that 1.2 million American adults between the ages of 18 and 60 who identify as non-binary make up 11% of the LGBTQ population in that age range (Hillesheim, 2021). Likewise, a study found that gay men report higher rates of verbal harassment, threats of violence, violent assaults, and victimization by police and in school, although lesbians report more sexual harassment, assault, and verbal abuse by family members (Herek, 2009). Criminalization is one of the primary reasons LGBTQ+ people are mistreated around the world, whether in Bangladesh, South Asia, the Middle East, Africa, or other nations. Over 2 billion people currently live in countries where being gay or lesbian is illegal, as same-sex partnerships are still illegal in 69 of the world’s countries (Writer, 2019).  Likewise, another problem is the demoralization—which takes the form of the belief that LGBTQ+ lifestyles are in some way sinful and immoral and that they are incapable of being responsible citizens of society. Members of the LGBTQ+ community have been fighting against this up until now because the underlying presumption is that our existence is ultimately unethical. When social standing is based on genital configuration, society automatically sustains a power dynamic that results in violence and/or prejudice that is very basic. In my case, the idea that gay, lesbian, and transgender people do not exist, and the stigma attached to them, made possible the idea that I am sick or mentally ill because I was not ” masculine enough” (e.g., the way I talk or the way I walk) from my early childhood.

Life Under Attack 

Figure 1: The image depicts a screenshot of a text message that The Ansarullah Bangla Team (ABT) delivered. The Ansarullah Bangla Team (ABT), also known as Ansar Bangla, is a terrorist group in Bangladesh that has been linked to crimes from 2013 to 2015, including several brutal attacks, assaults and murders of writers and atheist bloggers. See Appendix for more references and screenshots.

In November 2015, I was working in my office in Dhaka, Bangladesh and suddenly received a text message reading: “no one can protect you (RAB, police, etc.)”; “donate money”; “come into the light of Islam”; “remember Rajib Haider[2], Ovijit[3], Kowshik[4], Bijoy Das[5]”; “we are following you”; “life or DIE?”; “what do you want?” from Ansarullah Bangla team-3 (ABT -3) . According to the Terrorism Research & Analysis Consortium, the ABT is a Bangladeshi Islamic extremist group inspired by al Qaeda that began operations in 2007 under the name Jama’atul Muslemin and received funding from several NGOs. It is the Indian Subcontinent’s branch of Al-Qaeda (Bashar, 2015).  Rajiv Haider, Ovijit, Kowshik, and Bijoy Das are just a few names among others who have been ruthlessly murdered by Islamist terrorist groups in Bangladesh. They continued to send these frightening text messages. I went to the local police station and filed a complaint. They provided me with protection for a few days before abruptly terminating the service, since I was unable to provide them with money or bribes on each visit. I had to keep my public appearance to a minimum. My family was terrified. It was a time when the Ansarullah squad murdered many writers, bloggers, atheists, and LGBT activists. However, there was pressure on the government, particularly the police department, to put a stop to the killings and attacks; thankfully, police began arresting a few Ansarullah members, which helped to reduce tensions to some extent, but not completely. In fact, a list of 84 atheists, freethinkers, secular bloggers, and LGBT activists had been widely circulated by Islamic fundamentalist groups and openly declaring that these people will be killed brutally (Roy, 2015). Al Jazeera also writes, “… each successive killing – carried out so openly, with such impunity – freezes more tongues, exiles more bloggers, silences the doubters.” Following these events, I began to consider leaving Bangladesh. As I was already in academia and had planned to go abroad for higher studies, I thought the most convenient option was to find a graduate school and leave Dhaka, Bangladesh as soon as possible. I began applying to universities in the United Kingdom, Canada, and the United States. One fine morning, I got a letter of acceptance from a reputed university in the United States with a full scholarship and a teaching fellowship. That is how I began a new chapter in life in the United States.

Implications in US Higher Education Institutions

It’s been only four years since I began to understand my body and desires. In the last four years, I’ve become familiar with several local LGBTQ+ groups in the US, attended pride festivals and drag events, worked at LGBT centers at several institutions, and learned about my African American and undocumented Mexican worker friends’ lives in Kansas, New Jersey, Alabama, and Mississippi. This parallel exploration of learning and self-discovery took place at the same time, particularly focusing on how I learned to know myself and how I saw others’ vulnerability from a position of marginalization. My personal experiences have given me perspectives on queerness, immigration, race, sexuality, and citizenship, and my marginalized status provides me with the intellectual and academic tools to explain my experience within a conceptual framework to learn, write about, and teach DEI in US higher education in several ways, such as: a) how many queer immigrant scholars of color navigate graduate school, and b) how they survive in the US higher education system as graduate teaching assistant and/or instructor of record, and c) what perspectives they brings in the American classrooms.

Navigating Graduate School 

Marginalization is a serious concern for graduate students of color in doctoral programs (Ballenger et al., 2016; Bisaillon & Eakin, 2014; Gay, 2004). My experiences as a queer graduate student of color and instructor of record in predominantly White institutions (PWIs) left me physically, culturally, and intellectually isolated for the first two years of my graduate career. For example, international students like me from non-English speaking countries (e.g., Bangladesh, India, Nepal, Egypt, Iran, etc.) face significant challenges in their first two years in the US academia, particularly with language barriers, adjusting to food and climate, adjusting to daily modes of communication, adjusting to a new and challenging academic setting, dealing with rapidly changing curriculum and coursework, and frequently being taught by culturally insensitive and apathetic professors. Second, POC graduate students and/or foreign students from non-White, non-Christian, and non-English speaking backgrounds are very limited in PWIs. They have the unpleasant distinction of being “the only one” or “one of the very few” in their program (Gay, 2004). Similarly, during my master’ program at one of the Midwest’s most prestigious PWIs universities, I was the only foreigner, only person of color, and only queer student in my cohort. These disproportionate dynamics isolated many POC students like me from the mainstream dynamics of graduate studies. Third, isolation destroyed my emotional and intellectual energy that might otherwise be put into academic endeavors. One of the very primary studies of POC students looked a total of 467 students of color who participated in the University of California, Berkeley Minority Survey with a substantial number of participants from African, Mexican, Native, and Asian American backgrounds in 1976 (Ducan, 1976). Similar studies reports, nearly 65% of participants said they rarely or never socialized with other graduate students in their departments and felt more lonely and unhappy than European Americans (see Gay, 2004). Likewise, from my experience, I noticed that when it comes to such a limited and invisible dynamic in a rigorous academic program, many queer POC students experience powerlessness, loneliness, and agony, which can cause them to question their intellectual competence (such as: will I be able to complete my graduate and/or Ph.D. studies?)

Race and sexuality influence the socialization of LGBTQ+ doctoral students of color in the ways that faculty members perceive students’ academic interests and foster their academic and professional success. While many Ph.D. programs choose students based on their research interests, this is not a universal procedure for all schools (Johnson & Scott, 2020). The larger the disparity between professor and student interests, the more likely there will be some difficulties in the socialization and intellectual process (Grant & Simmons, 2008). Furthermore, when students study phenomena that contain racially or culturally relevant research issues, scholarly identity may be undermined (Felder et al., 2014). Students’ academic development might be hampered if they do not get enough help, especially during the dissertation process (Johnson & Scott, 2020). From my personal experience, I have noticed that there was no professor with competence in LGBTQ+ scholarship in my MA program who could appropriately assist me, although I attended at one of the major R1 institutions. Similarly, I’ve overheard my queer white classmates talking about how they had to negotiate with the scholarship they wanted to pursue just because there was no faculty to advise them through the thesis/dissertation process. Finally, many POC and LGBTQ+ student of color who struggle in graduate schools and sometimes drop out early lose not just their time and money, but also the institution that invested in them (Ballenger et al., 2016; Bisaillon & Eakin, 2014; Johnson & Scott, 2020). As a result, developing a better understanding of the experiences of those students at various stages of their graduate studies (e.g., initial coursework, ABD, dissertation phase etc.) may give light on the varying supports those individuals require in order to succeed. While some scholars say that all LGBTQ+ students need adequate funding, accessible professors, and a welcoming environment, this is a huge oversimplification of their life experience, particularly what they have gone through and how they struggle on a daily basis. For example, outside of the school, I struggle with citizenship issues, abandonment trauma, 25 years of silence trauma, and homesickness, and these issues are hardly ever addressed, and when they are, they are only considered as a liability rather than an asset to the process of success.

International Teaching Assistants (ITAs)

A previous study reveals that Graduate Teaching Assistants (GTAs) struggle to reconcile their responsibilities as instructors and researchers (Collins et al., 2021), and that cultural hurdles make the transition and integration of International Teaching Scholars (ITSs) in US academia significantly difficult (Ashavskaya, 2015; Collins et al., 2021; Park*, 2004; Plakans, 1997). However, ITAs from all over the world who come to the United States contribute to scientific, technical, and cultural research and bring international perspectives into American classrooms, assisting in the preparation of American undergraduates for global careers.

I am a Ph.D. student in the school of media and communication at a Southern R1 university. I teach basic communication classes such as fundamentals of communication, public speaking, interpersonal communication, small and group communication, health communication etc. Nevertheless, media, culture, society, and communities are the core of my teaching issues for the last 6 years. Intersectionality (Crenshaw, 1990), dominant-non dominant groups (Orbe, 1997), co-cultural groups (Orbe, 1997), heteronormativity (Ward & Schneider, 2009), and understanding relationships and identities in a context of resistance (Chasin, 2015) are a few of conceptual ideas that I include into my undergraduate syllabus every semester to give my students a clear idea about social and cultural dynamics. Because unpleasant remarks and viewpoints may arise, I am always prepared to create and maintain a safe classroom environment. Likewise, I try to foster an environment that stimulates dialogue and respect. Personally, I focus on using feminist pedagogical approaches in teaching that helps to create a distinct safe classroom environment for everybody, despite the fact that more than 50% of students are religious (e.g., mostly Christians) Southern White first-generation college students.

To address what I contribute to the American classroom, including perspectives of life experience as a queer, person of color, and an immigrant, I frequently question whether or not I need to integrate those perspectives with the curriculum. Kosciw et al. (2018) argues that POC and LGBTQ+ students face three primary categories of risk, include: (1) academic risks (e.g., increased absenteeism, lower academic achievement, fewer plans for post-secondary education;, (2) social and emotional risks (e.g., impaired psychological well-being, higher levels of depression, lower self-esteem; , and (3) behavioral risks (e.g., substance abuse and suicidal attempts).  Now that being said, evidence has shown that POC and LGBTQ+ college students can thrive alongside their heterosexual peers with the support of teachers, families, and inclusive classroom policies (Furrow, 2012; Rankin et al., 2019). Despite the fact that my cultural background is different, I have White and African American and mixed-race LGBTQ+ students in my class who have also faced challenges from patriarchal and heterosexist social institutions as I have. Because my teaching philosophy values diversity, equity, and inclusion, I strive to build a platform for everybody, especially those who have a common experience of struggle. For example, POC and LGBTQ+ students in my class are encouraged to identify connections in the struggles of Queer Jews, Queer Christians, Queer Muslims, Queer people of color, and Queer immigrants, and therefore, they develop a sense of sharing a common ground of coexistence.

Situating My Voice and/or Perspectives

My experience living as a South Asian queer scholar of color has shaped my worldview and made me who I am today. It gives me the perspective to study communication phenomena and contribute to society as a social justice scholar and activist. Growing up in a comparatively conservative Muslim South Asian culture, I experienced the same pain and panic as thousands of closeted homosexual people in Bangladesh. The LGBTQ community in many nations, including Bangladesh, remains vulnerable, living without legal, medical, and mental health support. As part of this community, I know hundreds of queer individuals, including myself, who have experienced hatred, violence, and physical or mental torture within their own families, communities, and educational institutions. I translate these experiences into my academic work, placing emphasis on my commitment to diversity, equity, and inclusion.

Likewise, a “safe learning environment,” in my opinion, does not imply that professors and students will or should be at ease with every discussion. While I am aware that topics such as oppression, subjugation, racism, and white privilege may cause discomfort and defensiveness among students, I make it very clear that the goal of a discussion is not to make individuals feel guilty about who they are or defensive about their place in life. Rather I carefully assist students to comprehend and analyze issues of power and privilege in relation to racism or other social issues. Understanding what it means to be an ally or when to act in response to a certain situation is something I deliberately educate my students. Considering that many students can relate to my experience as a first-generation and/or immigrant and/or POC and/or queer background, I situate my mentorship within those resonances. I implement DEI through access-oriented and culturally sustaining practices that result in epistemic and structural change and benefit students who are most disenfranchised by multiple injustices.

Finally, It is important that education connects to students’ real-life experiences (Collins et al., 2021; S. J. Ellis, 2009; Gay, 2004). It also contributes to the greater goal of critical pedagogy, which is to provide a voice to those who are unjustly silenced. Through argumentation, dialogue, and class activities and sharing my own experiences, I offer opportunities for students to find and cultivate their voices.


In conclusion, I’m not denying that a vast majority of studies on LGBTQ adolescent and young adult issues focus on depression, drug abuse, suicide attempts, isolation, stigmatization, and lower academic goals. However, I would want to emphasize the potential and future of LGBTQ+ world-making in my writing and research. Like every researcher, I have my own world views. I define myself as a queer scholar. I knowingly engaged in this scholarship because I work for one of the historically marginalized communities that has no and/or limited legal, medical, or community support. I saw millions of closeted LGBTQ+ population in my home country (Bangladesh) and in the United States where they are forcefully silenced, and experiencing pain, isolation, oppression, and mental trauma. However, while reading this article, individuals who live in a racist, sexist, homophobic, Islamophobic, and sissiphobic society like me, would learn that no matter how the world treats us, it is possible to survive and succeed.

Notes on Contributor

Nur E Makbul (MA): Nur is a Ph.D. candidate and instructor of record in the School of Media and Communication at The University of Southern Mississippi. He just accepted a position as an assistant professor in the Department of Communication Arts at the University of Alabama in Huntsville, starting in the fall of 2023. Using both qualitative and quantitative methods, Nur studies the social, cultural, health, and behavioral aspects of the global LGBTQ+ population. He/They can be reached via email at nure.makbul@usm.edu


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Appendix 1


[1] Ansarullah Bangla Team (ABT) is an Al-Qaeda inspired Islamic extremist group in Bangladesh. “Pvt univ teacher gets extortion SMS from ‘Ansarullah“, Reported published in the Daily Dhaka Tribune, November 8, 2015, also see appendix.

[2]. Ahmed Rajib Haider was a Bangladeshi atheist blogger. He was murdered by militants from the Ansarullah Bangla Team on February 15, 2013, in response to remarks he made online regarding religious fundamentalism

[3] Avijit Roy, a Bangladeshi-American engineer, online activist, author, and blogger, is best known for founding the Mukto-Mona (Free-minded), an online community of bloggers for Bangladeshi atheists, humanists, rationalists, and freethinkers. On February 26, 2015, in Dhaka, Bangladesh, he was attacked with a machete by assailants who claimed to be from the Islamic militant group Ansarullah Bangla Team.

[4] Kowshik Ahmed, a secular blogger, was targeted to kill by the Islamic terrorist group Ansarullah Bangla Team.

[5] Ananta Bijoy Das, 32, was hacked to death by militants in broad daylight in Sylhet in 2015