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Bangladesh town elects country’s first out trans mayor with stunning landslide victory

·2-min read

A trans woman has made history with her election as the mayor of a small town in Bangladesh.

Nazrul Islam Ritu, 45, won a landslide victory to become the first out trans mayor in the country – and said her election shows the growing acceptance of the Hijira community.

“The glass ceiling is breaking. It is a good sign,” she told Al Jazeera. “The victory means they really love me and they have embraced me as their own.

“I will dedicate my life to public service,” she said, adding that she will try to “eradicate corruption and uproot the drug menace” in the town of approximately 40,000 people.

Ritu was an independent candidate, garnering 9,569 votes against her political rival Nazrul Islam Sana, of the Awami League, who won 4,517 votes.

Ritu fled her rural hometown of Trilochanpur as a child, finding sanctuary at a trans commune in the Bangladeshi capital of Dhaka. She returned to the area in her late twenties and became popular in the community after helping to build two mosques and making financial donations to several local Hindu temples.

“She won it fair and square. There were no reports of violence during the election, unlike some other towns,” said Jerin, a local government administrator.

Nurul Hossain, who voted for Ritu, said: “I’m sure she can fulfil the promises she made to us because she has always been a philanthropist, helping people.”

Bangladesh is a Muslim-majority country of roughly 165 million people, in which the Hijira – trans people who don’t identify as male or female – have been officially recognised as a third gender since 2013. From 2018, Hijira were allowed to use the third gender option when registering to vote.

There are an estimated 1.5 million trans people living in Bangladesh, and many suffer harassment, violence and abuse because of their gender identity. Trans people in Bangladesh also face huge barriers to employment, with many turning to begging or sex work to survive.

However, trans rights have been gradually strengthened in recent years. Last year, the first Islamic college for trans Muslims opened in Dhaka, with 40 people enrolling on the first day.

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