On Monday August 12th, the Government of Russia confirmed that athletes at the 2014 Winter Olympics will be arrested if they speak about LGBT rights while on Russian soil.
In response to this, some athletes are choosing to stay in the closet. Others are boycotting The Olympics. While others have decided to risk jail in order to be vocal on LGBT rights.
Every gay athlete going to Russia has this decision to make: do they advance their careers or risk it all and stand for what they believe in? I never thought I could empathize with this struggle.
That is until now.
I may not be an Olympic athlete - or any athlete at all - but I’ve been invited to what I consider to be the Olympics of ideas: the chance to give a TED talk (at a TEDx event).
The beauty of a TED talk is that, instead of a podium with gold, silver, and bronze, each idea is judged by how they inspire others and how these "Ideas Worth Spreading" are shared.
The TED talk I was invited to speak at has the theme of "Problems as Catalysts". As described in the email I received from the TEDx committee:
"Most of the innovative ideas and solutions might have triggered when we fall into troubles! Often struggles push us forward to think about the innovations. Overcoming the hurdles becomes our challenge that acts as a catalyst for innovations."
When I read this description, I knew in my heart of hearts there was one and only one talk I could give.
In 2012, I was forced to come out as gay. I was forced because if I did not my ex-boyfriend (a boyfriend who hit me but never kissed me, swore at me but never said he loved me, who dumped me many times but never truly ever kept me) threatened to out me.
Since then, I have gone through a living hell. I receive hate from fellow Muslims. I’ve been estranged from family. My father keeps pushing for an arranged (heterosexual marriage). I live on the kindness of strangers for shelter and food. I cry everyday.
But in the pain of this hardship, I am blessed. I am blessed to escape the pressures and struggles that many countless fellow LGBT Bangladeshis face - struggles which sometimes lead to suicide. I am blessed by my friends, my third culture background, and the fact I wasn’t born poor.
I knew shortly after I came out that I would honor this blessing by living a true, honest, and transparent life. And that I would always speak to advance the cause of those in similar (but less blessed) situations.
Your invitation to speak at TED comes with a price. I can speak. I can even mention I’m gay. But, like the athletes preparing to go to Russia for next year’s Olympics, I am forbidden to speak about "The LGBT issue".
I am told this is because such a talk “doesn’t fit” with the TEDx Conference. I find this puzzling as one of the speakers will be giving a talk about animal rights. I wish I could say something witty about that… but I’m just hurt by this fact.
I realize that giving a TED talk could bring me further credibility and even more attention to the charity work that I do. I also realize that making a fuss about this makes it less likely of being welcome by the TED or TEDx community for future events and opportunities.
Much like the problem faced by gay Olympic athletes: You’re asking me to choose between advancing my career and whether or not I stand for what I believe in.
It is for that reason I am asking the TEDx Committee to reconsider their decision. If this is not possible than, with a heavy heart, I respectfully decline the invitation to give a TED talk. I cannot in good conscience agree to anything else.
We live but one life and we’re given but one heart. I didn’t choose to be gay, I just choose to listen to my heart. I think the struggles of those who are gay in places like Bangladesh - and what we can do about it - is an idea worth spreading.
And I hope the TEDx Committee sees that too.