Crossposted from the site of International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission.This report appeared in ilghrc.org on 05/21/2009
The Nepalese government used to consider lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) people to be ‘unnatural’ and ‘perverted.’ Human rights for these individuals were just a distant dream. But ever since the Maoist revolutionaries won the 10-year war against the state to end the monarchy, LGBT activists have found a possible ally.
Until around a year ago, the ruling Maoist party held the same perception of homosexuality as the monarchy did. However, recent actions suggest that the ruling government has significantly changed its position. Evidence of this include: the appointment of Blue Diamond Society (BDS) President Sunil Pant to the Constituent Assembly; Prime Minister Pushpa Dahal Prachandra’s efforts to instruct both the Foreign Ministry and Nepal’s Ambassador to the UN to support a statement at the UN General Assembly recognizing human rights violations based on sexual orientation and gender identity; and the recent Supreme Court ruling that ensured equal rights for sexual minorities, including the right to same-sex marriage.
Sunil Pant stressed that the court recognized gays as “natural people” and ordered the government to end all discrimination against LGBT individuals by formulating appropriate laws and amending existing laws to ensure rights for LGBT individuals. “Nepal has recognized the third gender as a separate gender. Passports and national identification cards have third gender mentioned. Understanding that the LGBT community is a huge vote bank, political parties in Nepal include our needs in their manifestos,” he said.
In this very promising climate, Nepalese lesbians, especially those from remote provinces, and lesbians from neighboring Southeast Asian countries like India, Sri Lanka and Pakistan, are becoming increasingly optimistic that Nepal is a place where they can be safe, free from discrimination and violence.
Last April, two teenage lesbians from the city of Kolkata, India fled to Nepal and sought help from BDS. They left Kolkata because their families opposed their lesbian relationship and chose to go to Nepal after hearing that same sex-marriage had been legalized in that country. The couple was given a civic ceremony organized by BDS because the government has not yet passed legislation legalizing same-sex marriage in spite of the court’s ruling.
Dil Kumari Buduja, BDS coordinator for the lesbian community, has observed the rise of lesbian marriages and lesbian support groups in other provinces of Nepal and has estimated that there are about 1,200 lesbians who are out of the closet while gay men and transgender people probably number more than 200,000. At present there are five lesbian support groups: Saino Nepal in Chitwan, Sangini Nepal in Birgunj Town, Nawalo Srijana in Nepalgunj, Sahara Samaj in Itahari, and another one that will begin work soon in Kathmandu.
Since becoming aware of their human rights, lesbians have been using the courts to fight discrimination. Two years ago, Nepal’s Maoist People’s Liberation Army (PLA) fired Manish Yadav, 21, of Saptari district, and Rita Yadav, 20, of Siraha district for being lesbians. Manish retaliated by taking the army to court and demanding to be reinstated. Progress has also been made in other areas: according to Pinky (Rajiv) Gurung, BDS gay rights activist, gays are no longer the targets of police brutality and discrimination.
Despite significant gains for LGBT rights, social acceptance from civil society is not guaranteed. “Things have changed a lot in the last one year but we still have a long way to go,” says Pant. “We now have before us the challenge of not only bringing about amendments to existing laws, but also changing attitudes in our society,” argues Gurung. Badri credits the growing clout of LGBT communities in Nepal to the fact that they work as a unified community compared to the situation in other developing nations where LGBTs are fragmented: “In Nepal, all of us are fighting together. And that’s our strength.”