In a society where arranged marriages are commonplace, men hold hands, the show of affection (between people of opposite sex) in public is frowned upon and transvestites are not in plain sight (at least not to the extent that they are in places like Thailand), it’s hard to asses, as a tourist, where Nepal stands with regards to LGBTI (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender and Intersex) rights.
Having said that, if you’re the kind of person that pays attention to detail, you might notice upon arrival at the airport that the immigration form includes the following options: male/female/other, when it comes to stating your sex.
For us, that was our first clue and one that had us wanting to know more.
It didn’t take much digging to find out that the Blue Diamond Society was the place to go to get all our questions answered, and after a quick phone call, we managed to make an appointment with one of the activists working there.
As we step inside the large semi-hidden building, Sushila, a 29-year-old transgender woman meets us with a big smile and as we climb the steps she explains that she has been openly transgender since 2007 and that although her family had a hard time accepting it at first, they have now warmed to the idea.
“Changing the views of society is difficult and often slow” she says referring to the Society’s beginnings in 2001. “At first, no one wanted to come so we decided to go to Ratna Bus Park to recruit people. After insisting for several days, we eventually managed to gather a group of 6 people…and that is how it all began”. Sitting in the gigantic meeting room, it’s hard to believe that in only 15 years the Blue Diamond Society has grown to having over 800 full-time staff spread across 32 cities in Nepal, and this was the first of many surprising discoveries that we made that day.
Founded by Sunil Babu Pant, the first gay legislator in Nepal’s history, one of the major accomplishments he made along with fellow human rights activists was to get Nepal’s Supreme Court to order the government to repeal all laws that explicitly discriminate against members of the LGBT community. But that’s not all…
In September 2015, after lengthy deliberation, several articles mentioning LGBTI rights in the country’s new constitution were approved by Parliament making Nepal one of the most progressive countries not only in South Asia, but globally as well. And coming from a country like Spain, where gays were already openly accepted in some places in the 70’s and marriage has been legal since 2004, I can tell you that we are still far from including anything similar to that in our own constitution. BRAVO Nepal!
So how do all these achievements translate into daily society? Well, as Sushila rightly said, these things take time. Some Transgender people continue to suffer verbal and physical abuse and are excluded from the workforce and/or their families. As a result, they turn to prostitution as a way of making a living. Others however, have found jobs as make-up artists, models, tour guides… “it’s actually easier to be transgender than to be gay in Nepal” Sushila affirms.
Well, if you think about it, there is a weird kind of logic behind it. Being transgender is independent of sexual orientation and therefore male/female relations can still exist, whereas being gay or lesbian is not only “seen as unnatural, but also considered an influence from the west”. Another surprising discovery considering that in most of Europe views are the other way around coupled with the fact that same-sex sexual activity has actually been legal in Nepal since 2007.
There is still work to do, but the good news is that the Nepal Tourism Board has its eye on the LGBTI community and is working towards making Nepal an LGBTI-friendly destination. Several tour operators are already offering packages which include marriage, trekking etc especially for the Gay community and hotels such as HOTEL HOLY HIMALAYA, FIND A ROOM WITH MISTER BNB and HYATT REGENCY KATHMANDU are all set on making this minority feel welcome in their country.