Gay rights movement celebrates decade in Nepal

September 12th, 2010 - 1:26 pm ICT by IANS  

By Sudeshna Sarkar
Kathmandu, Sep 12 (IANS) The only country in South Asia to recognise same sex marriages, Nepal Sunday celebrates a decade of the gay rights movement pioneered by a single group amid widespread persecution.

The Blue Diamond Society (BDS), Nepal’s first gay rights organisation founded in 2001 by the country’s first openly homosexual MP Sunil Babu Pant, has been at the forefront of the sexual minorities’ right movement with such innovative campaigns as a tourism agency promising gay weddings and honeymoons in the lap of Mt Everest and an annual gay pride march in the capital.

On Sunday it celebrates its 10th birthday by holding, for the first time in the entire South Asia, the Mr Lesbian pageant as another remarkable way of spreading awareness about the diversity among the sexual minorities.

“People have this perception of homosexuals as effeminate men wearing women’s clothes,” says Pant, the recipient of several international gay rights awards. “We thought it is time to educate society about the diversity in the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community.”

Every year, Nepal hosts dozens of beauty pageants for women and now, there is a growing number of contests for men as well. About three years ago, BDS started the Miss Pink contest for transgenders - men who say they are women trapped in a male body - and the winner goes to the final leg of the contest in Thailand to represent Nepal.

“But there are also transgenders who were born female but consider themselves male,” says Pant.

“Male” transgenders started hitting the headlines from 2007 after a trainer in the Nepal Army, Bhakti Shah, was dismissed along with another woman recruit, for an alleged lesbian relationship.

BDS is helping Shah to fight her dismissal in court and get reinstated.

Like the Nepal Army, their arch foe, the opposition Maoist party has also been homophobic. Its People’s Liberation Army dismissed a combatant - now calling herself Manish - for the same reason.

This year, Ramina Hussain, a traffic constable, was suspended after her partner’s family brought a charge of kidnapping in a bid to separate the couple.

However, after intervention by BDS and the media, Hussain has been reinstated.

Assisted by donors, especially British pop singer Sir Elton John’s foundation, and the governments of Britain and Denmark, BDS is now training gays - once dismissed by Nepali society as useless and “impotent” - to stand on their own feet.

The most successful story is that of Sophie, a transgender makeup artist who won a contest sponsored by Indian cosmetic giant Lakme and is now one of the most demanded artists in Nepal’s film industry.

BDS is now also providing driving lessons and training to be security guards and journalists.

In 2008, when Nepal held an election that transformed the kingdom into a republic, the gay community also contested for the first time, supported by a minor communist party that nominated Pant to parliament.

Now, as the gay community is lobbying the house to include their rights in the new constitution, Blue Diamond is eyeing politics.

“To change laws and mindsets, we need political power,” says Pant. “Now there are openly gay and lesbian members in the major political parties.”

The most prominent of them is Bhumika, who was elected to the Nepali Congress, the largest party in the ruling coalition, about two months ago, handsomely beating her “straight” rivals.

Bhumika, a former Miss Pink who was once disowned by her family, is today a familiar face in Nepal’s social circuit, gracing magazine covers and appearing on talk shows on television.

“When I started Blue Diamond 10 years ago, it was with a lot of hesitation,” says Pant. “Nepal was a conservative society and I did not know whether it would accept us.

“Today, we are in for a pleasant surprise. Social perceptions have changed faster than legal ones and a lot of other countries in the neighbourhood now look up to us.

“Maybe in another five years we will have full equality.”

(Sudeshna Sarkar can be contacted at sudeshna.s@ians.in)

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