Anti-gay bias evicts dying AIDS patients in Nepal

March 21st, 2008 - 11:23 am ICT by admin  

By Sudeshna Sarkar
Kathmandu, March 21 (IANS) Twelve men diagnosed with AIDS, four of whom are terminally ill and unable to walk, were thrown out and the AIDS hospice and care centre run for them shut down in Nepal due to the prevailing anti-gay bias, without any human rights group intervening on their behalf. Just as Nepal’s sexual minorities were celebrating the community’s first participation in a national election as contestants, the AIDS hospice run in Kathmandu for homosexuals by Nepal’s pioneer gay rights organisation was closed down Thursday night by the landlord after pressure from the neighbours.

The hospice, sponsored by the Elton John Foundation and started by the British pop icon to fight AIDS worldwide, was run by Blue Diamond Society, Nepal’s spearheading gay rights organisation. The group is also funding 12 members from the sexual minorities to contest the crucial April 10 election.

“Since the hospice was started two-and-a-half years ago, we were forced to move it four times,” said Sunil Pant, founder of the society and a poll contestant himself.

“Though we are prompt in paying the rent, the landlord comes under pressure from his neighbours to throw us out once it becomes known that there are AIDS patients in the hospice.”

On Thursday, the eve of Holi celebrations in Nepal, the society’s members were busy moving x-ray machines, ambulances and the patients to its own office, where the main hall was converted into an emergency hospital.

Four of the patients are unable to walk on their own and had to be carried.

They are aged between 25 and 40 years and are mostly from the Terai plains along the India-Nepal border, where the incidence of HIV/AIDS is high due to the migration of thousands of Nepalis every year to neighbouring towns of India in search of work.

The migrants are mostly little-educated, blue-collar workers who are single or leave their families behind and end up visiting Indian brothels during their long, lonely and difficult sojourn.

The closure of the hospice comes at a time Nepal’s growing gay rights movement has caught the eye of the world as well as its own political parties.

For the first time in Nepal’s history, 12 gays, lesbians and eunuchs are in the poll fray, with six of them having been fielded by a minor communist party.

Two of the biggest parties in the country, Prime Minister Girija Prasad Koirala’s Nepali Congress as well as the Maoists, addressed the hitherto excluded community in their election manifestos for the first time, pledging to address their problems.

The gay rights movement got a shot in the arm last year after Nepal’s Supreme Court recognised sexual minorities as “natural persons” and ordered the government to recognise them as the third gender.

But despite the court asking the state to end the discrimination against gays, the community is still stigmatised.

Last year, senior government officials and human rights workers in far western Nepal argued that homosexuals were perverts and any initiative to spread awareness about HIV/AIDS among the community was tantamount to “polluting” society.

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