Nepal gets its first gay lawmaker

May 1st, 2008 - 2:26 pm ICT by admin  

Kathmandu, May 1 (IANS) A 35-year-old gay rights activist, who last year won an award considered the Gay Nobel, has become Nepal’s first homosexual lawmaker, marking a social revolution in the traditional Hindu-majority country. Sunil Babu Pant, a Belarus-educated computer engineer, will make history when he is sworn in as a representative of the 601-member constituent assembly elected after a historic poll in April.

“It is a great honour and a great responsibility,” Pant told IANS after a minor Left party, the Communist Party of Nepal-United (CPN-U), decided Wednesday night to send Pant to the assembly as their representative.

On April 10, as Nepal held a historic election to decide the fate of its 239-year-old monarchy, the CPN-U quietly contributed to a social revolution, becoming the only party to support 12 members of the sexual minorities. The sexual minorities for the first time in Nepal’s history contested the election independently or as CPN-U nominees.

The unusual candidates included two eunuchs who supported themselves by singing and dancing at weddings, homosexuals, lesbians and transgenders.

Although none of the CPN-U nominees won, the Left party received a shot in the arm in the second phase of the complicated election system when voting under proportional representation gave the party an unexpected five seats in the assembly.

“The central committee of the party met Wednesday and decided to nominate Pant among the five members,” CPN-U leader Ganesh Shah told IANS.

“In the past, I had raised the sexual minorities’ issues in parliament and taken part in their street march for rights. Now the community will be able to raise its own voice.”

Six years ago, Pant began ushering in a quiet revolution when he founded the Blue Diamond Society, the first gay rights organisation in Nepal.

Formed as a platform to raise awareness about the consequences of unsafe sex and syringe-sharing, the society has grown over the years, providing jobs and training to gays, running a hospice for dying AIDS patients and operating a beauty salon run by members of the community.

It also organised the first public same-sex marriage in Nepal and spearheaded a movement to acquire citizenship for transgenders under their own sexual identity.

The gay rights movement received a boost last year when Nepal’s Supreme Court ruled that gays were “natural” people who should be protected by the state against discrimination.

Although the apex court ordered the government to enact laws for the protection of gay rights, the Girija Prasad Koirala government, preoccupied with its own survival, has not been able to implement the order.

Pant’s entry into the constituent assembly, which has been mandated to draft a new, pro-people constitution in two years, is expected to greatly benefit the gay rights movement.

With the number of sexual minorities estimated to be more than 50,000, Nepal’s political parties are now realising their importance as a vote bank.

For the first time, the ruling Nepali Congress party pledged to uphold gay rights in its election manifesto while the Maoists, who emerged as the largest party after the April 10 election, have adopted a more tolerant stance towards them.

Till last year, Maoist cadres intimidated and hunted out sexual minorities, asking landlords not to accept them as tenants and warning gays not to “pollute” society.

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