When he set up the Blue Diamond Society, Sunil Babu Pant thought gays were rare in Nepal, and that they would be as rare as the blue gems. Two years later he has discovered they are as common as left-handed people. Since 2001, almost 10,000 Nepalis have contacted Blue Diamond in Kathmandu alone and through its network, an even greater number have come out of the closet in other towns.
"We realised we could not afford to wait for others to speak for us. If we were to end the continuous marginalisation that we faced, we had to be prepared to struggle for our own rights and concerns," says Pant. Their efforts are already paying off-the national strategy against HIV/AIDS recently recognised men havng sex with men (MSM) as a vulnerable group in Nepal. And only last week senior police officers pledged to sensitise the police force about the issue. It's a promise the Blue Diamond Society hopes will end police brutality and exploitation of the Nepali gay community.
Sunil is a computer professional who trained in the former Soviet Union, and worked in Japan and Hong Kong. After returning home to Gorkha he resigned from his technical job and turned to social service. He worked with destitute women, but it was when he moved to Kathmandu and came in touch with the underground gay community that his idea for an organisation for homosexuals was born.
The Blue Diamond Society has had to struggle against taboos and mores. The first attempt at registering the society was denied because the officials objected to the very concept of homosexuality. Pant was pressurised to change the organisation's objective into "correcting homosexual behaviour" but finally found a loophole that allowed him to work in the area of male health. That was the easy part. He was then faced with the challenge of coaxing MSMs to join the society because they were afraid of being targetted by homophobes.
The society estimates that about 95 percent of MSMs are forced into heterosexual marriages by their families who don't want scandals. The homosexuals suffer from depression, low self-esteem and social ostracisation. "We are forced to lead a split life-different on the inside from what we show on the outside," he says. Pant's own family and friends have been "incredibly" supportive of his work, but he knows this is rare. The society slowly gained their trust over the years.
This Friday, they are holding a fashion show and beauty pageant. Participants are metas and tas (those who assume female roles and their male partners) who are intent on carving out a social space for themselves. Pant's other concern is the plight of women who are attracted to members of their own sex.
He wonders, "If Nepali men who enjoy greater freedom, decision making and mobility are tormented so much for their sexual preferences, how much more horrendous the situation must be for women!"