1 - 7 August 2014 #718

Hidden in plain view

Even if gay marriage is legalised, cultural norms and values haven’t kept pace with the amendments.
Ayesha Shakya

Bikram Rai
Although Nepal is considered to be one of the most liberal countries for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) in South Asia, there are signs of reversal and a conservative backlash in government and the legislature.

Even if gay marriage is legalised, for example, cultural norms and values haven’t kept pace with the amendments. Progress in laws is different from the reality of everyday life of gay, transgender and bisexual citizens.

“One’s masculinity or femininity is defined by the family. In a conservative society with traditional views on marriage and family structure, changing people’s attitude is very difficult,” said Bharat Man Shrestha, LGBT Human Rights Officer with the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP)

Most LGBTs do not come out for fear of being ostracised or cut off by their close friends and family. Shrestha now openly identifies himself as gay, but initially struggled with accepting his sexuality and only came to accept it after exposure to the community and by getting involved directly with the issue.

“I used to think about the reaction from my family and society first. What would they say? But eventually I realised that I was never going to change and that the best thing would be to accept myself,” he added. Although out to his close friends and selected family members, he still has not told his parents.

Others have told their parents, but kept it from their extended family. When *Sahil came out to his parents, they were supportive, but his mother suggested he keep his sexuality a secret from the rest of the family for the time being.

“She suggested that I come out only after having done something outstanding in the LGBT field,” he explained. “That way relatives and extended family members would feel a sense of accomplishment and accept it. At the end of the day, you need to save face in Nepal.”

With lobbying and activism by Blue Diamond Society and Mitini, there is more awareness now about LGBT rights. The Gay Pride Parade in Gai Jatra is an accepted annual feature. Sexuality and gender diversity have been included in the school curriculum, and even the immigration cards have a box for ‘Other’ under Gender. Projects such as Being LGBT in Asia organised by the UNDP and the USAID encourages more dialogue to highlight the rights of gender minorities in Asia.

However, the consequences of such awareness is not always positive. “Awareness cannot be equated with acceptance,” explained American researcher Daniel Coyle, who works on sexuality and gender in Nepal. “As awareness increases, there is a chance that you might see more violence against LGBTs.”

There is evidence that lesbians face the most severe form of discrimination among gender minorities in Nepal, mainly because they are women. From sexual harassment to societal pressures to conform, lesbians have to deal with being a woman first and handle the discrimination directed at them.

Some names have been changed

Read also:

Nothing about us, without us, Sunil Babu Pant

Equality in paper at least, Basil Edward Teo

Out of the closet and proud of it

Between taboo and tolerance

Queering the pitch, Mallika Aryal

A proud woman, Bhumika Shrestha