Issue:  Vol. 47 / No. 49 / 7 December 2017
 

Nepal LGBT group fighting for visibility

NEWS


Sunil Pant, founder of Nepal's Blue Diamond Society. Photo: Jane Philomen Cleland
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A more visible LGBT community in Nepal is the goal of the Blue Diamond Society, which last week received the International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission's Felipa de Souza Award.

Sunil Pant, founder of the society, was in San Francisco last week to receive the award and participate in a panel called "South Asia Here and There: A Dialogue about LGBT and Human Rights" that took place May 2 at the API Wellness Center.

Paula Ettelbrick, executive director of IGLHRC, which has its headquarters in New York, moderated the discussion, which also included panelists Dechen Tsering and Sandip Roy.

Tsering is a program officer with the Global Fund for Women and manages the fund's Asia and Oceania portfolio.

Roy is an editor at Pacific News Service and host of "Upfront," the service's weekly radio program on KALW. He is also editor emeritus of Trikone magazine, which was founded in the Bay Area and serves LGBT people of South Asian descent.

Pant spoke about the activities of the Blue Diamond Society, which he founded in Nepal in 2001. Nepal is a geographically small country between India and China with an estimated population of 28 million people. The society organizes activists and health educators who focus on HIV prevention and outreach education. It also conducts the only HIV prevention and education program in Nepal that targets men who have sex with men. Society staff run a weekly clinic that offers free HIV and STD checkups and treatment as well as a social support group, a weekly film show, and seven drop-in centers around the country.

While homosexuality is not against the law in Nepal, there exists no open LGBT community, and the military and government often attack, torture, and interrogate LGBT people or people they suspect to be LGBT. The country is in the midst of overhauling its constitution after the resignation of King Gyanendra, and Pant said the society is working with the new government to ensure that the constitution protects the rights of sexual minorities.

"The [LGBT rights] movement has become national now, particularly after last year's People's Movement, where BDS played a crucial role and came out into the streets to actively participate and fight for democracy for everyone in Nepal," said Pant. "BDS was one of the first groups that publicly opposed the king's code of conduct to control civil society."

Pant shared stories of individual struggles LGBT people have faced in Nepal in the last few years, including the attack of one of BDS' outreach educators and the arrest of 39 members of BDS in August 2004. During that same month, one cross-dressing man was raped and had his throat and fingers slashed, Pant said. One man reportedly suffocated his 13-year-old son when he found out his son was visiting one of BDS' drop-in centers. Local activists alerted the police, who discovered that the father lied about how his son had died. The father was arrested, but later released after his son's medical report was reportedly altered.

"Many field staff of BDS are threatened not to conduct HIV/AIDS awareness raising and safer sex education program; they are also frequently arrested by police for a few hours or overnight and often beaten or blackmailed whenever they are found carrying condoms," said Pant. "They are accused of promoting homosexuality, unnatural behavior, etc."

Roy spoke of the 20th anniversary of Trikone , and the increased visibility of LGBT people in South Asia since the magazine's inception. When the first issues were released, many interviewees did not want their pictures to appear in the magazine, and the 20th anniversary issue includes pictures of LGBT Asians from all over the world.

"If you go and look at media in South Asia you will see so much more about gay and lesbian issues pertaining to the region," said Roy. "Several years ago I did an interview with Sunil for Trikone about Blue Diamond Society and at the end of the interview I asked him, 'Can I take a picture?' and I was kind of hesitant because you always feel like you're making somebody vulnerable."

Pant agreed to the picture, and it was an amazing moment for Roy because "I realized it had become so natural in some ways to realize that in order to make change you have to first become visible."

"It is immensely courageous. It is one thing to march in the gay Pride Parade in San Francisco when the mayor of the city is leading the way," said Roy. "It's quite another thing to do it in Calcutta or Nepal and that requires a really special kind of courage that I think many of us often forget when we live here."






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