May 19, 2022
KATHMANDU – An expansive hall—with high ceilings and white walls—was adorned with vibrantly coloured drapes on Tuesday.
But the colours weren’t just red, orange, blue or purple.
The colourful drapes representing diverse sexual orientations, gender identities, gender expressions and sex characteristics brought the white walls of a posh banquet hall in Gairidhara to life to mark the International Day Against Homophobia, Transphobia and Biphobia.
May 17 is an annual celebration worldwide to draw attention to persistent violence and discrimination faced by the queer community. The day marks the historic decision by the World Health Organisation in 1990 when the UN health body declassified homosexuality as a mental disorder.
To mark the day, Mitini Nepal, a women-led organisation that advocates for the rights and dignity of women with lesbian, gay and transgender identities, hosted an event chaired by Vice-President Nanda Kishor Pun and commissioners of various national commissions.
Speaking at the event attended by queer individuals and gender activists, Pun laid out the constitutionally guaranteed rights for queer individuals in Nepal and the country’s commitments to sustainable development goals (SDGs) that also ensures the rights of queer individuals.
“Nepal has committed to guaranteeing the rights of gender and sexual minorities both in its constitution and SDG goals. A democratic country can only develop when everyone can make use of these written laws,” said Pun, who also launched the book published by Mitini Nepal at the event.
‘Our Bodies, Our Lives, Our Rights’ is an anthology of stories of seven queer individuals celebrating queer community members across Nepal.
Highlighting that this was the first time any high-level leadership had recognised queer individuals and their rights in public, emcee Aarti Chataut also seized the moment to describe it as a historic moment for the queer community.
“For the first time, we have witnessed a national leader in an official position speak on the rights of gender and sexual minorities,” said Chataut.
“This is a huge moment for all of us here.”
Issues of queer individuals have been long sidelined and ignored in Nepal while their miseries continue and are often unreported.
“LGBTQI+ people are reporting an elevated risk of domestic and family violence, increased social isolation and anxiety, and difficulties in accessing crucial sexual and reproductive health rights,” said Laxmi Ghalan, founding member of Mitini Nepal.
While Tuesday’s event saw high-level officials and members of the audience speak and recognise the fundamental rights of the community, the realities of the community are far from satisfactory.
“Issues and even identity of gender and sexual minorities have been swept under the rug for long. But today, we even see parents who have happily accepted their children the way they are. That is a huge leap,” said Kamala Kumari Parajuli, the chair of the National Women’s Commission.
Mahendra Man Gurung, chief information commissioner at the National Information Commission, and Rita Thapa, women’s rights activist, who also spoke at the event, reiterated their commitments and contributions to the queer community.
While political change might be adopted overnight by writing and publishing it on papers, the most challenging thing is changing the mindset, according to officials who addressed the event.
Chataut also took time to focus on two exclusionary policies—marriage inequality and lack of reservation for queer folks—that have further marginalised LGBTQI+ community members at the national level, thereby impacting their lives.
“Under the reservation policy for civil servants, there are no reservations for sexual and gender minorities. Why are they the only groups that have been excluded?” Chautat asked.
Addressing such exclusionary policies, Ram Krishna Timalsena, chair of the National Inclusion Commission, said change is not possible without changing the mindset of the public at large and their attitude towards gender minorities.
“Knowledge and skills are easy to attain. You can train people, but that isn’t sufficient,” said Timalsena, who also stressed on the need for a Civil Partnership Act, given the changing social norms around partnership, marriage, property and privacy.
“People’s mentality and attitude have to be changed.”