Gender Equality : A movement of Change

We are geared towards blending into this modern world although we have adapted a drastic change in our lifestyle but there is much to change in our thinking. 
We live in a society drowned by modernization but our thoughts are still bounded by the walls of traditional belief. And when it comes to Gender our society has a narrative of binary – male and female which of course closes the door for the LGBTI people regarding their rights and social status. Every now and then when we come across a third gender person a negative thought is sure to pop up in our heads. Do they really deserve to be discriminated? Can’t they have a normal life like you and me? If you take a short walk in Thamel at night, you will surely come across some third gender prostitutes who will do almost anything to impress their clients. Some may point out that it’s on their character but the bitter truth is that they are forced to make prostitution their profession as neither society nor government shows any responsibility towards them.  
The term LGBTI represents lesbian, gay, bi-sexual, transgender and intersexual. While observing sexuality our society has a narrow approach, anyone who is out of the circle of heterosexual is questioned in various ways. Although, Nepal is considered as a pioneer amongst the Asian countries in matters of LGBTI rights, this issue has been a hard subject for the society to digest. People who fall under the category of LGB may have some difficulties in their daily lives but the main burden of inequality falls on the Transgender and Intersexual. The society where we spend our daily lives is bounded by strong chains of mis-concept that anyone who is slightly different than normal understanding finds it hard to adjust in it. Being different is not a flaw but a uniqueness that a person bears. Though some people have accepted this fact, many are still brain washed by the ideology which the society has injected in their heads.

Blue Diamond Society: An initiation towards equality Established in the year 2001 Blue Diamond Society is an organization geared towards delivering equal rights to sexual minorities as well as providing help to the third gender people regarding their gender identification and various other factors. This organization was first founded by Sunil Babu Pant who is the first gay member of the Parliament. Throughout the years Blue Diamond Society has been constantly focusing on establishing a proper identity of LGBTI people and working for the sexual minorities in a country which still disapproves sexual behavior other than heterosexual. For years third gender people have been discriminated from their basic rights, they have been beaten, raped, tortured, restricted from getting medical services and even kicked out of the family and school. Blue Diamond Society is an organization working for all these sexual minorities regarding their human rights and equal status in the society. The hard work done by the Blue Diamond society has proved to be fruitful for LGBTI people. After the establishment of Blue Diamond Society there has been a drastic change in the lifestyle of LGBTI community as the social harassment has decreased to a certain level in the past decade. Most LGBTI people who used to hide in the shadows are now likely to come out to live a normal life.

According to research, eight to ten percentage of our total population falls under the criteria of LGBTI who have been constantly guided by Blue Diamond society. Blue diamond society has provided help to more than thirty five thousand LGBTI people and conducted motivational and informative programs for them. Some of the factors that Blue Diamond Society has been focusing are health promotion for sexual minorities psycho-social counseling raising awareness of HIV/AIDS, promoting human rights and sexual health, documenting human right violations and violated, legal counseling and litigation services to the victims and families, legal and constitutional campaign, lobbying for policy change, advocacy and media campaign, income generation activities to poor LGBTI/MSM.

Due to the efforts of Blue Diamond Society, Nepal has been recognized as the most active country in Asia towards the issues of LGBTI.

History of third gender.

Plunging back to the history of Third Gender it takes us way back into the era of sticks and stones. Transgender characters are also portrayed in our holy books including “Gita” and “Ramayan”. Sanskrit justifies the existence of third gender people from primitive eras. Back then the gender of people were categorized in three forms “Nar” meaning male, Nari (female) and Kichak which represents the third gender. All the statements which state that being a homosexual is crime is nothing but manmade philosophy which they themselves have conveyed in the society. Several same sex marriages have been performed despite the absence of any official law. These symbolic marriages are not recognized by the state and have no legal validity within Nepal.

“No one should be forced to be someone they’re not. Everyone should be valued for their authentic, true self -- who they are -- regardless of the gender with which they identify, or who they love.”- Amanda Simpson, Executive Director of U.S. Army Office of Energy Initiatives

Bhumika Shrestha
Bhumika Shrestha, the president of Blue Diamond Society, is a name that doesn’t need introduction. She was crowned Miss Pink 2007 and is also a general convention member fighting for the rights of LGBTI.  As her name reflects, Bhumika has been a major source of inspiration for all Trans gender people residing in Nepal. The gestures she portrays may remind us of a fragile lady, but inside she is a strong personality who has been continuously supporting the   LGBTI community regarding their human rights. We had a small tea talk with Bhumika regarding the issue of LGBTI and what she has to say on the current scenario of our society.

When did you first get involved in BDS?
I got involved in BDS at the end of 2003, I met the president of BDS Pinky Gurung at a bus station in Ratnapark. Firstly when she tried to approach me I ran away from her thinking she was crazy. But when I met her again she told me she had been watching me for a long time and wanted to help me regarding my problems. At the time, I was in dilemma regarding my gender, I knew biologically my feeling didn’t match my gender which made me feel  I was the only one to be like this. Later she clarified the facts that I was really confused on and advised me to visit BDS. On my first visit to BDS I was really shocked to see all the LGBTI people. After that I actively started to participate in the programs conducted by BDS.

When it comes to sexuality our society constricts the view and limits the talk on the issue, do you think this should be an open topic?
Speaking of sexuality our society has a very narrow point of view. In this male dominant scenario where even the females are restricted from their basic rights, LGBTI issue is an out of the box topic for which the society needs time. In our society a few people know about sexuality and those who understand it have a constricted view. When it comes to sexuality our society is very conservative most people state that we have copied this lifestyle from the western culture which is a totally wrong concept. Thus sexuality must be an open topic for all so people can know more about it.

What kind of problems do you think LGBTI people can face in the upcoming future and the combat plans that you are planning?
Every now and then we are facing problems from family, society and the nation. There is lack of appropriate environment for LGBTI  and most of us have to hide in shade and are unable to live a normal life due to fear of family and society. In the past years there have been few changes in our society, if we look back in the year 2001 there was no hope for transgender people to live freely as they are doing now. For further change, society and the nation should acknowledge our problem. The initiative should start from family because the society and nation will defiantly have some objection. 

Let’s talk about human rights and government, do you think that the government has any distinct plan for LGBTI community?
Frankly speaking the government is silent in this topic. In 2006, the Supreme Court issued a plan regarding LGBTI but it was implemented on the year 2013. From this, we can know the actual pace of the government. But there are certain factors on which the government has been supportive. Each year they separate budget for us and also the municipality is supporting us regarding basic funds. From my side, I would love to see the government make an informative advertisement for the LGBTI community in the near future like they do for domestic violence and child labor. But the one thing I am happy about is that in such a short span of time Nepal has progressed so much in the sector of LGBTI.

Do you believe that our society acquires the total medical knowledge regarding the health issue of LGBTI, if not what are the factors that are holding us back from getting proper medical knowledge on this issue?
No, most people are unaware of this topic and even the doctors don’t have adequate knowledge regarding the medical issues of LGBTI. One of the recent case of MSM (male sex with male), a friend of mine was infected with a sexually transmitted disease, as he visited the hospital and informed the doctor about his problem, the concerned doctor immediately forwarded him to mental ward. From this event you can probably imagine the condition of health and safety in our country for LGBTI community. The main reason that’s holding us back is our thinking, if we can change this I think nothing can hold us back from getting adequate medical information.

How do you think we can create gender equality in our society?
Our society has taken a huge leap towards gender equality. If we look back a couple of decades, male children were sent to boarding schools where as females were sent to normal government schools. This scenario has totally changed in today’s modern society. Most people today believe in gender equality among male and female but the same thing has not been applied on LGBTI community. For LGBTI cases the initiation should start from the family, if the family accepts this fact, the society will defiantly accept it. Besides this our community is running behind the culture which was established centuries ago, I don’t mean that this is wrong but people also have to touch the concept of modernization.

Do you want to convey any message to the general public?
If you can, support us and if you can’t, please don’t go against us.

Law for LGBTI in Nepal.
The success of the April 2006 popular uprising against Monarchy was a momentous event for the sexual and gender minorities. This was mainly so because it carried a promising change in what was to become a new Nepal. There was greater openness to new ideas and attitudes, the immediate aftermath of the 2006 peoples movement did lead to a number of development that caused a reason to hope for a better future.  Most significant was the Supreme Court’s decision on 21st of December 2007 instructing the government to amend existing laws that discriminated against the country’s sexual and gender minorities.  In particular the court also accorded reorganization to them as third gender and not to be forced to categorize them as male or female against their wishes.  A third gender soon became the first person to receive citizenship that proudly denoted the third gender status. Due to hard work of sexual minorities and many year of advocacy in a highly traditional country like Nepal that achievement such as Supreme Court decision was even possible. After the act of Supreme Court the major challenge fell into the hands of government bodies, although after the order of Supreme Court there was a huge relief to LGBTI people still there are numerous obstacles that they are tackling in current scenario. The main problem that is currently a big problem for LGBTI people is the absence of law of same sex marriage in Nepal. There has been no progress to date on legalizing same sex marriage since the Supreme Court verdict (2007). A draft same-sex marriage report has been produced under the leadership of Ministry of Health and Population but has not been endorsed or shared with the public.
Several same sex marriages have been performed despite the absence of any official law. These
Symbolic marriages are not recognized by the state and have no legal validity within Nepal.

Medical status of LGBT
Lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) individuals and individuals living with HIV/AIDS have long faced barriers to obtaining necessary health care. LGBT individuals have higher rates of un-insurance than their heterosexual counterparts, experience worse health outcomes, and often face discrimination in health care settings.  Additionally, LGBT individuals are at a higher risk for mental illness, cancer, and other diseases.  These disparities are exacerbated when health care providers refuse to provide needed care because of personal or religious beliefs. Refusals to provide medically appropriate care can have serious emotional, physical, and financial consequences for patients. Studies have found LGBT individuals may be refused care or treated in a discriminatory manner because of their sexual orientation, gender identity, or HIV status. LGBT people here in Nepal stated that health care professionals have used harsh language towards them, refused to touch them or used excessive precaution, or blamed the individuals for their health status.  The worst scenario in our country is that many of the health professionals don’t know the medical fact about LGBTI.

“LGBTI community for long have been facing problems related to anxiety, depression and substance abuse because of the stigma and discrimination that they face from the society” says DR. Deep Malla

KUSUM BISTA
I would probably state that BDS is the reason behind my smile. They looked at me from a brighter side and gave me a helping hand towards living a normal life.

 I am a new comer to the BDS family. BDS gave me the opportunity to learn new things related to third gender. They helped me regarding my rights, medical issues and laws related to third gender. From my early age I wanted to become a doctor but because of some issues I couldn’t fulfill my dream. With BDS, I have learnt to live a normal life and I am happy with that.

AKANCHYA SHRESTHA
It took me a while to discover that I was different. I was born as a male but from my early age I loved to get involved in the activities of a female. I loved cooking, putting on makeup and watching actresses in glamorous dresses on T.V. I loved doing all these activities but they had a price to pay. I had to bear all the tortures of the society from my early life. In, school I had a big mental pressure as all of my friends used to make fun of me and laugh at me, even the teachers could not understand the state of my mind. I joined BDS in the end of year 2012. After joining BDS, I got precious help regarding my gender identification and various other factors that I had to face in my daily life. Besides that, BDS aided me regarding my medical knowledge and rights related to third gender. Currently, I am working as a receptionist and I must say that it’s a better life I am leading.

 

ANONYMOUS
It was in my teenage when I discovered that I was attracted towards a female. While all of my friends were vasting in love of their boyfriends I fell head over heels for a female classmate of mine.We were very happy with each other but this was the fact that our society couldn’t digest. When my parents discovered this fact they couldn’t bear it and expressed their dissatisfaction in the form of physical and mental torture. Most people from my village even acknowledged that I was sick. Firstly, I also felt the same that there must be something wrong with me. My parents forcefully tried to get me married, so without thinking of the consequences we ran from the village and came to Kathmandu. The initial days were difficult as we didn’t have enough money with us, but later I met a friend from my village who suggested me to visit BDS. BDS firstly provided us with the fund to open a stationary shop along with shelter at BDS Shelter Home. For a year we were engaged in the stationary and later, we found better jobs. Currently I am a hotline operator and my partner works in the reception at BDS.

For more information and help be free to contact BDS (Blue Diamond society)
http://www.bds.org.np/
Address: 344 Shiva Bhakta Marga, Khursanitar, Lazimpat -2
Postal Code: 5119
City: Kathmandu    
Country: Nepal
Telephone: +977 1 4443350
Fax: +977 1 4438600
Email: info@bds.org.np

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