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When it comes to LGBTIQ rights, Nepal is one of the most progressive countries in Asia. It still has a long way to go. In 2011, Nepal was the first country in the world to include a third gender on its federal census. In 2015, Nepal became the tenth country in the world, and the first country in Asia, to specifically protect the rights of LGBTIQ people in its constitution.

Nepal’s constitution explicitly references the rights of LGBTIQ people and protects them from discrimination. The constitution not only recognises that all citizens, including gender and sexual minorities, should be equal before the law (Article 18), gender and sexual minorities are explicitly included as a group that have the right to participate in public services (Article 42) and citizens also have the right to choose their preferred gender identity on their citizenship document as either male, female, or other (Article 12). The ratification of the constitution has led to increased visibility and legal protections in Nepal for LGBTIQ people, and was a significant milestone for LGBTIQ rights in the country and the continent.

Despite these legal protections, members of the LGBTIQ community in Nepal still face discrimination, harrassment and stigma. Proper implementation of these laws has been limited and the progress in passing new legislation to further the rights of LGBTIQ people has been minimal. Surrounding this is a general lack of awareness about LGBTIQ issues, the difference between sexual orientation and gender identity, and the diverse needs of the community.

Despite its inclusion of the rights of LGBTIQ people, the Constitution of Nepal does not allow for same-sex marriage and activists and members of the LGBTIQ community continue to advocate for the right to marry. Victories like the 2017 Supreme Court case Suman Panta vs. Ministry of Home Affairs et al., which recognised same-sex marriages between foreign nationals and Nepali citizens, are making this issue more visible and gaining support for the legalisation of same-sex marriage in the country. However, the LGBTIQ community recently faced a significant setback when the new Nepal Civil Code came into effect in August 2018, because it limited the definition of marriage to only be between a “man” and a “woman” regardless of the committee recommendations that same-sex marriage should be legalised.

Slow policy reforms, discrimination, stigma and harrassment have not stopped, and will not stop, activists and members of the LGBTIQ community from continuing to fight for their rights and speaking out about LGBTIQ issues. One of the most visible events is the annual Pride march held during the Nepalese festival of Gaijatra, which has been organised by LGBTIQ rights groups since 2002. This year, young members of the queer community held Nepal’s first ever Pride parade during Pride Month to further amplify LGBTIQ issues and promote visibility. Building on this national awareness, organisations like the Federation of Sexual and Gender Minorities Nepal (FSGMN) continue to work to create forums that discuss and promote LGBTIQ issues within the country.

A Seminar on LGBTIQ Rights for a Gender Equal Society in Nepal

One such forum was held on September 29th, when the LGBTIQ community in Nepal, including activists, politicians, professionals, performers, celebrities, community members and allies gathered at the “Unveiling Movement of Sexual and Gender Minorities in Nepal for Gender Equal Society: a Seminar on LGBTIQ Rights.” FSGMN organised the event in partnership with Restless Development Nepal and were supported by Amplify Change.

The all-day gathering was a celebration of the LGBTIQ community in Nepal and a forum for discussion about the movement and its next steps. Those gathered discussed the current state of LGBTIQ issues in the country, and shared recommendations about the future direction of the LGBTIQ Movement. The speakers included Mr. Sunil Babu Pant, the first openly-gay national-level legislator in Nepal, and Mr. Ravindra Shakya, the Hub Director of Restless Development Nepal. Breakout sessions facilitated conversations about the current state of LGBTIQ rights in the country, covering topics like Marriage Equality in Nepal and The Implementation of the Constitutional Right for LGBTIQ People.

The seminar demonstrated that young people from across Nepal are ready to make a change in their communities when it comes to LGBTIQ rights. A dozen young people were working at the event, registering participants, face painting, and assisting at sessions. Many more young people were there to learn about the issues and their role in promoting equal rights and inclusion in their country. One of the highlights of the day was a choreographed performance by some of these young people to Lady Gaga’s “Born this Way,” in between the many performances by professional dancers and activists. Restless Development works with FSGMN and these young people through the project “Colors of Rainbow.”

Restless Development is implementing Colors of Rainbow Project to Promote LGBTIQ Rights with funding support from Amplify Change

Restless Development Nepal is working to create an enabling environment for LGBTIQ people, so they can fully claim their sexual and reproductive health and rights (SRHR). By collaborating with CSOs, working with local governments and engaging young people, Restless Development Nepal and our partners, with funding support from Amplify Change, are working to create a stigma-free society in Nepal. 

Since July 2018, the Colors of Rainbow project has been implemented in 34 out of 77 districts across the country in partnership with FSGMN, a network comprising of 52 CSOs/CBOs. The Nepal Hub is working with these 52 LGBTIQ organisations to boost their legal standing, operational and advocacy capabilities at national and community levels. Through Colors of Rainbow, Restless Development Nepal has reached 4,426 people with training and orientation programmes on LGBTIQ awareness and issues from May 2018 to September 2019.

Through Restless Development’s youth-led model, the Hub is capacitating CSOs to meaningfully engage young people in their programmes, with a specific focus on advocacy for targeted service provision to meet young people’s needs. The Colors of Rainbow project not only amplifies young LGBTIQ people’s ability to lobby local government for their rights and gain better access to family planning and counselling services, it also creates a safe and empowering environment in which they can thrive.

Through Restless Development’s youth-led model, the Hub is capacitating CSOs to meaningfully engage young people in their programmes, with a specific focus on advocacy for targeted service provision to meet young people’s needs. The Colors of Rainbow project not only amplifies young LGBTIQ people’s ability to lobby local government for their rights and gain better access to family planning and counselling services, it also creates a safe and empowering environment in which they can thrive.

Where Activists Want to See the Community in 10 Years

Almost all of the activists and community members at the Seminar agreed that within the next five to ten years, they would like to see proper implementation of the laws that already exist to protect their rights. They’d also like to see many other changes as well.

The first is inclusiveness. Puspa Lama, a District Program Coordinator working on HIV prevention for a national LGBTIQ organisation says that inclusiveness is at the core of what she wants to see in the future for the community. “I dream about a society and family where someone like me can live free of discrimination and can have equal opportunity in education, health and employment, especially in entrepreneurship.”

Many activists believe that marriage equality will be achieved within the next 5-10 years. Manil Singh, the winner of Mr. Gay Handsome Nepal 2017, says that one of the things he most hopes to see in the next decade is a provision or law that allows members of the LGBTIQ community to marry.

The president of FSGMN Manisha Dhakal would like to see trans people better able to access their rights as citizens. Instead of needing medical proof to determine their gender identity, she advocates for self determination. She adds, “we want the easy access to amend [citizenship], and the equality in education and employment and non-discrimination of health services.”

Anuj Petter Rai, a young LGBTIQ activist, believes that through increased visibility and awareness, which organisations like FSGMN and Restless Development are working to promote, the LGBTIQ community will generally start becoming more normalised in Nepali society. For him, everyone can take small steps to contribute to such normalisation. Sharing information, being open and speaking out about LGBTIQ issues can increase mainstream awareness and acceptance – one person at a time. He experienced this when he came out to his family and community. Even though it was hard at first, eventually they better understood and accepted him for who he was.

“I think that if you come out, then it matters to the whole community as well, and to your family also… people may have so many questions and they don’t have so much knowledge about the LGBTIQ issues. So if you come out then some of the small community can get that knowledge.”

Ultimately, a future without discrimination, where all people regardless of their gender identity or sexual orientation are respected and have equal access to their rights, requires the acceptance and support of everyone in society. Angel Lama, a trans activist and the winner of Miss Pink 2018, wants to see this in her future. 

“I want everyone to see [people] not as male, female, this race or that, I just want everyone to see them as a human. I want everything, equality and equity between every people. Where the world is loving each other and accepting them for who they are. Love, love, love.”

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