On September 29th 2019, the LGBTIQ community in Nepal, gathered at a Seminar on celebrating the accomplishments and achievements of the community in the past decade and discussing the future direction of LGBTIQ issues and activism. In between sessions at the Seminar, we met with some of the leaders of the movement and LGBTIQ activists, working locally, nationally and even internationally, to discuss their perspectives on awareness, advocacy and rights.
Manisha Dhakal: Trans Woman and LGBTIQ Movement Leader
Manisha Dhakal is the President of FSGMN and a trans activist. A prominent leader in the LGBTIQ community in Nepal, she advocates for LGBTIQ rights at the local and national levels. Dhakal was one of the paper presenters at the session The LGBTIQ Movement in Nepal and its Future Direction.
Dhakal says that one of the biggest challenges LGBTIQ people in Nepal face is the general lack of awareness about their community and issues;
“The people, the policy makers, don’t understand the terms ‘LGBTIQ’, that terminology and the issues. And you know, many of the trans people are visible, [the policy makers] know only the trans. They think that LGBTIQ is trans. So that confusion is there.” Dhakal
Not fully understanding the different needs of LGBTIQ community members means that policymakers are often unable and unwilling to effectively create new policies and implement existing policies to protect the rights of these groups. Dhakal and countless other activists are striving to achieve proper implementation of their constitutionally assured rights. Dhakal proposes two major strategies: litigation and grassroots activism.
“If the government is still not ready [to implement the constitution], then we can pass to the courts with Public Interest Litigation and practice the international human rights mechanisms at the UN-level also. And then mobilising our community at the grassroots-level also, so they can advocate for themselves.” Dhakal
Angel Lama: Miss Pink 2018
One of the most visible figures at the forefront of the LGBTIQ movement in Nepal is Angel Lama. She’s a transgender woman, activist and a student. She was also crowned Miss Pink 2018 and represented Nepal in Miss International Queen 2019, the largest and most prestigious international beauty pageant for trans women. She’s been advocating for transgender and LGBTIQ rights since she was 16. At the Seminar, Angel told her story at the session, An Overview of Implementation of the Constitutional Right for LGBTI.
Interviewing Angel after the session, she said that in the past few years in Nepal, social acceptance of LGBTIQ people, and of trans people in particular, has increased. She says that this is one of the main reasons that she’s able to come out and speak publicly about being a trans woman. However, she emphasises that many people in the country still have a hard time coming out to friends and family because of the taboo and stigma surrounding gender identity.
“A lot of my friends who are transgender… their family couldn’t accept them. So they’re living here in the city area, where they belong from the rural area, and their family doesn’t know that they dress up as a woman, they present themselves as a woman. A lot of taboo and stigmas going around, we’ve been working through it.” Angel
One particular challenge that Angel faces alongside many members of the trans community in Nepal relates to citizenship and the official recognition of her gender. Like many of the laws that exist on paper to protect LGBTIQ rights, the proper implementation of these laws has been limited. This includes the Nepal Supreme Court ruling in 2007, which recognised a third gender identity and allowed citizens to have the option to register as a third gender, and the 2015 Constitution of Nepal.
Angel herself has been struggling to legally change her identity. “I have not gotten my citizenship yet according to my identity, and talking about workplace and my college life and my student years, it was very hard for me.” After she transitioned, Angel’s papers still said she was male, despite the fact that she had transitioned to female. This, combined with a lack of general awareness about trans people, meant that it was hard for her to attend school and exist in society.
Despite these challenges, Angel is working alongside other activists to promote the implementation of the progressive legislation.
“Nepal has been Southeast Asia’s first country to pass the law for LGBTIQ people…. Though there are lots of strong laws and rules in our country, the implementation is quite weak here so that’s the main work we are trying to do, implementing it.” Angel
Anuj Petter Rai: Youth Activist and Advocate
Alongside Manisha Dhakal, countless youth activists and volunteers work to promote LGBTIQ rights and visibility in Nepal. They come from widespread districts across Nepal, and advocate for issues like marriage equality, sexual and reproductive health rights (SRHR), citizenship rights and more.
Anuj Petter Rai is a change-maker in the field and has been on national television advocating for, and starting conversations about, the LGBTIQ community.
“Everywhere, I try to tell to the other people that LGBTIQ people are normal like you. We are not extraordinary. We are also normal. And we want all the normal human rights, basic needs, no more than that.” Petter
Petter says that one of the biggest positive changes he’s seen for LGBTIQ people in the past few years has been the visibility of the community in the media and the increasing acceptance of LGBTIQ people in different spaces. He’s seen many people outside of the community starting to consider and discuss LGBTIQ-friendly laws, policies and issues, which he thinks is a great start to promoting nationwide acceptance.
Petter has also noticed another big positive change; many more young people and youth organisations are getting involved with LGBTIQ issues across the board.
“So many people are coming out in the media and I think the main positive change was the upcoming youth, the youth organisations, they are making their laws and policies LGBTIQ-friendly … And that’s really great.” Petter
Young people from across Nepal are ready to make a change in their communities when it comes to LGBTIQ rights. Many of these young people became a part of the LGBTIQ community through activities led by FSGMN. The organisation works with young people in colleges and schools across Nepal to provide training on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity (SOGI). They also work with youth groups, schools and colleges to educate young people about LGBTIQ people and issues. To help with their work, FSGMN hires interns from local colleges and universities that study related fields such as social work.
Badur Giri, one of FSGMN’s interns who volunteered at the seminar, is studying social work at a local college. He was driven to pick an internship with an LGBTIQ organization after seeing the stigma that members of the community faced and wanting “to see that stigma broken and people of the LGBTIQ community seen everywhere.”
Badur is passionate about educating others about the LGBTIQ community. He sees the lack of knowledge about LGBTIQ people as one of the biggest issues that the community faces. He noticed that the people he works with are often not aware of inclusive language and correct terms to use when talking about LGBTIQ issues, instead turning to derogatory stereotypes. “They do not know what is a member of the LGBTIQ community. So they just go with all of the stigma and behave like that.” For Badur, breaking these stigmas and spreading awareness about the LGBTIQ community are two of the most important things that need to be done to achieve equal status.