Pride month is celebrated across the world every June to mark the anniversary of the 1969 Stonewall Riots in the USA, a watershed event for LGBTQI+ rights. This year, because of Covid-19 pride celebrations have been cancelled in most parts of the world and/or have gone online. We have gathered five stories of young LGBTQI+ activists from across the globe to showcase their resilience in the face of uncertainty and how they are celebrating pride during the pandemic.
In this the first interview in our Pride 2020 series Aapurv and Jenny spoke with Anuj Petter Raj from Nepal.
Why don’t you tell us a little bit about yourself and your activism?
I am LGBTIQA+ activist from Nepal. I was also runner up in Mr Gay Handsome Nepal in 2017. I have been a programme coordinator at the Blue Diamond Society since 2015. We work in human rights, sexual health and issues surrounding HIV/AIDS and run a care and support program for LGBTI individuals. Both through my work at the Blue Diamond Society and my position with Right Here Right Now Nepal, I am advocating and campaigning for the passing of the marriage equality bill.
We hope to create a society in which sexual and gender minorities can live with equal rights, freedom, dignity and opportunities. We promote the rights, advocate for, and empower, sexual and gender minorities. We attempt to raise awareness of human rights issues for LGBTIQ among government authorities, law and policy makers and the general population.
We work towards this by addressing human rights violations, inequalities, stigma & discrimination, lack of access to education, employment and healthcare services. This includes tackling HIV and AIDS, and STI, infections, providing care and treatment for sexual and gender minorities people including men who have sex with men (MSM) and transgender peoples. We recognise that change needs to occur at a community and societal level, as well as an institutional level which is the fundamental roll of the programmatic areas of our work.
What are the biggest concerns of LGBTQI+ communities in Nepal?
The new Nepalese constitution, approved on 16th September 2015, includes several provisions pertaining to the rights of LGBTI people in article 12; right to citizenship, article 18; right to equality and article 42; right to social justice. However much more work is required to ensure this is put into practice, create a friendly legal environment and eliminate stigma and discrimination by changing social attitudes. The main issue is failure in implementation of the rights ensured by the constitution and even those directing the Nepali government to enact laws for gender and sexual minorities.
Major elements still requiring work are the legal recognition of gender identities, marriage equality, social justice and equal access to education, employment and health services and the definition of “minorities” which does not currently include “sexual and gender minorities.”
There is also widespread intolerance of LGBTQI+ persons throughout Nepalese Society on the basis that they do not conform to set notions of male or female gender identity. This results in a range of human rights violations including harassment, physical violence, sexual assault, physical and psychological threats as well as exclusion from family and society. Such violence is very common in society and occurs when a person’s sexuality or gender identity has become known or suspected. Due to fear of such problems, many LGBTQI+ persons are still compelled to hide their sexual orientation or gender identity. Inequality and discrimination against sexual/gender minorities leads towards invisibility and vulnerability. We see inequality, discrimination and marginalization as a form of oppression and unnacceptable within a democratic society
How has Covid19 impacted the LGBTQI+ communities in Nepal?
Nepal has been in lockdown since 24th March, and won’t leave it until 14th June at the earliest. We have not recorded a huge number of cases, and most are recent arrivals from India. I feel that not enough testing has been done because of challenges of producing or procuring testing kits. At present there are no reported cases of infection among LGBTQI+ people. But our ability to organise and advocate has been impacted.
The Blue Diamond Society has had to close down its central and district offices. We are all working remotely from home and have developed a “work from home policy” guide for our staff but our works and campaigns have certainly been interrupted. A lot of our work is at the grassroots community level, so the absence of these programmes is impacting the life of LGBTIQ+ people in the communities we work in. There have already been cases of suicide because of conflict with parents during lockdown and many community members are developing, or experiencing heightened mental health issues.
Beyond this, a lot of people’s livelihood have been damaged, especially the many LGBTIQ+ people who work in the informal sectors (including sex workers).
We have been doing our best to respond. We have been advocating, by developing and circulating statements, and participating in different webinars to tell people about, the impact of COVID19 on LGBTIQ+ people. In addition we have been coordinating community organisations to push local governments to ensure better access and non-discriminatory services through quarantine.
We are also addressing the communities problems directly by circulating messages via email, social media and group messenger apps. We have coordinated with suppliers and distributors of AntiRetroviral drugs for HIV and AIDS to help ensure continuing access. The Blue Diamond Society president Pinky Gurung is leading the mechanism to support our community from central to local level and signposting for support. Even more directly we have been distributing emergency food assistance for more than 400 LGBTQI+ communities within the Kathmandu valley.
How can International NGOs support LGBTQI+ communities in these times?
INGOs and donors should not interrupt ongoing projects instead they should support the grassroots level community organisations to combat Covid-19 impact by providing emergency resources. We are in need of food assistance, personal protective equipment, and dignity kits. On the other hand donors would be useful in supporting livelihood programs for the most vulnerable communities. We want to collaborate with other organizations to survey and study needs and increase our media access and advocacy possibilities.
And how are you going to mark Pride month?
We are organising a Tiktok message competition to promote our visibility on social media. We are also organising a webinar on 25th June inviting celebrities, community members, bloggers, activists, and members of the US embassy. And, of course, we are also going to participate in Global pride with a dance performance.
Aapurv Jain leads business development for Restless Development’s Uganda Hub. He is also an advisory member of the UN Women’s Civil Society Advisory Group in India. Most of his work has been in the area of gender, sexuality, human rights and health.