14 September 2013 | By Sudeshna Sarkar
‘This center is open to everyone, to all persecuted LGBTs,’ says a proud
Sunil Pant, announcing the formal inauguration of the Pink Himalayan Center
in Nepalese capital Kathmandu, the first sanctuary in South Asia for
persecuted members of the community.
Originally a hospice for LGBTs in an advanced state of AIDS, the shelter
has been upgraded into a five-story building boasting a mini theater that
can double up as a conference hall, a library for documenting LGBT-related
literature and legal information, and a sanctuary for members of the
community who are thrown out by their families or society, be it in Nepal
‘People in Uganda and Cameroon are also welcome to our center if they can
come here,’ says Pant. ‘Nepal is one of the most tourist-friendly countries
in the world, offering visa on arrival to many nationalities.
‘However, given the issue of accessibility, we think it will serve South
Gay rights activists from the neighborhood – India, Pakistan and Bangladesh
– have already visited the center and are seeking to network to benefit
from the strategies that turned Nepal, once a conservative patriarchal
society, into a progressive country that became the first in South Asia to
approve of same-sex marriage.
The Blue Diamond Society (BDS), Nepal’s
pioneering gay rights organization founded by Pant, runs the center that
was partly funded by Nepal’s government, another first in South Asia.
The rest of the money or the project came from the Norwegian government,
Danish and US embassies and contributions from community members in Nepal
Pant says the need for the center was felt after a critical period when
landlords were refusing to let out houses to gays and a shelter for
terminally ill gays had to be shut down abruptly after the house owner
ordered BDS to quit his premises.
The new center has plans for a cafeteria to be run by LGBT members as a
livelihood project, an art gallery and a training center for teachers.
Since this year, state-run schools in Nepal, Pant says, have introduced a
subject, health, population and environment science, that teaches about
LGBT issues. BDS is also conducting training for teachers on how to create
a friendly environment for gay and transgender students and the need for
separate toilets for transgenders.
In addition, the center will monitor the progress of the marriage bill that
allows same-sex weddings after the Supreme Court in 2008 approved of the
act and directed the government to formulate the necessary laws.
‘To become an act, the bill has to be passed by parliament,’ Pant says.
‘Unfortunately, currently there’s no parliament in Nepal.’
The house was dissolved after it failed to write and promulgate a new
constitution and fresh elections are scheduled in November.
Pant is optimistic the newly elected parliament will uphold the bill since
it was drafted with the approval of all the major parties.
Nepal’s leadership on LGBT issues comes as a surprise when India, its
larger neighbor in South Asia, is the acknowledged leader where other
subjects are concerned.
‘In Nepal, the rights movement blossomed due to a very supportive private
media and our own approach,’ Pant says. ‘In Nepal we did not beg for
anything. We claimed our rights as something due to us. It’s a matter of
Religion has been another factor.
Nepal, though once a Hindu kingdom, practices tolerant Hinduism while in
India, fundamentalists have a strong presence.
But perhaps the key factor is size. Nepal being a tiny country has been
able to rally public opinion more effectively while in India, due to its
huge size, things tend to move more slowly.
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