Rights of LGBTI people should be protected: Pinky

Pinky Gurung is chairperson of Blue Diamond Society (BDS), an Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender and Intersex (LGBTI) rights organisation. Gurung, born as a male in Bhumichowk, Lamjung district, has completed her intermediate level in music from Ratna Rajya Campus. From the very beginning of the LGBTI rights movement, Gurung has been advocating for the rights of the community. Gurung has been serving as the chairperson of the BDS since 2009. She was also a candidate in the federal parliament election on a ticket of Naya Shakti Nepal Party under the proportional representation system in 2017.
Gurung insists that the government must introduce a concrete policy to end all forms of discrimination and violence against the third gender and guarantee their equal participation in the social, cultural and political spheres. She talked to Arpana Adhikari of The Rising Nepal on diverse issues pertaining to the legal status of the third gender in Nepal and importance of legalising same sex marriage, among others. Excerpts:pinki_1

How is the situation of the third gender and their human rights in Nepal?
Nepal has made a milestone in the LGBTI movement. Nepal is the only country in the Asian region to provide legislative protection to the LGBTI people against discrimination, providing constitutional guarantees for LGBTI rights. In the Constitution, the community is protected against discrimination, violence and abuse, guaranteed rights to have citizenship ID that reflects their preferred gender and given right to equality. The LGBTI people are listed among the disadvantaged groups and guaranteed that gender and sexual minorities will have the right to participate in state mechanism and public services based on the principle of inclusion.
In recent years, our community has become increasingly visible in the society. As technology and the media have vastly improved in the country, people are not only noticing our presence but also appreciating us. Political leaders, government bodies and NGOs and INGOs are now supporting our movement. As a result, the LGBTI people are making an appearance in the fashion industry, the make-up world, film industry and business.
However, being an LGBTI rights activist and a member of the community, I must say that the changes are insufficient. Despite receiving some legal recognition and social acceptance, the community remains ostracised. It is still regarded as a different social class. Our community still faces violence, stigmatisation and discrimination. In daily life, we face countless discrimination based on our appearance, voice and sexuality. We are still becoming victims of violence and discrimination against transgender people, whose very existence is regarded illegal as even the simple act of walking down the street wearing clothing not inappropriate to their assigned sex is frowned upon. Due to this, many of us are still compelled to suppress our feelings and cannot open up about gender identity. For fear of being socially excluded, we cannot reveal our identity. Both the government and society must create a safe environment so that they can easily open up about their sexuality and gender identity. The government must address the rights associated with gender identity. There are a number of hidden homosexual couples who are living together but cannot talk about their relation, because their relations are not socially and legally established.
The community residing in the rural parts of the country is still struggling for their basic fundamental rights. They are still denied their basic rights, medical care, education, fair employment and are often forced into poverty. Discrimination against the community remains rampant in the labour market, and because of this, many people of this community are forced in sex work. Our friends, who have obtained citizenship, with the gender identity of ‘others’, are denied employment opportunities. Owing to this, a few of them are planning to change their gender on the certificate. Those who are employed also face discrimination at the work place. Many of our friends complain that they are denied promotion just because of their gender status. The political participation of the community is quite dismal.
Even after 17 years of the LGBTI movement, I haven’t found any political leader, government body and non-government organisation willingly advocating for our rights. They talk about the rights of women, children, dalit and other marginalised and minorities groups, but never talk about our issues, unless our presence is at an event. Similarly, there lies an immense challenge in implementing the rights guaranteed in the Constitution. Rights cannot be guaranteed just by listing them in the Constitution. The government has much work to do to implement the provision and ensure that the rights of the LGBTI community in Nepal are fully respected.

What obstacles have you faced over the last 17 years, and how have the things improved?
I have faced many obstacles over the years. My struggle began from my own house. I was born as a son and lived a life of a man till the age of 29. Since a very early age, I used to act like a girl, wear girl’s attire and perform ladylike dances. Because of this behaviour, my siblings used to tease me by calling me Chhakka. I continued to struggle in school and within my friends’ circle. Rejection and harsh words from friends and relatives were a part of my life. At the age of 23, my family pressured me to marry a girl. However, I managed to refuse that proposal. For me, the major struggle was to suppress my inner desire and live according to my biological existence for the sake of the society. I joined the LGBTI movement in 2001, when the Blue Diamond Society was established. In 2004, I was featured on a national television by hiding my identity. I wanted my family to watch that programme and sensitise them to the issue. But they recognised me and that created a scene in my family. After that, I managed to live a life of my choice when I was in office, and when I return home, I have to act like a man. I started taking female hormones, and my body gradually took feminine shape. In 2008, I openly came out in the society. I started to appear in female attire. My neighbours and relatives used to stare at me with hatred. They used to make abusing comments at me. I faced violence and abuse in public places but they did not bother me. But the situation has changed now. Those who used to raise questions about my gender identity are now appreciating me and my work. They are accepting me the way I am.

How is the current scenario of social acceptance of LGBTI people in Nepal?
In Nepal, the LGBTI community was once openly mocked as social pollutants. But the scenario has changed after the LGBTI movement gained significant victories. The Constitution has guaranteed the social and political rights, along with legal recognition. The government and non-government bodies have extended their support to our movement. The media that once used to make negative comments or ignore our issues are now more progressive and positive to our campaign. The police administration that used to harass our people is now more sensitised over our rights. The situation is changing gradually, and I’m hopeful that someday the people of our community will be able to live a dignified life. But we have to continue our struggle and need support to create a clean and civilised society.

What prevents transgender from getting legal status?
Despite the recent progress, many Nepali transgender people still face difficulties in getting their legal status. They face high rates of harassment. Due to lack of knowledge about transgender and poor and indifferent behaviour of the bureaucrats, the transgender are facing difficulty to obtain legal status. They are asked to submit a number of documents to prove they are transgender. They need recommendations from the ward office, doctor’s report and a document of seven witnesses to prove their gender, which is not easy for them to find because as they are born as the opposite gender, people try to avoid them. Everyone should understand that gender is deeply felt by individuals. Transgender people are people whose gender identity is different from the gender they are thought to be at birth. Their gender identity, their inborn knowledge of who they are is different from what was initially expected when they were born. Our society needs to understand this to produce the above-said documents.

What should be done to make the third gender live dignified life?
We need equal opportunities in education, employment, healthcare, political and every aspect of life. Due to lack of access to education and employment opportunities, many transgender end up in forced sex work. They are more vulnerable due to social exclusion. They don’t get employment easily because of their gender status. This is a reason why the community deserves protection. Just like other communities, which are recognised as minority groups, there must be quota in employment and education to third gender people. For a certain period, reservation is required to improve their socio-economic status. Reservation must be made in certain private sector jobs, seats in schools and colleges must be allocated for our community. The government must introduce concrete policies to establish the LGBTI community within the Nepali society and create a clean, civilised and accusation-free society. The government must ensure our equal participation in social, cultural and political arena.
The third gender rights activists have made great strides in getting their gender identity recognised, but their struggle has been an isolated one. Therefore, mainstream human rights organsiations, donors and stakeholders should provide support and resources by giving priority to our issues. The community itself has to struggle a lot to establish their rights. We have to create such a situation where the society can accept our existence.

Why should same-sex marriage be recognised and what developments have been made in this regard?
We must understand that some people’s gender evolves differently that might not fit into the rigid traditional notions of male and female. Marriage shouldn’t be considered as a union between only man and woman. Same sex couples have the right to enjoy the same benefits that heterosexual or non-LGBTI couples do. If the country allows its citizens to get married, there is no reason to exclude legal citizens from the same right just because of their sexual identification. Legalising a homosexual marriage could provide a significant amount of social support for the couple. Being recognised for that union provides certain amount of both physical and psychological benefits. Giving legal status to homosexual marriage will give a couple access to the social support system. Furthermore, legalising same sex marriage will protect both the homosexual and heterosexual groups. Because many gays and lesbians in Nepal marry with the opposite sex out of family pressure, where homosexuality is stigmatised and criminalised. In such a case, life of both the homosexual and heterosexual people might get ruined. So, same-sex marriage must be legalised so that the homosexual people could enjoy their rights to get married.
In the context of Nepal, the Constitution has guaranteed equal rights to the LGBTI. In 2007, the Supreme Court (SC) considered same-sex marriage and asked the Government of Nepal to form a committee for that. After three years of the SC verdict, the government formed a committee and submitted the report in 2015. However, no laws have been made to protect the equal rights of homosexuals to get married. The country has already criminalised marital rape, but the lawmakers are still reluctant to amend the laws in favour of our community. People have misconceptions that legalising same-sex marriage could negatively impact the society. But this is not true, recognising same sex marriage would be beneficial for both homosexual and heterosexual people.

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