Sunil Pant Receives Monette-Horwitz Award
Photo by Dipesh Shrestha
Kathmandu, March 5: On February 25, Sunil Babu Pant received the Monette-Howitz Trust’s annual award for making a significant contribution for work against homophobia. This is not the first time that Pant has received an International award. But this time it was, in Pant’s own words, more special because a representative of the Monette-Howitz Trust, Winston Wilde, came all the way to Kathmandu from Los Angeles to present the award among his own people.
“There are so many gay organizations fighting for rights, but the work that has been done in Nepal is significant and thus stands out,” says Wilde.
As the work done by Blue Diamond Society (BDS), an organization of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgendered and inter-sex (LGBTI) people of Nepal, gets recognition around the world, its members are also gaining more confidence in their fight to gain equal rights, but for many the fight against an age old taboo is still a lifelong struggle.
A transgendered person who bumped into BDS a few years ago, Bhumika Shrestha, says the community of sexual minorities she found in BDS finally helped give her a sense of identity.
“Before coming here, I was utterly confused about how to regard my sexual orientation, my own acceptance, and how dependent I was on what others thought about me,” shares Bhumika.
But now Bhumika not only found a community that accepts her as she is, but she is also taking the cause of the LGBTI community to places she hadn’t imagined before. Bhumika, currently the human rights officer at the Blue Diamond Society, has made it her mission to fight for the rights of the LGBTI community.
“We had gone to meet the President yesterday, and his response towards us is very positive,” says Bhumika.
“Before we needed to hide, but now society has recognized our existence, although most remain prejudiced. Our major concern is that we still don’t have even the most basic fundamental rights,” she adds.
In December 2007, the Supreme Court issued a directive which contained three ruling points. These points included providing citizenship cards according to gender identity and also to insure equal rights for the LGBTI community.
While laws are being amended at the judiciary front, Sunil Babu is lobbying at the Constituent Assembly, and the LGBTI community of Nepal is making notable progress, issues at the social front things remain more complex.
A gay man I talked with did not want to reveal his identity because he says it would complicate things at home.
“Although I started to be aware about my sexual orientation when I was eleven years old, I still haven’t been able to say it to my parents,” he said.
Now in his twenties and with a stable job, this member of the Blue Diamond Society says the reason for him to keep this secret from his family is, “because they just wouldn’t understand!”
He is not alone though. According to Sunil Babu Pant, among the hundred and forty thousand members of the Blue Diamond Society, only five thousand have revealed their sexual and gender identities to their family.
Pant feels it will take time for the social stigma attached to the LGBTI community to change. As the first and only gay member of the Constituent Assembly, he receives mixed reactions from other CA members.
“Many women members of the Constituent Assembly tell me that they didn’t know that a group more marginalized than they also existed, but many older men accuse me of increasing the number of gays in the country,” he says with a laugh.
Winston Wilde of Monette-Howitz says it takes a whole generation for social acceptance to occur.
“A generation ago, only 25% of college students raised their hand when asked if they had a gay relative, now 50% raise their hand. This doesn’t mean that the population of gays has increased, but the acceptance certainly has,” says Wilde.
BDS states that on an international level eight to ten percent of the population of each country makes up the LGBTI community. Sunil Babu Pant says the case is the same in Nepal. And although he feels Nepal has made great strides towards gaining rights for the LGBTI community, he agrees with Wilde that it may take an entire generation before social acceptance is truly achieved.