OPINION: Nepal faces long battle for LGBT+ equality

by Arun Budhathoki | Journalist
Monday, 22 July 2019 08:44 GMT

A reveller (C) dances while taking part in a LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender) pride parade to mark Gaijatra Festival, also known as the festival of cows, in Kathmandu, Nepal, August 30, 2015. REUTERS/Navesh Chitrakar

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* Any views expressed in this opinion piece are those of the author and not of Thomson Reuters Foundation.

The first conviction of someone to murder a trans woman in Nepal has highlighted the progress still to be made on LGBT+ rights in the country

Nepal recently convicted the first person in the country of murdering a trans woman in a case activists say has huge repercussions for the LGBT+ community.

On June 2, Bidesh Karki was found guilty by the Kathmandu District Court for the murder of Junu Gurung.

The court found Karki guilty of involuntary culpable homicide according to the Criminal Code Section 178, and he has been sentenced to jail for 15 years.

The case has rocked the LGBT+ community in Nepal, a country that legalised gay sex in 2007 but where same-sex marriage remains against the law. Last August, the Nepalese government enshrined marriage as legally between a man and woman.

Although the Himalayan kingdom is relatively progressive in terms of LGBT+ rights, cultural and social attitudes towards sexual orientation and gender identity remain very conservative.

The trans population faces particular hardships with many struggling to find regular employment, turning instead to sex work on the streets of Kathmandu.

Recognition of gender identity remains a long way off, and the Nepalese authorities regard trans people as their natal gender. Many are ostracised by their families.

LGBT+ groups have only recently begun to call for the end of discrimination, backing reforms to the law that would allow for the recognition of trans rights. But in a country and region in which religion remains the stumbling block, these reforms are a long way off yet.

And violence against the LGBT+ community in the country is increasing, despite the court’s ruling, said Pinky Gurung, president of the Blue Diamond Society, which advocates for the rights of sexual minorities in Nepal.

“This is the first case in Nepal and I made it effort to bring it out in the light so that everyone can know about the violence against LBGT groups,” she said.

“I am happy the court (ruled) in favor of the victims. The violence has increased in Nepal against LGBTI group (because of the lack of) same-sex marriage and a lot of our members are facing violence because of that”.

Gurung believes if the community remains inactive – and other organisations do not step up to help – then the violence will continue to increase. “Even if there’s a law for having a job for our community it doesn’t happen in reality,” she said.

Under the terms of the new proposed citizenship bill, “people need to present a proof of sex change if they want to change their gender identity on the citizenship card”. 

Many question whether that will be passed. Nepal lags far behind in terms of accepting gender identity and protecting LGBT+ groups.