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Discrimination at work for sexual minorities in Nepal

Arpana Adhikari, KATHMANDU: Twenty nine years ago, on May 17th, the World Health Organisation (WHO) made history by removing homosexuality from its list of mental illnesses.
This declaration helped shift the public opinion, marking a major milestone for the rights of sexual minorities, LGBT (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender).
Since then, this historic moment of progress is celebrated as the International Day against Homophobia and Biphobia (IDAHOBIT). This historic achievement was expected to insure homosexual citizens the same protections and right as provided to the heterosexual community.
Now, after almost three decades, sexual minorities are fighting for the rights throughout the world.
Nepal still lacks clear, fully-inclusive, non-discrimination protection for LGBTI people. The community widely remains an ostracized and differentiated social group.
Lately, the status of sexual minorities has changed. The constitution has guaranteed their social and political rights, along with their legal recognition. The government and non-government bodies have extended their support in the movement.
The media that once used to make negative comments about the community and police administration that used to harass them are getting sensitized on their issues.
However, they still face difficulties getting their legal status. For lack of knowledge and indifferent behavior of the bureaucrats, it is hard for the community to obtain their legal status.
Sexual minorities are still considered to have some disorder and mental illness. “We have been facing high rates of harassment. We are treated as aliens, who landed here from a different planet,” said Saru KC, Executive Director of Mitini Nepal, who is also a bi-sexual female.
People encompass a range of negative attitudes and feelings toward sexual minorities. Members of the community are victims of a perpetuating stigma and are at risk of facing social exclusion while being denied of many fundamental rights, she added.
There is no doubt that sexual minorities have been suffering from the most horrific forms of discrimination, harassment and violence on grounds of their gender identity, sexual orientation or preference, said Laxmi Ghalan , chairperson of Mitini Nepal.
Once their gender identity is made public, they have been considered less human, said Ghalan adding that, “In the daily life we face countless discrimination based on our appearance and sexual orientation.”
Because of this many of members of the community cannot open up about their gender identity and are compelled to suppress their feelings in fear of being socially excluded, said K.C.
Sharing her past experience, Ghalan said when she was 14 years, she realized that she was different from other girls because she was always attracted toward girls. Knowing her gender identity, many of her friends stopped talking with her. She was treated as an untouchable, said Ghalan.
“After coming to Kathmandu from my hometown Heatuda in 2002, I opened up about my gender identity when I was just 18. But my family denied supporting me to live a life of my choice. Because of which I stayed away from them for almost seven years.”
In 2005, she formed Mitini Nepal, an organisation working to support the rights and identity of women with lesbian, bi-sexual and trans-men identity.
During the 14 years of involvement in the movement, Ghalan said she had handled many cases, where sexual minorities were treated inhumanly by their families, friends, colleagues, society and even by the state mechanism.
The recent provision in the proposed bill to amend the Citizenship Act states that people need to present a proof of sex change if they want to change their gender identity on the citizenship card, said K.C.
“This provision is the outcome of a prejudiced attitude that guided the government, which would add unnecessary burden on sexual minorities because not everyone can afford or would want to undergo a sex change surgery,” said K.C.
The community residing in the rural parts of the country is still struggling for their basic fundamental rights and was often forced into poverty, just because people don’t understand the different sexual orientation, said Ghalan.
Discrimination against the community remains rampant in the labor market because of this many people of the LGBTI community are forced in sex work, she added.
There are many cases that they were denied of promotion just because of their gender status, said K.C.
There are numbers of hidden homosexual persons who are living together but cannot talk about their relation, because their relation is not socially and legally accepted.
Rights cannot be guaranteed just by listing them in the constitution. The government has much more to do to implement the provision and ensure that the rights of the community in Nepal are fully respected.
Both the government and society must create safe environment so that the person could easily open up about their sexuality and gender identity. RSS

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