NEPAL: ‘This landmark decision represents significant progress for all LGBTQI+ people’

SanjaySharmaCIVICUS speaks with Sanjay Sharma, Programme Director of Nepal’s Blue Diamond Society, about the recent Supreme Court’s order to register same-sex marriages and civil society’s role in advancing LGBTQI+ rights in the country.

Founded in 2001, Blue Diamond Society is a pioneering and leading LGBTQI+ civil society organisation (CSO) working to ensure equal rights, equal access to public and private services, economic empowerment, representation and protection for all of Nepal’s sexual and gender minorities.

What is the status of LGBTQI+ rights in Nepal?

The Nepalese Constitution recognises the rights of gender and sexual minorities as fundamental rights. Article 12 states that people can obtain a citizenship certificate that aligns with their gender identity, while Article 18, on the right to equality, and Article 42, on the right to social justice, explicitly forbid discrimination based on gender identity or sexual orientation.

Being LGBTQI+ is not criminalised in Nepal, so we can talk about LGBTQI+ issues everywhere, including parliament and government offices. The school curriculum also addresses LGBTQI+ issues. The LGBTQI+ community is diverse, and the number of our allies and of innovative ideas to benefit our community are increasing.

What was the process leading to the recent Supreme Court ruling on same-sex marriage?

Although Nepal’s Constitution grants equal rights to so-called ‘marginalised’ communities, including LGBTQI+ people, it does not directly address same-sex marriage. So Nepalese human rights and LGBTQI+ rights organisations, including the Blue Diamond Society, filed a petition to the Supreme Court to legalise same-sex marriage. The petition cited Article 69(1) of the Civil Code, which guarantees the general freedom to marry, and Article 18 of the Constitution, which recognises all citizens as equal before the law.

On 28 June, the Supreme Court issued a historic ruling ordering the government to amend the laws and policies that define marriage as a union between a man and a woman and make any necessary arrangements for the ‘temporary registration’ of marriages among ‘sexual minorities’. Thereby, same-sex marriages can now be registered provisionally, until a new permanent law is passed to legalise same-sex marriage.

The Ministry of Home Affairs and the Ministry of Law, Justice and Parliamentary Affairs must now cooperate with Parliament to implement the Supreme Court ruling. Actual policy change will take a lot of time. But this landmark decision represents significant progress for all LGBTQI+ people in Nepal. The legal recognition of same-sex marriage will foster greater acceptance in society as a whole and among policymakers, which will have a further positive impact on laws and policies.

How is the Blue Diamond Society working for LGBTQI+ rights?

The Blue Diamond Society has supported the queer community since 2001, through a range of projects in a variety of areas. We work to protect children’s rights through programmes promoting interaction between LGBTQI+ children and their families to foster connection and acceptance. We have also created and distributed guidelines in schools and colleges to raise awareness among educators about treating LGBTQI+ children appropriately, and we continue to advocate with the government to further implement these guidelines.

One of our campaigns resulted in the introduction of Complex Sexual Education (CSE) in the school curriculum for grades 7 to 9, that is, for adolescents aged 13 to 15. We also did young leadership training in seven provinces of Nepal, teaching about the importance of CSE being inclusive of LGBTQI+ issues. This resulted in young leaders successfully advocating for CSE in their municipalities and even securing local funding for it.

We also conduct HIV/AIDS awareness and prevention programmes including care, support and treatment in seven provinces. And we offer mental health counselling and lead sexual health education workshops in schools and communities.

What obstacles have you encountered?

Despite civil society’s joint efforts to raise awareness, there are still people who remain ignorant about LGBTQI+ issues. This poses a major challenge. Biases against LGBTQI+ people are present not only among the public but also among policymakers who have the power to effect change. Some politicians actively oppose the Supreme Court order, instead perpetuating social stigma and discrimination.

Another challenge is Nepal’s notorious political instability, which hinders our ability to advocate to change laws and policies that hurt LGBTQI+ people and prevents us reaching the grassroots level in areas where our programmes and initiatives are highly needed.

What international support do Nepali LGBTQI+ organisations need?

We need various forms of international support, including grant opportunities and invitations to participate in conferences. Participation is crucial for building a network in Nepal and on an international scale, connecting with colleagues from Asia and the Asia-Pacific regions, and gaining valuable insights into the achievements and progress made by LGBTQI+ organisations in other contexts.

As a result of global structural inequalities, some countries have well-supported LGBTQI+ organisations able to advance the full range of LGBTQI+ rights, and others still struggle to secure basic human rights for LGBTQI+ people. Nepal continues to face challenges in fulfilling basic human rights for LGBTQI+ people, so any financial support or opportunity for exchanges of knowledge and experiences would greatly contribute to advancing the cause of LGBTQI+ rights and promoting inclusion in Nepalese society.

Civic space in Nepal is rated ‘obstructed’ by the CIVICUS Monitor.

Get in touch with Blue Diamond Society through its website or its Facebook page.



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