Of dis­crim­i­na­tion, sex, hard­ships and life

It is es­ti­mated that there are about 9,000 LGBT peo­ple in Bhutan

Business Bhutan - - Front Page - Lucky Wangmo from Thim­phu

History was made last week on June 26, when the United States be­came the 21st coun­try in the world, and the most pop­u­lous so far, to le­gal­ize same-sex mar­riage. The global press is still not done with the is­sue and re­ports of all as­pects of the Les­bian, Gay, Bi-sex­ual, Trans­gen­der (LGBT) is mak­ing head­lines all over the world.

Back home, the is­sue of LGBT is slowly com­ing to the fore­ground, break­ing age-old bar­ri­ers but do­ing so with cal­cu­lated cau­tion in a so­ci­ety where ortho­dox cul­ture and tra­di­tion rules supreme.

While the call for le­gal­iz­ing same-sex mar­riage in Bhutan ap­pears to be al­most a non-is­sue at present, peo­ple feel that there is a need to re­view leg­is­la­tion to re­spect the rights of the LGBT com­mu­nity in Bhutan.

Ar­ti­cle 213 of the Pe­nal Code of Bhutan states: “A de­fen­dant shall be guilty of the of­fence of un­nat­u­ral sex if the de­fen­dant en­gages in sodomy or any other sex­ual con­duct that is against the or­der of the na­ture.” Ar­ti­cle 214 states that the of­fence of un­nat­u­ral sex shall be a petty mis­de­meanor.

A re­port by the health min­istry, “For­ma­tive As­sess­ment on Stigma and Dis­crim­i­na­tion Im­pact­ing Uni­ver­sal Ac­cess to HIV and Health Ser­vices for Men who have Sex with Men and Trans­gen­der Peo­ple in Bhutan,” states that the LGBT com­mu­nity in Bhutan is un­der the pres­sure of the law crim­i­nal­iz­ing same-sex be­hav­iors in Bhutan.

How­ever, the re­port also notes; “de­spite the ex­ist­ing law crim­i­nal­iz­ing same-sex sex­ual be­hav­iors has never been used in Bhutan, Men Who Have Sex with Men (MSM) peo­ple re­vealed con­cerns and fears of be­ing re­ported to lo­cal author­i­ties and pros­e­cuted if they dis­close their sex­ual ori­en­ta­tion”.

An in­de­pen­dent jour­nal­ist and a strong sup­porter of LGBT com­mu­nity, Nam­gay Zam, told

Busi­ness Bhutan that ex­ist­ing laws need to be re­vised.

“Sodomy law can ex­ist, but it should be made clear that con­sen­sual sex­ual re­la­tions be­tween two peo­ple of the same sex is not a crime,” she said.

Karma Dupchen, 23, who is gay and lives in Thim­phu told Busi­ness

Bhutan that re­view­ing sodomy laws is an op­por­tu­nity for the coun­try to show sol­i­dar­ity and care for the LGBT com­mu­nity.

Nam­gay Zam said that although Bhutanese peo­ple, in gen­eral, are ac­com­mo­dat­ing, they still needed to be ed­u­cated more about the LGBT com­mu­nity. She high­lighted that there are sev­eral is­sues of which the peo­ple are un­aware. For in­stance, young peo­ple who re­al­ize that they are gay and seek­ing ad­vice from el­der and ex­pe­ri­enced peers are of­ten vic­tim­ized by the lat­ter who are of­ten look­ing for gay com­pan­ions. “Be­ing gay in Bhutan is sad for younger ones,” she said.

Among the LGBT com­mu­nity, Nam­gay Zam said that gay men are more open while les­bians are com­par­a­tively shy to mix around with the LGBT com­mu­nity. “Les­bians do not come out in closed group gath­er­ing,” she said. “This is quite wor­ri­some.”

The health re­port points out that as the LGBT com­mu­nity faces some de­gree of so­cial dis­crim­i­na­tion, there is more risk to con­tact sex­u­ally trans­mit­ted dis­eases like HIV/AIDs.

Work­ing as a Phys­io­ther­a­pist at Samtse Gen­eral Hos­pi­tal, Pas­sang Dorji, 28, was one of the first men to de­clare his sex­ual ori­en­ta­tion of be­ing a gay in March this year. He said that he came in the open pri­mar­ily to ed­u­cate health work­ers about the LGBT com­mu­nity.

“Be­ing a health worker my­self, I know that health work­ers do not un­der­stand how to deal LGBT,” he said, stress­ing that the need to ed­u­cate and sen­si­tize health work­ers on LGBT should be a top pri­or­ity.

A 25-year-old trans­gen­der in Thim­phu is quoted in the re­port say­ing: “Ini­tially, it was very dif­fi­cult for my par­ents to ac­cept and un­der­stand me. Very of­ten, my fa­ther abused me phys­i­cally due to my fem­i­nine be­hav­ior, and he con­demned on many oc­ca­sions. I was warned that if I con­tin­ued to be my­self, they would dis­own me.”

Pas­sang Dorji said that a lot of LGBT peo­ple pre­fer not to seek med­i­cal at­ten­tion for fear of be­ing asked to re­veal their sex­ual ori­en­ta­tion.

Pas­sang Dorji said that his fam­ily mem­bers and friends have ac­cepted him. “I don’t know if peo­ple are talk­ing be­hind my back or point­ing fin­gers, but my fam­ily and the so­ci­ety as a whole have been very pos­i­tive and sup­port­ive,” he said.

On the other hand, Karma Dupchen said LGBT peo­ple hes­i­tate to seek med­i­cal help. He said that when trans­gen­der peo­ple fall sick, health work­ers are of­ten con­fused whether to for­ward them in a fe­male ward or male ward.

“Un­like MSM, trans­gen­der peo­ple can­not hide their ori­en­ta­tion and it be­comes un­com­fort­able for them when they fall sick,” said Karma Dupchen.

Ac­cord­ing to the study, MSM and trans­gen­der peo­ple showed lack of trust in the health sys­tem in Bhutan and are wor­ried about their con­fi­den­tial­ity when con­sult­ing med­i­cal ex­perts.

The re­port also says that a “sig­nif­i­cant pro­por­tion of health care providers” are un­com­fort­able dis­cussing sex­u­al­ity with MSM and trans­gen­der peo­ple. Talk­ing to Busi­ness

Bhutan, the ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor of Lhak-Sam, Wangda Dorji, agreed that there is a gap be­tween the LGBT com­mu­nity and the healthcare providers. “Healthcare providers do not un­der­stand the needs of LGBT com­mu­nity and on the other hand, LGBT peo­ple do not know how to ap­proach healthcare providers,” he said.

Lhak-Sam is a Civil So­ci­ety Or­ga­ni­za­tion (CSO) and the first net­work of HIV pos­i­tive peo­ple in Bhutan formed in Septem­ber 2009.

It has also been noted that most LGBT peo­ple are lon­ers by choice. Karma Dupchen said that the LGBT peo­ple choose to hide their true feel­ings from their fam­ily and friends mak­ing them lonely and de­pressed.

“So­ci­ety is not a prob­lem. The main hur­dle is our fam­i­lies and friends,” said Pas­sang Dorji, adding that the fear of what their fam­ily and friends might think keep them in the shad­ows.

The study re­veals that some MSM peo­ple in Bhutan travel out­side Bhutan “es­pe­cially to Bangkok” to meet their sex­ual de­sires. It also says that MSM peo­ple are also on the look­out for tourists to sat­isfy them­selves.

The re­port quotes a 32-year-old MSM liv­ing in Thim­phu: “I have to con­fess that it is eas­ier to find mates out­side Bhutan. Here we are all so up­tight and live in a small so­ci­ety; it makes it harder to have fun.”

Wangda Dorji also said that Lhak-Sam is in con­stant con­tact with 25 LGBT peo­ple.

Pas­sang Dorji said that he per­son­ally knows about the ex­is­tence of about 3,000 LGBT in Bhutan. While the de­fin­i­tive num­ber of peo­ple in the LGBT com­mu­nity is not for­mally es­tab­lished, health min­istry es­ti­mates say that there could be about 9,000 peo­ple in Bhutan.

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