Bhutan’s underground gay community seeks acceptance

He admits his view had been coloured by a Wikipedia search that threw up Bhutan’s Penal clauses criminalising homosexuality, and not because of anyone else’s experiences.

Clauses 213 and 214 in the Penal Code of Bhutan criminalise homosexual relationship.

It states that 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 nature.

“The offence of unnatural sex shall be a petty misdemeanour,” states clause 214.

In spite of the clauses, no arrests of this nature have been made since the Penal Code’s birth in 2004.

“The issue is when the law is there and if people do not enforce it, is it okay?” says Gasa Member of Parliament Sangay Khandu.

“With time, as society progresses and thoughts broaden, homosexuality may need to be revisited.

“In a democratic society, it becomes even more important because democracy promotes liberty.”

The clause has antagonised many young Bhutanese who belong to the LGBT community and their “allies” (friends and supporters) in modern day Bhutan who see it as an anomaly in a normally lenient society.

The law, although dormant, has had an effect on many gay and transgender Bhutanese who want to remain hidden, and also carry on “relations and activities” online and off mainstream society’s radar, to avoid being criminalised and losing their dignities.

Stigma could lead to health issues

“Gay people are having sex, you know”, says K.

“But gay Bhutanese have a very carefree attitude towards sex – safe sex is not important.”

The gay community is therefore in a high health risk category, because they may not be too forthcoming about sexual as well as mental health issues.

The Health Ministry says it is currently mapping the MSM (men who have sex with men) and transgender population in the country.

“This is not to find a number but to understand the health barriers that exist for such a population and provide strategic health interventions,” says an unnamed official.

The mapping has been carried out in seven dzongkhags (districts) but is limited to an urban population.

The findings are expected to be shared later, this year.

Officials say the Ministry considers it important to ensure that health services are inclusive, irrespective of one’s status, gender or sexual orientation.

Tackling the mental health issues may not be as straightforward.

“I was deeply conflicted, an introvert and almost always angry,” K describes himself before coming out and embracing his homosexuality.

“Look at me now, I am happy and an extrovert, no one would have imagined me to be like this, not even my closest friends.”

K says he found the strength to accept his homosexuality through America’s Talk-Show Celebrity, Ellen DeGeneres, and the online “It Gets Better Project”.

What would happen to another youth, who is at odds with his/her identity, has no access to the online world, and no one to talk to? Personality disorders, depression and suicide are definite and tragic consequences.

Buddhism does not condemn homosexuality

Bhutan is seen as a highly tolerant society and with a majority of the population being Buddhist, the LGBT administrators are quite hopeful about acceptance.

The Director of the Institute of Language and Culture Studies, Lungtaen Gyatsho, says, “Buddhism believes only in universal principles, which are beyond the interpretation of notions.

“The rest are based on notions which are largely culture-based and time-bound.

“Sex is an activity and for that matter, homosexuality is also an activity and therefore, an individual choice.”

He said the debate between what is ‘natural sex’ and ‘unnatural sex’ can go on and on, because notions are based on culture and no culture is right or wrong.

Buddhism has no serious reason to condemn homosexuality as long as it is an activity of consensus between two persons and carried out in private.

“However, notions can vary from culture to culture, society to society and country to country but no notion is right or wrong on its own,” he said.

K first came out to his brother. “I sort of told my parents (a few weeks ago), it didn’t go so well, but it was not so bad either”, says K.

Namgay Zam (@namgayzam) is editor/anchor at Bhutan Broadcasting Service. This article first published by Bhutan Broadcasting Service

by Namgay Zam
Source – Australia Network News