Gay Nepal News & Reports 2009

1 Nepalese MP honoured for work fighting homophobia 1/09

2 First transgender choir strikes gay rights chord in Nepal 2/09

3 Nepal’s sexual minorities on the move 3/09

4 Nepal: Kathmandu, Luring Gays as Tourism Destination 3/09

5 Gay Nepalese MP looks towards greater acceptance of gays and lesbians 4/09

6 Nepal becoming haven for persecuted lesbians 4/09

7 Sexual minorities, 3rd gender to form own party 6/09

8 Progress in new republic of Nepal 6/09

9 Nepal gays hail Delhi High Court verdict 7/09

10 Why Asia’s Gays are Starting to Win Acceptance 8/09

11 Ensuring Rights Of Sexual Minorities 9/09

12 Bhutan Refugees Find a Toehold in the Bronx 9/09 (non-gay background story)

13 Nepal eyes sexual minorities for tourism 10/09

14 Nepal readies to recognise third gender voters 12/09

15 Knowledge of and Preventive Behavior towards Influenza 2009 12/09

16 IGLHRC and Lambda Legal Consulting: LGBTI Rights Protections 12/09

17 1st Asian Symposium on Gay & Lesbian Tourism

January 20, 2009 – PinkNews

Nepalese MP honoured for work fighting homophobia

by Tony Grew
An MP from Nepal is one of five people who have been recognised for their significant contributions toward eradicating homophobia. Sunil Pant will receive the Monette-Horwitz Trust Award, as will Gavin Newsom, Mayor of San Francisco, and Anastassios Aliferis, the mayor of a Greek island who defied the authorities and married same-sex couples. Since 1998 the Trust has confered the awards on people or organisations fighting homophobia. Awardees received a $2,500 (£1,790) stipend.

In May Mr Pant, founder of Blue Diamond Society, was named as one of five representatives of the Communist Party of Nepal-United in the 601 member new constituent assembly. The Maoists are the largest party with 220 seats. Maoist insurgents, who fought a ten-year guerrilla war against monarchist forces at a cost of over 12,000 lives, finally signed a peace agreement with the new democratic government in November 2006. LGBT people joined the Maoist rebels and others to protest in a democracy movement against the king, demanding a freely elected, secular government.

King Gyanendra eventually relinquished sovereign power to the civilian government and elections were finally held for a new assembly on 10th April 2008. Gays and lesbians in the Himalayan kingdom previously suffered persistent persecution from security forces during the absolutist rule of King Gyanendra. The harassment of lesbian, gay and trans people continued at the hands of Maoist rebels. The assembly will draft a new constitution, decide the fate of the monarchy and govern Nepal for the next two years. Mr Pant is a hero to many gay activists across the world. In May 2007 he received the International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission Celebration of Courage award.

February 3rd, 2009 –

First transgender choir strikes gay rights chord in Nepal

Kathmandu – Bhakti Shah faces an uphill struggle to get her job back a year after Nepal’s army sacked the physical training instructor for being involved in a lesbian relationship with a trainee.”I have filed a case in the Supreme Court,” says the 24-year-old, who looks like a teenaged boy with her close-cropped hair and wiry frame.

“But the hearing can’t start until the army has completed its procedure and the army is deliberately prolonging it.” Shah’s partner, who too was sacked by the army, has been disowned by her family for refusing to end her relationship. She now faces a harrowing time in college. “I am studying management,” says the 23-year-old, who does not want to be named. “But I can’t attend class because the other students mock at me.”

Suman Tamang, 26, who comes from Nepal’s tea garden district of Jhapa in the east, has a similar story. Rejected by her family after she decided to begin a same-sex relationship, Tamang now works as a peer counsellor at Blue Diamond Society (BDS) in Kathmandu, Nepal’s pioneer gay rights organisation. “Sundays used to be the worst days for me,” Tamang confesses. “With the office being closed and nowhere to go, I used to have dark thoughts about how my family and friends treated me and I would become depressed. “But now, I have begun looking forward to Sundays. They have become fun days.”

For nearly two dozen gays, lesbians and transgenders like Tamang and Shah, Sundays now have a new purpose, thanks to the first transgender choir that made its debut with a concert at a hotel in Thamel, the capital’s tourist hub, Sunday. The choir is the brain child of a Dutch gay couple, Sjoerd Warmerdam, 21, and Jaco Van Dendool, 29, who first visited Nepal in February 2008, came in contact with BDS and decided to stay on. Joined by a third tourist, 28-year-old Marloes Oudeman, the three set up a band, Poesie and the Fags, and began to play gigs in Thamel’s hotels.

“We saw how gays are treated in Nepal,” says Sjoerd. “They are thrown out by their families and no employer would give them a job. We saw the interest they have in music and dancing and we thought of forming a gay band. It is meant to get together and have some fun afternoons.”

The transgender choir has also brought out its first CD. “It’s not a commercial venture,” Sjoerd explains. “It’s more to create awareness about transgenders – that they have the same human rights as any others.”

Sjoerd’s aunt Ankie Warmerdam, a 63-year-old retired health educator, sponsored the first concert, from the roses presented to the members to the black T-shirts with a pink sun worn as the choir uniform. “I am a bisexual,” Warmerdam says. “About 35 years ago, I faced a lot of problems in my own country. But now things have changed. My nephew didn’t have to go through my difficulties.”

She calls the transgender choir a community art. “It’s meant to bring people together,” she says. “The members of the choir get food for self-esteem.”

2009 March 19 –

Nepal’s sexual minorities on the move

by Kushal Regmi
Kathmandu, On February 25, Sunil Babu Pant received the Monetts-Howitz Trust’s annual award for making a significant contribution for work against homophobia. This is not the first time that Pant has received an International award. But this time it was, in Pant’s own words, more special because a representative of the Monetts-Howitz Trust, Winston Wilde, came all the way to Kathmandu from Los Angeles to present the award among his own people.

“There are so many gay organizations fighting for rights, but the work that has been done in Nepal is significant and thus stands out,” says Wilde. As the work done by Blue Diamond Society (BDS), an organization of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgendered and inter-sex (LGBTI) people of Nepal, gets recognition around the world, its members are also gaining more confidence in their fight to gain equal rights, but for many the fight against an age old taboo is still a lifelong struggle. A transgendered person who bumped into BDS a few years ago, Bhumika Shrestha, says the community of sexual minorities she found in BDS finally helped give her a sense of identity.

“Before coming here, I was utterly confused about how to regard my sexual orientation, my own acceptance, and how dependent I was on what others thought about me,” shares Bhumika. But now Bhumika not only found a community that accepts her as she is, but she is also taking the cause of the LGBTI community to places she hadn’t imagined before. Bhumika, currently the human rights officer at the Blue Diamond Society, has made it her mission to fight for the rights of the LGBTI community.

“We had gone to meet the President yesterday, and his response towards us is very positive,” says Bhumika. “Before we needed to hide, but now society has recognized our existence, although most remain prejudiced. Our major concern is that we still don’t have even the most basic fundamental rights,” she adds.

In December 2007, the Supreme Court issued a directive which contained three ruling points. These points included providing citizenship cards according to gender identity and also to insure equal rights for the LGBTI community. While laws are being amended at the judiciary front, Sunil Babu is lobbying at the Constituent Assembly, and the LGBTI community of Nepal is making notable progress, issues at the social front things remain more complex. A gay man I talked with did not want to reveal his identity because he says it would complicate things at home.

“Although I started to be aware about my sexual orientation when I was eleven years old, I still haven’t been able to say it to my parents,” he said. Now in his twenties and with a stable job, this member of the Blue Diamond Society says the reason for him to keep this secret from his family is, “because they just wouldn’t understand!” He is not alone though. According to Sunil Babu Pant, among the hundred and forty thousand members of the Blue Diamond Society, only five thousand have revealed their sexual and gender identities to their family.

Pant feels it will take time for the social stigma attached to the LGBTI community to change. As the first and only gay member of the Constituent Assembly, he receives mixed reactions from other CA members. “Many women members of the Constituent Assembly tell me that they didn’t know that a group more marginalized than they also existed, but many older men accuse me of increasing the number of gays in the country,” he says with a laugh. Winston Wilde of Monetts-Howitz says it takes a whole generation for social acceptance to occur.

“A generation ago, only 25% of college students raised their hand when asked if they had a gay relative, now 50% raise their hand. This doesn’t mean that the population of gays has increased, but the acceptance certainly has,” says Wilde. BDS states that on an international level eight to ten percent of the population of each country makes up the LGBTI community. Sunil Babu Pant says the case is the same in Nepal. And although he feels Nepal has made great strides towards gaining rights for the LGBTI community, he agrees with Wilde that it may take an entire generation before social acceptance is truly achieved.

March 26, 2009 – Gays Without Borders

Nepal: Kathmandu, Luring Gays as Tourism Destination

by Baburam Kharel
Kathmandu – Life’s pretty rough on gays and lesbians, more so while travelling. Even on a simple occasion like eating out, more often than not they are subjected to discrimination. For instance, waiters get nosy about their appearance and may even ask them about their sexual identity. Fortunately, thanks to Nepal’s tourism and service industry, foreign gays and lesbians do not have to suffer like in other countries.

In a break from the traditional mindset, some of the country’s tour operators have now geared up to lure foreign gay and lesbian tourists. Earlier, this kind of travel used to be closeted. A number of restaurants, discos and hotels have been established in the country that cater to gay and lesbian couples. Employees in these establishments have been trained to behave better so that visiting couples get the respect they are looking for.

Popular travel website has listed these various places where foreign gays and lesbians are treated differently. However, proprietors of these venues rarely open up regarding the service they provide. Another travel website — — has come to the fore calling gays and lesbians to visit Nepal. This website has posted a separate section for gay/lesbian travel but does not disclose its travel features.

Notably, according to Lonely Planet’s website, some foreign gays and lesbians have been choosing the country as the most romantic rendezvous. Owing to the country’s deep-rooted culture of respecting guests, scores of foreign gays and lesbians travel in the country every year without any hindrance, say travel operators. But this is a subject rarely discussed.

“It is something that foreign guests are always treated in a good manner,” says Jyoti Adhikari, President of Trekking Agencies Association of Nepal, an umbrella organisation of more than 700 travel agencies in the country. “Compared to other western countries, foreign gays and lesbians are not discriminated against here.” Adhikari admits that a large number of travellers have been visiting the country since years and no case of discrimination has come to the fore. “Some restaurants and hotels in Kathmandu offer good treatment to these couples,” he informs.

Likewise, Sunil Babu Pant, a lawmaker and president of Blue Diamond Society, an organisation that advocates the rights of gays and lesbians, also admits these tourists have never been discriminated in the country whereas Nepalis from the same community are always prone to harsh treatment. “With travel package for foreign gays and lesbians, local sexual minorities can get employment opportunity in the tourism sector,” says Pant. “The government itself should take initiative in this regard.”

The Supreme Court in a landmark verdict recently said gays and lesbians were “natural” people. It directed the government to remove all discrimination against the community and ensure for them the rights enjoyed by all other citizens.

April 22, 2009 – PinkNews

Gay Nepalese MP looks towards greater acceptance of gays and lesbians

by Benjamin Cohen
Nepal’s first openly gay MP, Sunil Pant has single handedly put gay rights on the political map in Nepal since founding the Blue Diamond Society (BDS). This is Nepal’s first and only sexual minorities rights organisation and is working hard with other human rights groups.. Lesbian rights however are lagging far behind those of men and even the men’s are still dire. This is mainly due to cultural factors and the fact that women’s rights in general are already very slim.

Despite this, the BDS is making headway and Nepal is becoming somewhat of a haven for persecuted lesbians. Nepal’s Supreme Court has even given its nod to same sex marriages. Mr Pant however explains to the Indo-Asian News Service: "Though the court has approved of same sex marriage, the government is yet to enact a law, "Also, we are unsure if Nepali laws would hold (good) in India."

In January he received the Monette-Horwitz Trust Awad for fighting homophobia. Awardees received a $2,500 (£1,790) stipend. In May Mr Pant, founder of Blue Diamond Society, was named as one of five representatives of the Communist Party of Nepal-United in the 601 member new constituent assembly. Dil Kumari Buduja, the BDS coordinator for the lesbian community estimates there are now about 1,200 lesbians who have come out of the closet while Nepal’s sexual minorities, including homosexuals and transgenders, would number over 200,000.

The once supremely conservative kingdom of Nepal now has four lesbian support groups to work towards legal and other rights of the growing lesbian community: Saino Nepal in Chitwan, Sangini Nepal in Birgunj town, Nawalo Srijana in Nepalgunj and Sahara Samaj in Itahari. A fifth "Kathmandu Sashakti Samuha" will open this summer in the capital. Ms Baduja, who prefers to call herself Badri, explained the reason for this to the Indo-Asian News Service: "It would have opened earlier but now we are busy working on the new constitution."

The Maoists (Nepal’s former guerilla party), won an election last year that legally allowed them to draft a new pro-people constitution by next year. They now aim to create a new democratic and inclusive statute where the voices of sexual minorities can be heard for the first time in a constitution. Two years ago, Nepal’s army sacked two women recruits for being lesbians but one of the dismissed recruits is currently flighting a court battle against the powerful army and hopes to be reinstated, which is a real indication that times are changing.

Badri believes that the strength of the Nepalese gay community is down to the fact that they are all working together. Badri explained to the news service: "I went to a gay meet in Cape Town last year, "I was shocked to see how the communities from India, Bangladesh and even developed nations like Japan behaved. The gays would have nothing to do with the lesbians and the lesbians shied away from the transgenders. In the process, the voice of protest got divided and became weaker. But in Nepal, all of us are fighting together. And that’s our strength."

April 22nd, 2009 – Sindh Today

Nepal becoming haven for persecuted lesbians

by Sindh Today
Kathmandu, April 22 (IANS) Sunil Babu Pant, Nepal’s first openly gay MP who is also the founding president of the country’s first gay rights organisation, the Blue Diamond Society (BDS), received a distress call recently. Two girls, both in their teens, who had left their home in India’s Kolkata city after their families opposed their lesbian relationship, wanted his help.
They had heard that Nepal’s Supreme Court had given its nod to same sex marriages and wanted the BDS to help them get married.

“But though the court has approved of same sex marriage, the government is yet to enact a law,” Pant told IANS. “Also, we are unsure if Nepali laws would hold (good) in India.” The pair’s wish for a church wedding had to be shelved because while one was a Catholic, the other was a Muslim. When Nepal’s churches expressed their inability to perform the ceremony, the BDS offered to hold a civic ceremony.

“This is the second lesbian marriage that I am organising in three days,” said Dil Kumari Buduja, BDS coordinator for the lesbian community. Buduja, who prefers to call herself Badri, last year contested the election as gays went to the hustings openly for the first time, along with transgenders and eunuchs.

Last week, Badri helped two Nepali women, both in their late 30s, “tie the knot” in Chitwan district in south Nepal. “While one works as a security guard, the other runs a small business,” Badri said. “They had been waiting for the government to enact a new law but then decided to take the plunge as they felt time was running out for them.” Badri estimates there are now about 1,200 lesbians who have come out of the closet while Nepal’s sexual minorities, including homosexuals and transgenders, would number over 200,000.

To work for the legal and other rights of the growing lesbian community, the once conservative kingdom of Nepal now has four lesbian support groups: Saino Nepal in Chitwan, Sangini Nepal in Birgunj town, Nawalo Srijana in Nepalgunj and Sahara Samaj in Itahari. A fifth “Kathmandu Sashakti Samuha” would open this summer in the capital. “It would have opened earlier but now we are busy working on the new constitution,” Badri explains.

Nepal’s former guerrilla party, the Maoists, won an election last year that mandated them to draft a new pro-people constitution by next year. The government is seeking suggestions from all communities to make the new statute democratic and inclusive and the sexual minorities, who had been ignored by a succession of earlier governments, hope to have their voice heard in the constitution for the first time. Two years ago, Nepal’s army sacked two women recruits for being lesbians.

In an indication of the changing times, now one of them has taken the powerful army to court, fighting a dogged battle to get reinstated. Badri attributes the growing clout of the community to the fact that in Nepal the sexual minorities have been working hand in hand to wrest their rights from an uncaring government.

“I went to a gay meet in Cape Town last year,” she says. “I was shocked to see how the communities from India, Bangladesh and even developed nations like Japan behaved. The gays would have nothing to do with the lesbians and the lesbians shied away from the transgenders. In the process, the voice of protest got divided and became weaker. But in Nepal, all of us are fighting together. And that’s our strength.”

(Sudeshna Sarkar can be contacted at

June 13, 2009 – Republica

Sexual minorities, 3rd gender to form own party

by Ramesh Kumar Poudel
Chitwan – Nepal´s sexual minorities are all set to open their own political party. They say there is stigma attached to being homosexual and forming a political party of their own will help them fight for their identity and their rights.
The national convention of sexual and gender minorities held in Kathmandu on May 22 had taken a decision to this effect.

"We decided to form a political party of our own," said Teju Adhikari, a Chitwan-based lesbian. She announced the formation of a political party at a press meet in Narayanghat, Saturday. The Federation of Nepal Sexual and Gender Minorities had organized the national convention in May. According to Adhikari, the name of the new party is Shanti Bikas Batabaran Party (Peace Development Environment Party). Members of organizations of sexual minorities from 36 towns and cities took part in the national convention, she said.

"About 300,000 third-gender people are in touch with several organizations. Once we establish the party they will more confidently and openly join the party organization," said Dev Shrestha, who identifies himself as a guy. Nepal Blue Diamond Society had pioneered in organizing the sexual minorities. Founder of the Society Sunil Babu Pant is a member of parliament. The Communist Party of Nepal (United) nominated him to the Constituent Assembly.

16 June 2009 – Sydney Star Observer

Progress in new republic of Nepal

by Lyndon Barnett
Nepal’s first openly gay MP, Sunil Pant has been credited as one of the driving forces behind his country’s recent path towards equality.
Pant is now a decorated humanitarian. He’s been awarded the Felipa de Souza Award and the Monette-Horwitz Trust Award. But his spectacular journey began with very humble intentions. “I didn’t plan in 2000 to start the Blue Diamond Society. I just wanted to meet other LGBT people and know more about the culture and problems,” he said. “After meeting many LGBTs in Kathmandu and knowing the problems other LGBTs face in Nepal, like blackmail, rape, exclusion, abuse and more, I thought we can’t continue living like this..”

In 2001, Pant formed Nepal’s first gay activist group. “The original aim of the Blue Diamond Society was to ensure equality and freedom for all regardless of sexual and gender identities. In the beginning we addressed our sexual health rights then slowly moved towards human rights, empowerment and visibility of our existence.”

The organisation drew attention to the abuse of gay Nepalese. “The violence has always been there. It just appeared to many that the violence had increased since Blue Diamond Society formed. But the reality is that Blue Diamond Society brought the violence into public knowledge through documentation and reporting,” Pant said. “Nepali society accepted the existence but didn’t respect LGBTIs equally. In the last two years the violence has gone down dramatically, because of the Supreme Court’s decision and because of our effective sensitisations to the society.”

The BDS, together with other organisations, filed a petition in April 2007 with Nepal’s Supreme Court to “recognise the civil rights of transgender people… create a new law preventing discrimination and violence against LGBT communities; and to require the state to make reparations to LGBT victims of state violence and/or discrimination.” At the time Nepal was undergoing the transition from a monarchy to a republic, following a decade of civil conflict which resulted in King Gyanendra’s abdication.

In a victory for equality, in December 2007 Nepal’s Supreme Court ruled the Government must enact anti-discrimination legislation to protect the country’s gay and lesbian population. The final judgment was presented in November 2008. “The ruling was remarkable and gave us a strong foundation to build our lives and stand to advance our rights, ensuring freedom, dignity and love. It’s a matter of great justice,” Pant said.

The decision has also paved the way for same-sex marriage. “Nepal is going through transition and everything seems to move slowly. The seven-member committee has formed and just started working to study same-sex marriage bills in other countries. Hopefully they will draft the suggestion to make same-sex marriage law soon and give it to the Government to approve.”

In the republic’s inaugural elections, Pant was named as a representative to the constituent assembly for the Communist Party of Nepal (United) in April 2008. “I attribute my election victory to LGBTI people and to the constituent assembly,” he said. “I am sure my contribution will ensure, no matter how little it will be, a better constitution that guarantee equal rights, stable peace, green development and freedom to everyone in Nepal.”

July 2, 2009 –

Nepal gays hail Delhi High Court verdict

Nepal’s gay community Thursday hailed the landmark ruling by the New Delhi High Court legalising sex between consenting adult homosexuals, calling it a "liberalisation from British colonialism" and hoping it would lead to similar freedom in Sri Lanka, Bangladesh and Pakistan. "Section 377 of the Indian Penal Code (that makes sodomy a criminal offence) was a legacy of British colonialisation of India," said Sunil Babu Pant, Nepal’s first openly gay member of parliament and founder of Blue Diamond Society (BDS), that pioneered the gay rights movement in the conservative Himalayan kingdom in 2002.

"Before British rule began, homosexuality was an accepted culture. Look at the 4,000-year-old hijra culture in India, the Khajuraho paintings, ancient poetry where it was part of romantic love. Though India won its freedom in 1947, the British shackles on homosexuality still remained. But it has been thrown off finally. We congratulate India’s sexual minorities."

Nepal’s gay community had been watching Naz Foundation’s battle against the discriminating clause with interest as well as empathy. In January, Pant campaigned against the clause in Bangalore, Chennai and Mumbai. Last year, when Pranab Mukherjee visited Kathmandu as India’s external affairs minister, Pant had spoken to him about the attacks on eunuchs and gay rights activists by police in Bangalore. "We also have a close relation with Naz Foundation," Pant said. "We have been working together for nearly seven years in the fields of human rights, sexual rights and HIV/AIDS prevention."

In 2007, Nepal’s gay rights movement got a boost with the Supreme Court accepting homosexuals as ‘natural persons’ and ordering the government to ensure that their rights were protected. With the wind of change blowing through Nepal and India, Pant is also hoping that the other SAARC neighbours – Pakistan, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka – would eventually see the scrapping of the clauses in their respective penal codes that still ban homosexuality. "It has been a long fight against injustice but today, it is extremely heartening to hear the Delhi High Court uphold the principle of justice," Pant said.

August 24, 2009 – Time

Why Asia’s Gays are Starting to Win Acceptance

by Jyoti Thottam / Kathmandu
Sunil Babu Pant is a schoolteacher’s son who grew up in the rough green mountains of central Nepal. The youngest of six children, indulged by his family, Pant remembers feeling attracted to other boys. But he wore that knowledge lightly, with the innocence of a sheltered child. Boys and girls played separately; Pant thought that his friends must feel just as he did. "It didn’t appear as a problem to me growing up in the countryside," he says. "Even though I knew about myself, I couldn’t define it."

By 28, Pant had a word for what he felt, and in 2000 he moved to Kathmandu, Nepal’s capital, to find other gay people and some sense of belonging. What he discovered horrified him. After dark, a small underground subculture of gay men and women would meet each other in a few of the city’s parks and ancient courtyards, gatherings that took place under a constant threat of violence by the police. A law against "unnatural sexual conduct" was often used as a pretext for harassment, he says. "It was such an unseen, unspoken tragedy that was going on every day." (See pictures of the gay rights movement.)

Pant could have chosen to live as other gays do in Asia’s conservative societies, hiding his sexuality behind a sham marriage while leading a dangerous double life. Instead, he decided to come out and to work against discrimination. "There was a choice to make," he says, "whether you feel threatened and live your life with misery, or you live with courage." In 2001, Pant and a few friends organized the Blue Diamond Society — named after the Diamond Sutra, a well-known translation of Buddhist teachings emphasizing compassion — to distribute information about HIV. The group later began documenting human-rights abuses against gay people, and its members sued to overturn Nepal’s law criminalizing homosexuality. In December 2007, Nepal’s Supreme Court ruled in their favor. Four months later, Pant, who was the main petitioner in the case, became South Asia’s first openly gay member of parliament. By the end of 2008, the Supreme Court issued its full judgment, which not only nullified the old law but also established a "third gender" category for government documents. A newly formed government advisory committee is studying the possibility of legalizing gay marriage. In less than a decade, Nepal, a poor and devout Hindu kingdom, had become what the Indian writer and gay activist C.K. Meena calls "a gaytopia."

Rights and Recognition Nepal’s transformation could only have happened in the first decade of the 21st century — and similar changes are taking place elsewhere in Asia as sweeping economic and social forces erode long-held prejudices. In India, the Delhi High Court recently struck down as unconstitutional a 149-year-old law criminalizing homosexuality, in a judgment so eloquent in its support of gay people’s right to dignity that some wept in the courtroom as the last pages were read. In China this summer, Beijing and Shanghai hosted gay and lesbian festivals with little official interference — an achievement in a country where mass gatherings of any kind are tightly controlled. Tolerance isn’t measured by any official statistic, but it’s there in many forms — gay characters on television and in films, openly gay celebrities and gay public gatherings. Manila held Asia’s first gay-pride parade in 1994; this year there were similar festivals in a dozen other Asian cities. "If nothing else, people aren’t denying the existence of homosexuality anymore," says Jeffrey O’Malley, the director of the HIV group for the United Nations Development Program in New York City. "That’s a huge difference from 20 years ago."

The rising visibility of gay people in the region is just one of many social changes that have been accelerated by travel, urbanization, education, democratization and, most of all, the explosion of information across every imaginable medium. This isn’t simply Westernization — the old argument that homosexuality is yet another crass cultural import from the West has been all but discarded. But the Asian social institutions and beliefs that often stood in the way of tolerance — religious conservatism, intense emphasis on marriage and having children, cultural taboos against openly discussing sexuality — are weakening. In some parts of Asia, space is opening up for homosexuals in society. "The debate about sexuality is in the realm of the constitution, of democracy, equality and human rights," says Gautam Bhan, a gay activist in New Delhi. "The terrain of the debate has shifted."

Watch a gay marriage wedding video

The Road Less Traveled Pant’s journey from rural Nepal to Kathmandu’s parliament — with detours through a college campus in Belarus and the nightclubs of Tokyo — reveals how one gay man and his community came to terms. By leaving Nepal as a young college graduate, he experienced for the first time both homophobia and acceptance. In 1992, he went to Belarusian State Polytechnic Academy in Minsk to get his master’s degree in computer science. The newly independent country, which had been part of the Soviet Union, welcomed students from the developing world, but he arrived at a time of growing hostility toward homosexuals — a banner at the college’s medical clinic warned "Beware of Gays." He spent five years hiding who he was. "I understood that my sexuality could be a problem to the authorities and I could be deported," he says.

After completing his degree, Pant decided to take a trip to Japan as a volunteer for an environmental group. In Tokyo, what was originally scheduled to be a two-week sojourn stretched to three months as he immersed himself in one of Asia’s most established gay subcultures. Homosexuality has a long history in Japan, with allusions to it documented as far back as the 11th century Tale of Genji. Attitudes changed with the growing influence of Christianity in the 1800s, but since the 1880s Japan has not had laws punishing homosexuality like those passed throughout the British colonies during the same period.

This quiet tolerance doesn’t include legal rights or full social acceptance, but it does allow Japanese gays and lesbians a limited freedom. Tokyo has long had its own Chelsea in Shinjuku 2-chome, a neighborhood full of shops, nightclubs and bookstores catering to gay people. That’s where Pant read about the 1969 Stonewall riots in New York City’s Greenwich Village, an uprising against police harassment that many consider the beginning of the gay-rights movement. In Tokyo, Pant also discovered ancient Hindu texts celebrating same-sex love. When he returned to Nepal, he used this knowledge to explain to his parents that homosexuality was part of Hinduism’s old traditions. This made coming out to them easier. "They had some questions," he says. "But when you talk about culture, about religion, it’s not something foreign, somebody telling you something from outside."

His mother’s worst fear, Pant says, was that he would be a victim of violence. "She was terrified," he recalls. After the Supreme Court ruling in 2007, such incidents are rare, although his parents still get upset when his political opponents make derogatory comments. Those are among the few intrusions into his otherwise ascetic life. His longtime partner recently moved to Bangkok, so he lives with his parents and grandmother in Kathmandu, spends time with his nieces and nephews, and visits his village regularly.

In Nepal, as in the rest of the world, the fight for gay rights is closely linked to the fight against HIV and AIDS. The deadly virus was initially tagged as a "gay disease" in the West, and its early victims struggled against a blatant and sometimes violent backlash. In Asia, homophobia took a different form: denial. For years, authorities asserted that HIV couldn’t be a problem because homosexuality simply didn’t exist. But by the late 1990s, it was obvious that HIV/AIDS posed a serious public-health threat that would only get worse if ignorance remained official policy. It’s no coincidence that Pant’s Blue Diamond Society initially worked on AIDS issues. Because of a global effort by public-health authorities and governments to raise HIV/AIDS awareness, "it was where we could get funding," Pant says. (Read "Closet Case: How Intolerance Fuels Africa’s AIDS Crisis.")

This support gave him a platform to organize the local gay community — as it did for pioneers in the gay-rights movement in other countries. Anjali Gopalan, an activist in New Delhi, was there at the beginning of HIV/AIDS-awareness efforts. Trained in political science and international development, she moved to New York City in 1985 at the height of the AIDS epidemic and was involved in some of the first attempts to bring information about the disease to immigrants and the poor.

The experience proved to be a personal awakening. "It makes you learn a lot about your own culture," she says from a brightly painted office in south New Delhi, "to understand discrimination, to understand equality, to learn how to respect differences." After Gopalan returned to India in 1994 to be closer to her aging parents, she started the Naz Foundation (India) Trust, one of the country’s first HIV/AIDS groups. Well before India’s economic boom or the push to decriminalize gay sex, the movement helped to introduce issues concerning sexual orientation and sexuality into India’s public discourse. "The government itself was funding programs for men who have sex with men," she says.

Read "The Battle Over Gay Marriage."

Despite this tacit backing, activists worked in a legal gray area. Section 377 of the Indian penal code, a law passed by the British colonial administration in 1860, criminalized sodomy and was still in effect, leaving gays vulnerable to the whims of local law enforcement. Police in Lucknow, a city in north India, arrested four HIV outreach workers in 2001 under Section 377 on charges including "conspiring to commit sodomy." The incident was alarming — but ultimately it served as the catalyst for a historic gay-rights ruling. The Naz Foundation filed a public-interest lawsuit on the arrested activists’ behalf and after eight years of litigation, the Delhi High Court ruled on July 2 that Section 377 violated India’s constitutional principles of equality and inclusivity. It was an emotional moment, particularly for those who grew up in more conservative times. "In those days, you just kept quiet about your sexuality," says Gautam Bhan, a New Delhi urban planner and activist. He lived in the U.S. for years, watching from abroad as India slowly changed, and went back in 2004 once he decided he could live in India as an openly gay man. "I still can’t believe that 377 no longer holds," he says. "My landlord sent me a note, people in my office clapped when I entered the next day. There was this sense all around that it was obvious, it was good, it was right, it was a symbol of change."

Blending In Even in authoritarian and deeply religious countries, gay people are finding ways to gather and meet each other, the first step in mobilizing for their rights. In Pakistan, where homosexuality is considered a crime by both the state and Islam, an underground social scene thrives among the élite, particularly in Karachi and Lahore. Inspired by activism in India, two women in Lahore earlier this year founded Pakistan’s first gay-rights organization, whose members meet privately in affluent homes. China’s authorities decriminalized homosexuality in 1997, but it is only in the last few years that gay culture has started to flourish. "The speed of change in China has been amazing," says a 37-year-old employee of a Beijing Internet company. It remains difficult to be openly gay in the workplace, says the man, who requested anonymity. But in social settings, the environment has improved dramatically, especially for young people, he says. "Some of them don’t even think it’s an issue." Still, there are limits. The Beijing Queer Film Festival has been held four times since 2001, and this year marked the first time that the event went off without any official interference. But Cui Zi’en, one of the organizers, said they "kept a deliberately low profile" this year by moving the festival to an outlying neighborhood. (Watch TIME’s video "Gay Marriage in the Heartland.")

To further their cause, gay activists in Asia have had to adapt, as Cui did. They can’t just borrow strategies honed during the U.S. civil rights movement as others have done — in countries where democracy is still a work in progress, they have to invent new ones. Instead of confrontational tactics, they work hand in hand with other activists. Pradeep Khadka, human-rights coordinator for the Blue Diamond Society, says that rather than challenging Nepalese society, his group has built alliances within the democracy movement and tried to change attitudes and policies through political persuasion. Even the language of the movement is different. Instead of gay liberation or gay pride, Khadka promotes "sexual diversity" and the protection of "sexual minorities" along with the poor, women and lower castes. "We are not very aggressive," Khadka says. "It’s a very soft way of approach." He admires the pioneers of the U.S. and Europe, but doesn’t consider them models. "The generation has changed from the Stonewall movement."

This might be a soft revolution, but it is a revolution all the same. Some 200 openly gay, lesbian and transgender Nepalis gathered recently in a hotel conference room to draft sample legislation protecting their rights. Pant was there, hovering in the background, but the crowd was more interested in getting answers from the two straight politicians who were attending to hear their complaints about support for gay students and delays in getting passports marked "third gender." Nepal’s example is powerful enough that donors from Norway and Sweden want to help them replicate it elsewhere. That effort will begin on Aug. 18 with a meeting in Kathmandu of gay activists from all over South Asia. It’s hard to say what the gay world in Asia will look like a decade from now, but in a valley in the shadow of the Himalayas, it is finding its next incarnation.

— with reporting by Jessie Jiang / Beijing, Coco Masters / Tokyo, Madhur Singh / New Delhi and Omar Waraich / Lahore

September 2009 – The Rising Nepal

Ensuring Rights Of Sexual Minorities

by Laxman Datt Pant
Nepal is in the process of drafting a new constitution. The issue of inclusion has been the top agenda for many of the political parties. Many groups including indigenous people, Madhesis, women and marginalised groups have been lobbying to make the constitution inclusive. Sexual minority groups have also been lobbying for a guarantee of their right to identity.

Supreme Court orders
Although sexual minority groups that include lesbians, gays, bisexuals, the transgender and intersex (LGBTI) are frowned upon in the Nepalese society, on December 20, 2007 the Supreme Court directed the government to enact laws to provide equal rights to the LGBTI citizens. It was a welcome step by the court. The Supreme Court order states that all LGBTIs are natural persons and their physical growth as well as sexual orientation, gender identity and expression are all part of a natural growing process. Thus equal rights, identity and expression must be ensured regardless of their sex at birth. However, no concrete measures have been initiated yet by the government to ensure LGBTI rights.

The LGBTI community in Nepal identifies itself with a terminology different from those used in the Western countries. For example, effeminate homosexual men are referred to as metis, singarus or kothis. Gay or bisexual men are known as dohoris. The sexual partners of the metis and dohoris are known as tas. They see themselves as masculine and mostly act like heterosexual males. And those who are born biologically male and wish to be female are called hijras or eunuchs.

One hardly finds an open gay life in Nepal. Gays are mostly either forced into marriage by their families or are left with no choice but to leave the home. Though Nepal has no laws that criminalise homosexuality, under the bestiality chapter, an unnatural sexual act is punishable by up to one-year in prison or a fine of Rs. 5000. However, there is no law to define what is a natural and unnatural sexual act.

There is no statistics regarding the LGBTI populace as they are not regarded important in Nepalese society. Nepal’s national Central Bureau of Statistics (CBS) is contemplating including the ‘third gender’ in the 2011 census. The CBS is also pondering the option of a survey to count the number of LGBTIs in Nepal. Blue Diamond Society (BDS) estimates there are some two million homosexuals and people of the third gender in Nepal. About 40,000 are registered as the third gender with its offices in 35 districts across the country.

Nepal is the first South Asian country to recognise the rights of the LGBTI. Recently, the sexual minorities were recognised by the law in India also. In practice, however, discrimination is widely prevalent. Members of the sexual minorities have been victims of discrimination in Nepal. A 21-year-old lesbian became the first person in Nepal to be officially recognised as a third gender person during the Maoist-led government. This move was hailed as a landmark for the sexual minorities in Nepal.

Bishnu Adhikari, who was forced to leave her home in Pokhara town by outraged relatives and neighbours, became the first person in Nepal to be given an official identity card that described her as a "third gender" on September 8, 2008. Bhakti Shah, 23, a cadet of the Nepali Army, found her service terminated because she was found spending most of her free time with a fellow female cadet. On July 16, 2007, a court of enquiry by the army ordered that she be dismissed from the training academy for carrying out "immoral" activities. Shah was a national volleyball player who grew up in remote Achham district and was happy to dress in unisex clothes and hang out with male friends.

It is, perhaps, the political movement that has answered for the problems faced by the sexual minorities in the country. Sunil Babu Pant, the first gay member of the Constituent Assembly (CA) is an example which can encourage both NGOs and civil society members to work with the idea. Pant, founder of Blue Diamond Society, represents the Communist Party of Nepal-United in the 601 member Constituent Assembly. The LGBTI communities were part of the campaign for garnering votes for the Communist Party of Nepal- United. They approached Pant to campaign, and he secured 15,500 votes. This shows that LGBTI people are quite interested in matters of politics and governance and not just sex.

There is a need to understand who and what the sexual minorities are. To trigger the larger response of the civil society, a long-term process-based strategic relationship with politicians and other systems of government must be established.

Nepal needs to change the societal norms that have demarcated the roles of men and women. There have been changes in the laws against the sexual minorities within a short period of time. However, it will take more time for the society to accept them as intelligent and contributing citizens.

It is noticeable that the Supreme Court decision has opened ways to ensure equal rights to individuals representing the sexual minority groups. The implementation of the decision will guarantee their rights. But one needs to see how the mere mention of one’s sexual orientation on an identity card will reduce discrimination in the Nepalese society.

The major political parties don’t take the issues of the sexual minorities seriously. The community has not been supported by the government. However, during the Maoist-led government, the finance minister had announced in the annual budget that the state would accord special priority to solving the core problems of the Nepali people relating to sexual and gender minorities and that a common house for 50 people would be built for them to live together and socialise.

Recognition, respect and opportunities should be granted to the sexual minorities for them to respond positively. The government should provide housing facilities for them. Poverty alleviation programmes such as micro-credit, training programmes, educational scholarships, health care and training opportunities should be provided to the community.

The LGBTI community needs to work with human rights organisations and civil society members to campaign for their rights through rallies, protests, conferences, discussion panels and delegations. Support from the youth organisations and political leaders is a must to end discrimination at all levels.

The time now is crucial because the country is drafting a new constitution within a few months. The organisations working for the welfare of the sexual minorities should focus mainly on constitutional and legal reforms. It is unfortunate that the government has yet to implement the December 2007 Supreme Court order on equal rights for the LGBTI people. The government should take immediate steps to implement the Supreme Court order so that all third gender people can live with dignity.

(Pant can be reached here)

September 25, 2009 – The New York Times

Bhutan Refugees Find a Toehold in the Bronx

by Kirk Semple
Nearly every immigrant group in New York City has a neighborhood, or at least a street, to call its own. But for refugees from the tiny South Asian nation of Bhutan, the closest thing to a home base is a single building in the Bronx — a red-brick five-story walk-up, with a weed-choked front courtyard and grimy staircases.

Eight families — more than 40 people — have taken up residence here in the past several months, part of a stream of thousands of Bhutanese refugees who have flowed into the United States in the past year and a half. With the help of resettlement agencies, many have found apartments in the Bronx, and the largest concentration has ended up here in the building on University Avenue.

This is their small toehold in a strange new world. The only life most have known was in the rural plains and Himalayan foothills of Bhutan and the dusty refugee camps of Nepal. Few have ever lived in homes with electricity or indoor plumbing, or between walls made of anything but bamboo. Now they dwell among high-rise canyons, contending with wild traffic, a miasma of cultures and languages, and New York’s frenzied pace. Their challenge now is to bridge those two worlds — finding jobs and enrolling in classes — and move beyond the building.

“We have started inventing our lifestyle,” said Abhi Siwakoti, 24, who arrived last November and lives with his family in Apartment 5G. That style has none of the standoffishness of the typical New York apartment block. Neighbors drop in on one another for advice and company. A porridge of humidity and street noise oozed through the open windows one sweltering morning as Suk Man Tamang, 30, sat on the edge of a bed in his ground-floor three-bedroom apartment. The place was furnished with a couple of bureaus, several beds that doubled as couches and little else. The walls were bare. His two sisters and a niece dawdled for a while, barely concealing their boredom, then went for a walk. Two Bhutanese neighbors stopped by to say hello.

Mr. Tamang arrived on Aug. 3, joining his parents, who arrived a week earlier. But in this busy building he could already see a glimmer of a future neighborhood. “There’s Chinatown, there’s Koreatown, there’s Indiatown,” he said. “One day there will be a big Bhutanese community.”

All of the newcomers are Bhutanese of Nepalese origin who had migrated to Bhutan or were descended from immigrants. In the early 1990s, Bhutan expelled tens of thousands of Nepali Bhutanese, most of them from poor farming families, accusing them of immigrating illegally. The majority ended up in seven refugee camps in Nepal, where they lived in bamboo-and-thatch huts and were cared for by international aid agencies.

Bhutan refused to take them back and Nepal refused to give them citizenship. In 2007, the United States agreed to resettle at least 60,000 of them. The first arrived in early 2008. Through an elaborate process involving consultation between resettlement agencies, about 170 Bhutanese refugees have been placed in New York. The families in the University Avenue building were brought by the International Rescue Committee, an agency that has a longstanding relationship with the landlord.

There was no significant Bhutanese population in New York to receive and help assimilate them. So except for the guidance of the resettlement agencies, they rely largely on one another to solve the puzzles of American city life and, for the first time since they were exiled from Bhutan, become self-reliant. Inside the 60-unit building, where they are a distinct minority, they share meals and information about job leads and educational opportunities, and simply hang out in one another’s apartments to pass the time. The refugees say the flow resembles the comfortable circulation of neighbors and relatives from hut to hut in the Nepalese camps.

One morning, the Tamang family needed to go shopping but their food stamps had not yet been issued. So the Siwakoti family, from upstairs, lent some of theirs. The seven-member Gurung family, who arrived in four groups during the winter and spring, invited the Tamangs for a traditional Bhutanese meal at their apartment on Bainbridge Avenue in the Bronx. Though the Gurungs had been in the country less than a year — “we’re just-born,” said Gyan Gurung, 33 — they were relative veterans.

The two families sat on the floor of the tidy apartment to eat. The walls were decorated with a New York subway map and a Buddhist bead necklace. “The sweetest matter is that all Bhutanese have a universal brotherhood,” said Mr. Siwakoti, who works with several other Bhutanese refugees at a food-packing plant in Brooklyn. On the sidewalks of the Bronx, the refugees move comfortably and without much trepidation. Slender, short and unassuming, they are easily absorbed into the commotion. Yet with each week, they are learning facts about urban life, and their other neighbors, that should concern them.

Mr. Tamang said that one day his elderly parents, who speak no English, were alone in their apartment when they heard loud knocking. Opening the door, the father was confronted by several young men. Although he understood none of the words the men were using, he gathered from their angry gestures that they were looking for a missing bicycle and were demanding to search the apartment.

Mr. Tamang said his father, small and mild mannered, stepped aside to allow the group to enter, but the men eventually went away, leaving the father shaken. “They were trying to get in,” Mr. Tamang recalled, surprise and pain in his voice. “We are very honest people.” Mr. Tamang said he would no longer leave his parents without one of their English-speaking children.

Most Bhutanese households in the Bronx, in fact, have experienced something of a role reversal: the children, most of whom speak English, have now become the caretakers of their parents, who do not. They chaperone their elders to doctor’s appointments, enroll younger siblings in school and work to support the family. “It’s our turn,” Mr. Tamang said. “It’s very hard.”

The shift was evident in apartment after apartment. As members of the younger generation described their plans to a reporter, their parents sat listlessly, saying nothing, or slipped away for a nap. Several younger refugees said their parents, anticipating an isolated existence in the United States, were yearning for the day they could return to Bhutan. They, on the other hand, are intent on succeeding in their new country.

In Apartment 2H, T. P. Mishra, 25, who edited a monthly newspaper in Nepal, has been using his blog, Journalism in Exile, to share his and other refugees’ experiences — including the challenges of navigating New York, and the killing in July of a young Bhutanese refugee in Florida. Mr. Mishra arrived alone in New York in July, and was later joined by two of his sisters. He had been bracing for “serious cultural shock,” he said, but his fears evaporated when he walked into the building.

“Because the moment I’m about to enter my apartment, there were dozens of Bhutanese around me,” he recalled. “Some looked like my mother, some looked like my father. They said, ‘You will be O.K..’ ”

October 22, 2009 – The Kathmandu Post

Nepal eyes sexual minorities for tourism

by Kamal Raj Sigdel
Kathmandu – Almost three years after the Supreme Court established gay rights in Nepal, the country is awaiting to host “one of the most extravagant groups of tourists in the world” — the sexual minorities consisting of lesbians, gays, bi-sexuals and transgenders (LGBTs). Nepal Tourism Board (NTB) officials hope that LGBT arrivals will contribute to the government aim of bringing in a million foreign tourists in the Nepal Tourism Year 2011.

In the recent past, the tourism authority has held a series of meetings with some internationally established private companies, tour operators and non-profit organisations to promote Nepal as a potential destination for LGBTs. The sexual minorities make up about 10 percent of the world population—670 million as of July 2008—according to the Kinsey Institute at Indiana University, an acclaimed research organisation specialising in sex, gender and reproduction.

“Some international companies want to work in tandem with the go-vernment and attract LGBTs. We will develop strategies for the same,” said an NTB official. “The beginning is encouraging.” What has encouraged the government the most is that the renowned US-based Community Marketing Inc. (CMI), which is involved in gay and lesbian market research, has agreed to join hands in promoting Nepal as one of the best destinations for sexual minorities. A CMI research shows that gay and lesbian consumers make up at least 10 percent of the consumer market. LGBT activists say they prefer destinations like Nepal, which is rich in culture, art, architecture, cuisine and music.

The CMI believes that Nepal has both natural beauty and the goodwill of the LGBT community worldwide to emerge as one of the world’s top destinations for sexual minorities. Nepal recently made history by having Asia’s first openly gay lawmaker Sunil Babu Pant, who is also Chairman of Blue Diamond Society. Pant, who has been involved in promoting Nepal as a destination for sexual minorities, believes that the state could revive the economy if it could bring in at least 10 percent of the total LGBT population. “All that the government has to do is welcome LGBT travellers,” says Pant.

As part of the first promotional activity, Nepal is hosting a historic international conference in February, which is expected to bring together the world’s top tour operators, airlines and agencies selling adventure tourism to Kathmandu to explore opportunities for gay tourism in Nepal.

December 14, 2009 – Hindustan Times

Nepal readies to recognise third gender voters

Close on the heels of the Indian election authorities recognising third gender voters, Nepal’s Election Commission has also begun a massive project to grant recognition to voters who are neither male or female but transsexuals and transgenders. Shyam Sundar Sharma, joint secretary at the Nepal Election Commission, said the Himalayan republic had begun the process to upgrade the voters’ list almost eight months ago and was happy at the Indian decision but not influenced by it.

"In Nepal, we read the Indian decision with interest," Sharma told IANS. "We are glad the Indian Election Commission decided to recognise third genders’ identities in the voters’ registration forms. However, we have noted that the decision came after an order to that effect from the court. In Nepal, we took the decision to recognise the third gender voter without any court order. We are curious why it took India so long."

Nepal last went to the elections in April 2008, which resulted in a sea change. The former Himalayan kingdom was transformed into a secular republic and its Maoist guerrillas, who had fought an armed insurrection for 10 years, came to power for a short period after emerging as the largest party. The constituent assembly that was elected agreed to promulgate a new constitution by May 2010.

"We are readying for the next general election on the premise that it will be held within six months of the new constitution coming into effect," Sharma said. "If things go as per schedule, Nepal will have its general election in November 2010." The next general election will see, for the first time in Nepal’s history, a voter being registered as either male or female or third gender. Nepal’s population stands at about 27 million. There are about 17.6 million eligible voters so far.

Sharma estimates that the new change will not cause the number of voters to go up dramatically. "The constitution grants everyone the right to vote," he said. "And many third genders, who are above 18 years, are already enrolled as voters. The new decision will simply establish their sexual identities."

The official said the Election Commission intends to hold discussions with Nepal’s only openly gay member of parliament, Sunil Babu Pant, and the gay rights organisation he has founded, Blue Diamond Society. "We would like to discuss the technicalities," he said. "Whether the third gender would like to be identified as third gender or have a specific gender identity." Besides homosexuals and lesbians, Nepal’s sexual minorities also have metis, men who feel they are actually women trapped in a male body, and eunuchs.

Nepal’s Supreme Court issued a series of directives to the government in the past, making Nepal the most progressive country in South Asia. Besides asking the government to end all discrimination against the community, the apex court has also given the go-ahead to same-sex marriages.

The April election also struck a blow for third genders, seeing members from the community contest for the first time and with the major political parties wooing them with promises to ensure their rights. However, the security forces still remain homophobic, especially the army. The BDS is fighting a case in court against the dismissal of two women who were sacked due to the allegation they were lesbians.

December 2009 –

Knowledge of and Preventive Behavior towards Influenza 2009 (H1N1) among Residents of Bangkok, Thailand

by Ratana Somrongthong, Orapin Laosee, Sukarin Wimuktayon – Chulalongkorn University, Thailand
This study aimed to assess the knowledge of and use of preventive behaviors with regard to Influenza 2009 (H1N1) among residents of Bangkok, Thailand. In June 2009, a group of 1056 participants was interviewed, with 60% women and a mean age of 34.8 years (range 7-92). Respondents included students (33.6%), government officers (32.0%), private employees or vendors (19.9%) and unemployed persons or housewives (14.3%). Most participants (91.5%) did not report any symptoms of cold or flu in the previous two weeks. Fewer than half (45.4%) reported wearing a face mask when they caught a cold, a finding that varied significantly by age group and occupation (Pearson Chi-square p <0.001).

The route of transmission was understood by 87.7% of the respondents, though 37% believed that the common cold could easily develop into Influenza 2009 infection. The belief that infection can be prevented with vaccination differed significantly with gender, age group and occupation (Pearson Chi-square p = 0.023, 0.019 and <0.001, respectively). Three-fifths of the respondents reported that they take care of household members ill with the common cold. Less than half of the respondents (46.1%) were aware that sneezing or coughing into the upper arm is recommended to prevent the spread Influenza 2009 (H1N1). This knowledge also differed with age group and occupation (Pearson Chi-square p = 0.017 and 0.004 respectively). Based on these survey findings, health education for Influenza 2009 (H1N1) may be improved if the gender, age group and occupation of the target population are taken into account.

Entire Report HERE

December 21, 2009 – IGLHRC

IGLHRC and Lambda Legal Consulting with Nepali Government on LGBTI Rights Protections

Los Angeles – The International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission (IGLHRC) and Lambda Legal are working with Nepali government leaders as they explore how to include protections for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex (LGBTI) people in the country’s laws. Jennifer C. Pizer, Senior Counsel and National Marriage Project Director for Lambda Legal, returned this week from two weeks in Kathmandu at the invitation of Nepali lawmakers to advise the government’s eight-member study and drafting committee. The committee will present its recommendations to the Nepali Parliament in 2010. Pizer’s trip was organized and sponsored by IGLHRC, and continues that organization’s technical support of LGBTI advocates in the Himalayan nation and across Asia.

"Nepal has become a world leader in LGBTI rights," said Cary Alan Johnson, IGLHRC’s Executive Director. "We commend Nepali lawmakers for their outreach to and consideration of the LGBTI community and we congratulate the civil society in Nepal on their advocacy and success. These efforts should be a model for nations seeking to develop legal protections for LGBTI people."

Prior to the 2007 Supreme Court ruling that directed Nepal’s Parliament to end all forms of legal discrimination against the LGBTI community, police abuse was common, including the 2004 murder of a meti (transgender woman) by a police officer. Resulting from the ruling was a study and drafting committee which includes representatives of the ministries of law, population and environment, as well the National Commission on Human Rights and national police. According to the Supreme Court’s direction, the committee will consider how other countries have extended full rights – including the right to marry – to their LGBTI citizens.

"It’s extraordinarily encouraging that the senior government officials who make up this committee are so committed to educating themselves about the lives of LGBTI people and to extending full citizenship to this and other marginalized minority groups," said Pizer. "Other countries, including the United States, would do well to follow their example. The Court’s decision is part of a growing international awareness that sexual orientation and gender identity discrimination causes real harm to real people. The timing, just as Nepal is drafting a new constitution and inspired to secure equality for all Nepali citizens, couldn’t be better."

Activist Sunil Pant – now a member of Parliament and of the Constituent Assembly drafting the new constitution – founded the Blue Diamond Society to help the LGBTI community defend itself. The Blue Diamond Society and three other groups filed the successful 2007 lawsuit demanding the government recognize the civil rights of transgender (or “"third gender") people without requiring them to affirm one gender identity instead of another; create a new law forbidding discrimination and violence against LGBTI communities; and require the state to make reparations to LGBTI victims of state violence and discrimination.

"The Court found that LGBTI people are ‘natural persons’ and that we deserve the same protections as everyone else," said Pant. "The extraordinary thing is that Nepal is in many ways still a very conservative, traditional country. The movement for LGBT rights is just beginning, but the Court and the government have thus far outpaced many western countries with long-established civil rights movements. We still face many problems, but we’ve made an enormous amount of progress in a short time."

Pant hopes to arrange for the study and drafting committee to travel to countries that have eliminated the different-gender requirement for marriage and that provide other essential legal protections to LGBTI people couples.

December 31, 2009

Sunil B Pant, Member of Constituent Assembly and Parliament, Kathmandu, Nepal

1st Asian Symposium on Gay & Lesbian Tourism

1st Asian Symposium on Gay & Lesbian Tourism:
A Productive Program of Education and Networking: Research, Insights, Strategies and Case Studies
The Everest Hotel Kathmandu: 6 February 2010

Sponsored by Nepal Tourism Board, NATTA, ECO Trek International, Hotel Everest, Hotel Holy Himalaya, IGLTA and Community Markeeting, Inc.

Presenting a comprehensive research, advertising, marketing, and communications forum
that will help you better understand and serve gay and lesbian travellers.

Audience: Perfect for marketing, advertising and PR executives of the tourism and hospitality industries who want to reach North American, European, Asian and Australian gay/lesbian visitors, and initiate or update effective strategies.

Dedicated: Symposium attendance is limited in order to facilitate the best learning and networking environment.

Plenary sessions, workshops and meals included in one low registration.

Learn, review, update and strategise!
• Review research on North American and European LGBT travellers
• Internet and email marketing, social networking, and other emerging communications technologies
• Exploring regional markets accross Asia, and how to reach them
• Focus group insights and trends
• Maximizing print advert and PR results
• Direct response marketing outreach
• Proven techniques for measuring, monitoring and maximizing ROI
• Sponsorship marketing and events, and more

Symposium runs 10 am to 19.30pm, including lunch, coffee and dinner.

Registration for companies located in South Asia and owned/operated by South Asians:
__ Early registration by 25 January: NPR 2,500 per person
__ On-Site registration: NPR 3,500 per person

Registration options for all other companies and organizations:
__ Early registration by 25 January: USD 95
__ Two early registrations from the same organisation (by 25 January): USD 150
__ Standard registration by 2 February: USD 125
__ After 2 February, and on-site registration: USD 145 per person

For South Asians please fax to: +977 1 4438600 • All others, please fax to: +1 415-552-5104

Inquiries and email registration:

Free registration, accommodation and mountain flight are arranged for international/regional journalists.