How did you become involved with LGBTIQ activism?
I have experience in several professions such as teaching and fashion design. I never thought I would call myself an activist, but I’m proud to say now that I identify as a bisexual woman and I’m an LGBTIQ activist. Several years ago I met Laxmi Ghalan, the founder of Mitini Nepal, who approached me to help out with Mitini Nepal’s efforts as a volunteer initially. I met so many people and heard their stories which inspired me to act. As I became increasingly involved in the work, I advanced from volunteer to secretary, and now to executive director.
What is it like to LGBTIQ in Nepal?
We celebrate the International Day Against Homophobia, Biphobia and Transphobia every year. We have rights to freedom of expression. In 2007 the Nepal Supreme Court ruled to legalize homosexuality, end discrimination against LGBTIQ individuals, and legally recognized gender and sexual minorities within our constitution. Nepal’s new 2015 constitution also amended our rights in articles 12 (Citizenship), 18 (Right to equality), and 42 (Right to social justice), which granted individuals the choice to use “male, female, or other” on their citizenship cards. While this was progress, the way that it has been implemented has not been beneficial. For example, transgender individuals are still required to have a “sex correction” surgery before they can establish their accurate gender and many Nepali people continue to hold a damaging stereotype that LGBTI people are sex workers. Our rights are set in the constitution, but still not properly implemented. Mitini Nepal is working with Parliamentarians to sensitize them to the community in order to change these regressive policies and views. There isn’t any representation of LGBTI people in Nepal’s Parliament.
There are also huge data gaps. We do have an upcoming census that will better measure the number of LGBTIQ individuals within our communities, but there is so much more work to be done.
What is your organizational mission and focus?
Our mission is to advocate for the access of political, legal, social, economic and educational rights of LBT people by strengthening coordination, collaboration, networks and developing mutual understanding among all concerned stakeholders. To build capacity for excluded and vulnerable LBT individuals in order to create an egalitarian environment for sexual and gender minorities.
Mitini Nepal is not only advocating our elected officials but actively partnering with schools around Nepal to train teachers and educate students about the struggles and violence that the LGBTIQ community faces. We also provide capacity building programs to LGBTIQ individuals such as jewelry-making and other skills. It is very difficult to get a job in Nepal if you share with your employer that you are LGBTIQ, so we want to give individuals the opportunity to build their own source of income. In addition to educational and personal development, we also provide counseling services, and most recently COVID-19 specific resources. Our organization also provides awareness raising opportunities such as our radio program and academic institute orientation classes.Every International Day Against Homophobia, Biphobia and Transphobia, our organization works with rural and urban communities across Nepal to celebrate and educate locals about LGBTIQ rights and experiences.
How can others best support Mitini Nepal’s efforts and their work?
We would love to connect with others who have organized successful LGBTIQ rights lobbying campaigns and learn from their experience. For example, it’d be wonderful to connect with LGBTIQ activists in the United States and other countries to hear more about how they built success and progress within their communities. Nepal currently does not have any LGBTIQ individuals elected to office and we’re working to change that, but in the meantime learning from others is helpful. In addition to political advocacy, Mitini Nepal is trying to build a central home with services and shelter for LGBTIQ individuals experiencing homelessness. Right now there aren’t any safe spaces that we can gather and receive the support and services we need.
We are a community based organization that mostly focuses on advocacy, but COVID-19 taught us more about humanitarian work. It was quite difficult for us to provide relief activities. The government has not collected any information regarding the status of LGBTI individuals and the unique issues they face in light of COVID-19. We need research and data that can be used to advocate further.
To financially support to Mitini Nepal’s efforts, you can contribute to their scholarship fund for LBT students: https://mitininepal.org.np/product/lbt-scholarship/