Bhutan took a step towards queer rights, but its LGBTIQ+ people want a giant leap


In June 2022, in the middle of Pride Month celebrations across the world, Tashi Choden Chombal was crowned the third Miss Bhutan. Chombal was 23 years old at the time and had been openly gay for nine years. She came out on social media as bisexual when she turned 15 and was pleasantly surprised by responses of acceptance and support. This was the moment when she decided to research sexual identities and orientations. “This helped to figure out myself too,” she told me when I interviewed her in July. Before the pageant, she was a model and an aspiring actor, but after her win she became one of the most recognisable people in the country, and especially prominent as a queer activist. Chombal recalled the time in her adolescence when she did not understand why she felt different from other young girls. She did not dare to ask people questions and did not have access to the right resources. She remembered her struggles to find her identity, which shook her self-esteem and left her with no sense of belonging. She also recalled being depressed and having thoughts of self-harm. Chombal said she was always outspoken and had lost some friends as a result. But the same outspokenness was her way of finding acceptance from strangers. She said that in her quest for acceptance, the fates seemed to align perfectly when the Miss Bhutan pageant final was postponed to June 2022, which happened to be Pride Month. “This opportunity allowed me to shine on the global stage and advocate for my rights as an individual, representing both the beautiful country of Bhutan and my community,” she said. The pageant organisers displayed little concern over her sexual orientation. A few people on social media expressed their disapproval of a gay woman contestant, but the atmosphere was largely supportive. Most people celebrated her when she won.

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