The LGBTI rights movement in Nepal, which has been ongoing for more than two decades, has often been hailed as a beacon of progressiveness within the South Asian region. However, beneath the celebratory facade, a complex reality persists. While Nepal’s legal landscape took a significant step forward with the decriminalization of consensual same-sex activity in 2007 and the recognition of third gender options on various official identification documents, the pursuit of genuine equality for the LGBTQ+ community remains a formidable challenge. Equal access to citizenship, marriage rights, healthcare, education, employment opportunities, and social security continues to be denied to many LGBTI individuals.
What underscores these challenges is the deeply entrenched patriarchy that shapes societal perceptions, particularly regarding marriage equality. Despite the Constitutional safeguards provided by Nepal’s 2015 Constitution through Articles 12, 18, and 42, which guarantee fundamental rights for LGBTI individuals, the practical implementation of these rights remains a pressing concern. Organizations like Mitini Nepal are instrumental in advocating for the meaningful realization of these legally protected rights. A recent development that sheds light on the existing gaps is the outcome of Nepal’s 12th national population census conducted in 2021. The data published on March 24, 2022, revealed that the population of sexual and gender minorities accounted for a mere 0.01 percent of the total population, with regional variations in representation. However, this representation was incomplete and inadequately captured the nuances of the LGBTI community. The census failed to recognize the community as a distinct category in the main questionnaire, an oversight that has led to a lack of comprehensive data concerning their unique needs and challenges. While the Central Bureau of Statistics has expressed intent to conduct specialized surveys to address this gap, it underscores the necessity of recognizing the LGBTI community’s distinct identity.
Mitini Nepal’s advocacy for the inclusion of LGBTI communities within the definition of minorities is pivotal. The current definition encompasses women, indigenous peoples, Dalits, and other marginalized groups based on their numerical representation. However, the exclusion of the LGBTI community perpetuates the marginalization of their issues and concerns, hindering the progress towards true equality. Even as some LGBTIQ couples bravely embrace their identities and relationships openly through social media and public ceremonies, the stark reality persists for many others. Discrimination, harassment, and mental health struggles continue to plague those who lack the legal and social recognition that comes with marriage equality. Countless individuals have been compelled to leave their homes or have faced torment from their families due to their sexual orientation or desire to marry someone of the same sex. Moreover, a lack of marriage equality has been linked to higher rates of mental health issues and suicide within the LGBTIQ community.
Addressing these challenges necessitates a comprehensive campaign for marriage equality. This campaign serves as a powerful call to the Nepalese government to take proactive steps in enacting marriage equality legislation without delay. Such legislation should encompass a wide array of crucial aspects, including adoption rights, citizenship rights for adopted children, tax provisions akin to those for heterosexual couples, divorce rights, property transfer for widowers, and spouse visa rights for foreigners married to Nepalese LGBTIQ individuals.
In conclusion, while Nepal’s progress in the realm of LGBTI rights is undeniable, it is essential to acknowledge the complex challenges that persist beneath the surface. Effective advocacy and legal changes are imperative to address issues of discrimination, unequal rights, and mental health struggles faced by the LGBTI community. By recognizing their rights and fostering an environment of inclusivity and acceptance, Nepal can truly live up to its reputation as a progressive haven for queer individuals in the region.