Amid Widespread Stigma and Harassment, Bhutan’s LGBT Community Seeks Acceptance

While Bhutan is predominantly Buddhist and teaches values like compassion and tolerance, its laws are highly unfavorable toward the Lesbian Gay Bisexual Transgender Queer (LGBTQ) community that forms a tiny segment of its society.

According to informal records of the community, there are 92 registered LGBTQ+ members including one lesbian, 47 gay men, 12 bisexual men, two bisexual women, 14 transgender men and 16 transgender women. Among the registered members, only about 20 are publicly open about their gender identity and sexual orientation, while about 15 members are open to some and the rest have not told anyone.

Homosexuality in Bhutan has been criminalised. Clause 213 of the Penal Code of Bhutan 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” while clause 214 states the “offence of unnatural sex shall be a petty misdemeanour”.

Though some Bhutanese – especially the literate lot – are more open and accepting of the LGBTQ+, the community still remains largely misunderstood.

Twenty-six-year-old Pema Dorji is a gay man. When he was in school, he was subjected to verbal abuse and was called degrading names by his peers.

Tenzin Gyeltshen, another gay man, realised that he was homosexual fairly recently. “It has been just three years and this period has been liberating for me especially in terms of understanding who I am and who I want to be,” said the 25 year old.

Gyeltshen remembers that when he was in school, he was unaware of his sexual orientation and of the LGBTQ+ community. He recalls that he was called names, which others associated with how he walked, talked or even with who he befriended.

He was branded as “a boy who had both the male and the female biological reproductive organs”.

“My friends were very curious about what I had under my gho (traditional attire for men in Bhutan). I had to build an invisible wall around me just to protect myself from being harassed or teased. For that reason, I didn’t have many friends; I became anti-social,” Gyeltshen said.

Today, he is more comfortable with his sexual orientation and less concerned about how the society views him, though a part of him is still afraid to open up.

“It is not a secret anymore that LGBTQ+ individuals are present in the country and it’s also not a secret that we have a law that criminalises sodomy and our community remains wary of that law,” said Gyeltshen who works for the LGBT+ community in Bhutan.

He has also come across cases where individuals use this particular law to blackmail and threaten LGBTQ+ people.

Apart from the stigma, discrimination and harassment that the community faces, there are several other risks that make them vulnerable. Read more via the Wire