Working for sexual minorities in a society that traditionally disapproved of same-sex behaviour is a challenge – but one that Blue Diamond Society in Nepal has risen to.
Blue Diamond Society (BDS) opened its doors in 2001 and was initially involved in HIV/AIDS prevention, care and support, and programme initiatives for the LGBTI community.
It soon expanded to address the fundamental societal, political, economic and constitutional rights of this community.
BDS, which is part of the Multi-Country South Asia (MSA) Global Fund HIV Programme that operates from the UNDP Bangkok Regional Hub, now provides various programmes including human rights (and in particular LGBTI rights), constitutional rights campaigns, legal aid, community empowerment programmes and skill-building initiatives.
“BDS still conducts special awareness programmes related to health, particularly sexual health – the organization supports people that have sexually transmitted infections with psycho-social interventions in order to reintegrate them into society,” says Deputy Director Manisha Dhakal. “Further, BDS and partner organisations provide specialist treatment for people involved in the male sex trade due to their vulnerability towards various sexually transmitted diseases such as HIV/AIDS.”
BDS works actively with 40 community-based organisations to provide a variety of treatment services in different parts of Nepal, including remote areas.
“The BDS programme areas of care and support and HIV prevention address a variety of individual needs such as homelessness, family breakdown, mental health issues, clinical needs, legal issues and educational and employment opportunities, especially for LGBTI and MSM/TG living with HIV,” says Manisha. “We recognize that to ensure lasting and sustainable positive change within both the LGBTI community and the wider society, institutional changes need to occur; change that is agreed at a government level. This is the fundamental rationale for the BDS programme priority areas of human rights, constitution, legal and media advocacy.”
Among its biggest successes were advocating to change laws that discriminated against LGBTI people and generally foster a more open society, which includes MSM and transgender representation in the Global Fund-guided Country Coordinating Mechanism (CCM).
But this may be about to change and BDS is now facing one of its biggest challenges.
“Recently, the Ministry of Law and Justice has proposed a civil and criminal code which (discriminates) against LGBTI people and does not respect the spirit of the Supreme Court’s decision and government in favor of LGBTI people,” says Manisha.
In 2007, a Supreme Court ruling ordered the Nepal government to grant citizenship to gender minority people, look into legalising same-sex marriage, study discriminatory laws and legalize homosexuality.
But laws being drafted for a new Constitution could re-criminalize gay sex, stall same-sex unions and reverse recognition of ‘third gender’ individuals.
BDS is actively campaigning to ensure that LGBTI human rights issues are adequately addressed in the proposed new civil and criminal codes.
It has rooted its work at the levels of service delivery, organisational development and government leadership, a focus aimed at providing short, medium and long-term dividends.
“This dynamic and proactive focus will ensure that future generations of people from the LGBTI community can have their human rights recognized as a crucial step towards full equality, inclusive of equal opportunities,” says Manisha.
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