From the outside, Karma Dupchen might be just another young Bhutanese man who recently graduated from a civil engineering study. Off his engineering class, Karma spent much time on Facebook advocating LGBT rights. The 23 yours old man is the creator of LGBT Bhutan, Bhutan’s first ever Facebook page dedicated to spread awareness about LGBT community. The page made national headline few months after its inception in 2013. A notable Bhutanese journalist applauded the page as a virtual turning point to affirm the existence of LGBT individuals in the Kingdom.
Growing up as a gay man in Bhutan has been a very confusing and alienating experience for Karma. In Karma’s observation, Bhutanese society views homosexuality and transgenderism as an exclusively western phenomenon, making it harder for Bhutanese LGBT individuals to accept their true sexual orientation and/or gender identity.
Karma came to terms with his sexuality at the age of 20 after witnessing a trend of closeted gay Bhutanese men being trapped in the traditional “Bhutanese dream” – entering marriage with a woman, loving the wife to the best of their ability and struggling with dishonesty to the best of their endurance. Karma knew that homosexuality was not a choice but he also knew that he had a choice in being honest about it with himself and his surroundings; and that was how he decided to come out and free himself from the trap. The young man didn’t just stop there, however. He wanted to let other Bhutanese young gay men also know that they had a choice to embrace the strength to break free from the traditionalism – and that was how “LGBT Bhutan” page came about.
Back in his school days, Karma experienced name calling for being different with most of his heterosexual friends. Despite that, the now, older Karma still believes that Bhutanese people are a tolerant society. “They are just not well informed and have no knowledge about LGBT people,” says the young man who get inspired by It Gets Better project. LGBT Bhutan, accordingly, also serves as his advocacy to lessen the society’s ignorance amidst the very low positive coverage of LGBT people in Bhutan’s culture and media. Among the resources that LGBT Bhutan share online are stories showcasing LGBT faces from the neighboring Asian countries. In his perspective, those stories are powerful to show that homosexuality and transgenderism are not western products.
Back in February this year, Karma represented Bhutan in UNDP’s Regional Dialogue on LGBTI Rights and Health in the Asia-Pacific. Karma joined 200 other community advocates from over 30 countries to reflect and document the challenges and progress of LGBTI rights and access to health, education, employment and social protection. Upon his return from the Dialogue, Karma believed that he gained more confidence on advocating the change within his society beyond his Facebook initiative.
As of the writing of this article, Karma has been planning on the project that will bring Bhutanese gay crowd together, allow them to have healthy interaction without fear of being judged and curate their stories to further showcase the diversity of the Kingdom’s sexual minority. In doing so, Karma has been meeting community organisation such as Lhak-Sam (BNP+), the country’s first network of HIV positive people who also works in advancing the rights of people of sexual minorities. Lhak-Sam (BNP+) is one of the sub-recipients under the Multi-Country South Asia Global Fund HIV Programme (MSA), which is based in the UNDP Bangkok Regional Hub.
Karma’s big aspiration is to transform LGBT Bhutan to also become a valid organization that provide mental health and peer mentoring support to hundreds, if not thousands, of LGBT individuals from all over Bhutan. He truly believes that, in a country that prides itself of measuring life quality in terms of “gross national happiness,” a happiness should not be excluded to its LGBT citizens.