This year Nepal has taken several historic steps in recognizing lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex (LGBTI) people. In September the country adopted a constitution which protects LGBTI from discrimination, violence and abuse. This followed another recent decision to provide passports recognizing a third gender. But what is it like to be a LGBTI in Nepal?
Meghna Lama is a transgender woman from a rural area in Nepal. She moved to the capital – Kathmandu and opened Pink Tiffany – the first of restaurant of its kind in Nepal. The place caters to lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex people (LGBTI) and their supporters, providing them with a space where they can come to be themselves and let their hair down. Meghna who won the 2010 Transgender woman contest in Nepal and represented her country at the Miss International Transgender Queen competition now also works as a model. After she joined the Blue Diamond Society (a Sub-Recepient of the Multi-Country South Asia Global Fund HIV Programme based in the UNDP Bangkok Regional Hub), she says she ‘found her sexuality’ and moved to Kathmandu to pursue her higher studies. Since then she has found great success but it hasn’t come easily. APCOM spoke to Meghna about her extraordinary journey which is an inspiration to many people.
Meghna recalls “Before I came into contact with the Blue Diamond Society, I did not understand my sexuality. No one had counselled me about being LGBTI. I lived in a village and I had never seen LGBTI people before. After I joined the Blue Diamond Society, I realised who I truly am and decided to embrace my gender identity.” Coming out for Meghna was not easy. After losing a brother to an accident when he was only 18, Meghna was left as the only child of her family. The responsibility of her family lay heavily on her shoulders. Nepal is deeply rooted in culture and because of this, Meghna was obliged to get married to a woman and continue the family legacy by having children. Slowly and with much effort she managed to convince her parents not to forcefully get her married. She then began to openly embrace being a woman but this was not taken well by members of her community. Her parents became victims of taunts and harassment. Meghna recalls thinking to herself “Just because I’m a transgender, why should my parents have to face all of this?”She decided not allow herself to be victim to this ill-treatment and resolved to finish school. She requested the president of Blue Diamond Society to transfer her to Kathmandu so that she could get away from all of the negativity in her village. Meghna believed that if she left Kathmandu, her family would be saved from the torment.
left: Meghna and a friend during Pink Tiffany launching party | right: Meghna walking on a runway of a beauty transgender pageant.
Today, she is a step closer to success. Many local magazines and newspapers have featured her and she is known and respected by many people both in and out of the LGBTI community. She reflects “those very neighbours that taunted my parents are now coming to congratulate them on my achievements. After lots of convincing, my parents and other members of my community are supportive of me. They even came down to Kathmandu for the opening of my restaurant, they saw so many famous celebrities and reporters at the opening of Pink Tiffany and were so proud of all of my achievements. When I go back to my village, everyone greets me nicely and accept me for who I am.”
Meghna decided not only to help herself gain acceptance but to also do something with her fame that the LGBTI community could benefit from. When asked about the inspiration behind opening a restaurant for the LGBTI community, Meghna said “LGBTI people are scared to go to other restaurants because they are discriminated against. They are treated badly by the public. I wanted to have a place where not only LGBTI but heterosexuals and LGBT supporters could also come, and be themselves and have a good time. This is our restaurant.”
On what’s next for her, Meghna tells us that she plans to open many other branches of Pink Tiffany in all parts of Nepal where many LGBTI people can get jobs. “LGBTI are not only made for sex-work and through my business and advocacy, I want to change their mindsets and include them into my business as it grows. I want to help the LGBTI community in Nepal and will continue to do so in any way that I can.”
Meghna leaves a message for the LGBTI youth that looks to her for inspiration “You have to believe in yourself. When you believe in yourself there is nothing in this world that is impossible. I’m a transgender and I chose my own path to success. There are so many people out there who don’t take the right path, don’t do that. Be successful and always choose the path that is right. Dare to dream and dare to make those dreams come true.”