Yam Kumari Kandel

The author is a Global Press Journal reporter based in Nepal.

Published On: July 8, 2024 04:11 PM NPT By: Yam Kumari Kandel

Community is a click away for Nepal’s gender and sexual minorities

Community is a click away for Nepal’s gender and sexual minorities

KATHMANDU, July 8:  Two years ago, when Ashok Jung Koirala and Sandip Thapa each joined Blued, China’s largest gay dating app, neither thought to date nor find a marriage partner.

Thapa, a shy person by nature, joined Blued to expand his circle of friends. And for Koirala, it was part of his job at Together With Children, a nongovernmental organization in Kathmandu, monitoring harassment against the platform’s users.

At the time, Koirala — who only embraced his identity as a gay man in 2021 — didn’t have much of a community. The isolation of the coronavirus pandemic made dating apps and various social media platforms popular as more people sought connection. For three months, Koirala and Thapa had regular conversations on the app. Thapa proposed, and three months after meeting in person, they married at Pashupatinath, a famous Hindu temple.

Finding Thapa has been lifechanging for Koirala. He says it has given him the courage and support he needs to navigate the world as a gay man. “It gives me immense happiness and enough strength to become my own version,” says Koirala, adding that it’s only because of Thapa’s support that he secured the runner-up position at the Mister Gay Nepal competition in April. Thapa “is my family, and with his love I can win the world.”

Despite Nepal’s legal advancement in recognizing sexual and gender minorities, societal acceptance remains elusive. LGBTQ+ people in the country — those who identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer or with other sexual orientations or gender identities — still face stigma and discrimination. Some are ostracized from their homes and traditional support systems. In response, virtual spaces like Facebook groups, dating apps and online forums are becoming crucial sanctuaries for them to find community and express their identity without fear.

Sudeep Gautam, a transgender man, created a Facebook group in 2022 to bring together transgender men in Nepal. Gautam wanted a space where they could share personal experiences about their identity, financial challenges and other issues. Discussions about health are especially important for transgender men, Gautam says. They often struggle to talk about their health, particularly menstruation, which many find anxiety-inducing. The virtual group provides a crucial opportunity for them to share some of these experiences they wouldn’t share elsewhere.

Pratik Thapa, of Kathmandu, says the group has helped him deal with hormonal issues, which he constantly struggles with. So far, the group has 60 members. “For us, this is our home,” Gautam says. For  members who have been rejected by their birth families, the group is a space to find  familial connections, Gautam adds. The idea is “to unite family-less trans men and to  make them feel secure.”

These digital environments offer a sense of control and safety. Users can choose to remain anonymous, create secret accounts, and connect without the pressure of disclosing their real-world identities. This autonomy allows them to forge meaningful connections, share experiences, and build supportive networks that are otherwise inaccessible.

Pinky Gurung, a transgender woman and president of the Blue Diamond Society, an LGBTQ+ rights organization in Nepal, says that during the pandemic, Kinner Big Boss, a LGBTQ+ group on Facebook, became a key platform where people could share their struggles. There are 700 sexual and gender minorities in the group, Gurung says. Those who want to join can only do so through an invitation from current members.

Gurung, who is a known activist in Nepal, says Kinner Big Boss has become a vital resource in her advocacy. It’s one of the ways she stays informed about the needs of the people she serves. Conversation topics include employment opportunities, training and mental health treatment.

For example, in March, a group member posted news of an underage lesbian couple who were beaten by their family. Based on this news, Blue Diamond Society reached out and helped place the teens in a shelter. “It is becoming increasingly dangerous for [LGBTQ+ people] to live with their family,” Gurung says.

The incident highlights the importance of virtual spaces, says Rukshana Kapali, a Nepali transgender woman. They cannot afford to buy houses and even when they rent, they are stigmatized, she adds. But virtual spaces could be a double-edged sword.

Gender and sexual minorities are routinely harassed on these platforms too, says Koirala, who counsels those who have gone through such harassment. He closely monitors nine social media pages and closed messenger groups dedicated to LGBTQ+ people. He adds that, although the platforms are useful, many face economic and sexual violence through them. Some people use fake identification to harass members, he says.

Gautam agrees. He says this has happened several times in the Facebook group he created for transgender men. Although he reported some of these incidents to the police, he was not satisfied with the response. Now he investigates suspicious behavior and ejects offending members from the group.

Aanik Rana Magar, who is also a recognized activist for gender and sexual minorities, started a closed group on Facebook Messenger. So far, the group has 47 members from across Nepal. Rana Magar says he formed the group to foster unity and help with issues related to identity, administration, health and employment.

Suraj Thapa, a gay man, joined the group in 2022 and has made close friends through it. “While talking online, we drink tea together at sunset,” he says. “Group members treat my problem as their own.”

This story was originally published by Global Press Journal.

 

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