My Days in Nepal – With a few LGBT+ people in that Country
Last year (2019) in September, I started my journey to Nepal from Sydney. Taking two weeks' leave from my then job and company, I decided that I needed to do something beyond Australia's LGBT+ scenario. Please do not get me wrong! I truly love what I'm doing in Australia; however, with due respect I feel we are talking a lot for the ethnic LGBT+ community and not taking any actions on it. So backpacked, I gave my friends who dropped me at the airport, a solid 1 minute uncomfortable emotional goodbye, as around that time I did not have permanent residency in Australia and was not sure if I was coming back to this great country which once I called home, and flew to Nepal.
Landing in Nepal after 18 hours, I felt a sense of belonging. I am from an Indian background so our culture is quite similar. Not sure what to expect, I kept myself going while carrying on my shoulders a bunch of uncertainties and ambiguous future. At that time, I only had a book called "How to Invest", a backpack, and a determination to meet at least one organization that is run by a queer woman and see if SheQu or I personally could help them by any means.
I stayed at an Airbnb house in Kathmandu, where from my room, you could see a strong and determined Himalayan mountain range, standing tall and proud. I started researching and contacting Nepal based LGBT+ NGOs literally like a hound. Finally, in a couple of days, I got to meet the president of The Blue Diamond Society, a very busy person with lot of commitments. She introduced me to one of her project officers Elyn Bhandari, and I was intrigued to learn about this transgender man's journey and how he had been fighting with the Nepalese society and educating them about LGBT+ issues. Nevertheless, I had an amazing time listening to his life stories, and I felt truly honored that he chose to share those extremely personal incidents with me. The challenges trans men from Nepal or any other subcontinent countries face was beyond my imagination.
Elyn advised me to meet the team of Mitini Nepal, an organization run by LGBT+ women for LGBT+ women and trans-men. I packed my bag, bid them goodbye, and hired a bike (shout out to Pathao app) to drop me near Mitini Nepal. The experience I received from Mitini Nepal is inexpressible because it was divine, unlike what I expected. And, that very experience became one of my favorite moments in Nepal.
Mitini Nepal (MN) is a non-governmental organization (NGO) working on the issues of lesbians, bisexuals, and transgender. It was established in 2005 to protect and promote the human rights of the sexual and gender minorities' people of Nepal, founded by Laxmi Ghalan. I had the greatest experience of my life with her team, and I felt like my mission to help LGBT+ women from ethnic backgrounds until we all have equity, has found a new meaning. I not only want to help and support the queer community in Australia but also reach out to all those countries' LGBT+ communities where homosexuality is still a stigma in life and women don't have the privilege to educate themselves to have a job. Laxmi, the founder of Mitini Nepal, had some similar experiences like mine, and those experiences were the reasons why she came forward to help other women, just like me. So I had to share her story, as I had the honor and privilege to hear it from her, over some delicious Nepali food.
Sitting inside Laxmi's office, I asked her, "What is your story?" She laughed and said, "You need the whole day to hear my story, Kamalika." I immediately canceled my evening plans, looked dead serious in her eyes, and said, "Now I have the entire day to listen to your story."
Laxmi narrated her story, and it can be summed up like this – When she had realized she liked girls, she was not sure what name she should give to those feelings. That was the time when the Nepal constitution recognized LGBT+ rights as fundamental rights, but society was way behind. She took a job with a friend who took her to their village, and their friendship grew to a loving relationship over some time. Later, because of their friendship and her masculine energy, she became the talk of the village and got kicked out of her own home and job. Her education and livelihood were at stake. She didn't have much money, didn't have any place to stay, and didn't get any support from her family or friends. Despite all the difficulties, she traveled with her teacher and mentor to Kathmandu, the capital of Nepal, to get some support from non-governmental organizations (NGOs). However, after working with different NGOs, she soon realized that not enough had been done for LGBT+ women and other genders. Sounds familiar? The same reason why SheQu exists today! We sometimes are so focused on men, their health, and their rights that throughout history we forget about other genders and people of different orientations and most definitely we forget about cultural inclusions. And, when we do fight for our rights, we get compliments like "angry lesbians", "overly sexualized bisexuals", and so on.
Today, Mitini Nepal, under Laxmi and other board members' leadership, has solved and implemented many programs for Nepal's LBT+ women and trans-men that we could just think of. The best part is that they are doing it for free, for the Nepal Government and the LBT+ community.
I always believe you cannot be passionate about anything or any movement until it affects you personally. I want to end this writing with one of my favorite quotes from Maya Angelou, "I've learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel."
Laxmi and her team made me feel something that day, which I would never forget even when I am exhausted or burnt out fighting the status-quo. No matter how harsh your life is, you can always make it better for someone else. I want to thank her for creating such a brave place where people like us can still dream of a better society, a place where queer women of color have equal rights like everyone else.
With love & respect,