Rural people still insensitive to LGBT, say community members

An LGBT (Lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender) awareness workshop themed “stigma reduction and evolving LGBT community” was held at Sherubtse College in Kanglung by Lhaksam on Monday.

Talking to Business Bhutan, LGBT community members agreed that the stigma they face in rural areas like the eastern villages is huge.

“LGBT community faces harassment and discrimination especially from rural people,” said an outreach worker for Lhaksam, Deyon Phuntsho (gay).

According to him, major problems in rural areas like lack of knowledge, language barrier and traditional gender norms are some of the main reasons due to which LGBT face discrimination.

“Most rural people do not know what LGBT is and it is really hard to teach them a new concept that they are completely alien to,” he said. “The rural people are more strictly bound by the traditional gender norms then those who are exposed to urbanization.”

Additionally, he said that it is really hard to change what they have believed in for all their lives

LGBT is a concept that has rarely been discussed openly in the country.

For Ugyen Yangzom Lhamo (transgender), it has been a rough ride discovering her true sexual identity. As a kid, it was always difficult for her to associate with her friends and teachers. She was left alone, neglected by most of her friends because she was different.

“I couldn’t complete my education due to discrimination from teachers and students,” said Ugyen Yangzom Lhamo, “I was born with my nature and once I knew who I really was, I tried to change myself but it didn’t happen.”

She said that it was impossible for anyone or anything to change her. “I tried to change myself but it really didn’t happen to me.”

She suffered during her schooldays because other students used to call her chhaka and various insulting names when she used to walk the streets. She could only study till the ninth standard because of the discrimination and stigmatization.

“People kept me reminding that I was not normal so I attempted suicide several times,” she said.

However, she said that compared to the past, especially in urban areas and educational institutes, the harassment and discrimination have reduced. “In the past, harassment and discrimination were common in schools and colleges but now we get to hear that students and the faculty are being supportive toward the LGBT community.”

Meanwhile, a 64-year-old man from Kanglung said that being born as LGBT is a result of sins that the LGBT have committed in their past lives and he also said that being LGBT is a result of choice and it can be changed.

Another man said LGBT people should remain hidden as they may influence children and youth to be gay and LGBT is a nuisance to the society.

But Deyon Phuntsho believes that LGBT are Bhutanese and have an important part to play in the country, too. “We don’t want to be defined based on sexual contexts rather we would prefer to be looked upon from a humanitarian point of view.”

He also added that though rural people are certainly more discriminatory against LGBT, compassion being the root of Buddhism and people in rural areas being devout Buddhists, they do not openly discriminate and harass LGBT.

In order to overcome stigmatization and discrimination, the LGBT community plans to increase awareness through advocacy and education on LGBT issues, disseminate communication for development materials on LGBT and improve access to services for LGBT such as counseling, sexual health and protection.

Jigme Wangchen from Trashigang