'Stain'on Himalayan kingdom finally removed

TWO laws that criminalized homosexual sex in Bhutan were scrapped at the weekend, much to the delight of the kingdom’s LGBT community.

“A lot of us cried,” said Tashi Tsheten of LGBT rights group, Rainbow Bhutan.

We are a small and marginalized community and when our rights are discussed in parliament, it makes us extremely happy.

Some members of Rainbow Bhutan. Photo via Facebook.

Bhutan, a landlocked country which borders the northeast of India and southwest of China, has a population of around 750,000.

Though they have never been enforced, sections 213 and 214 of the Penal Code officially banned “unnatural sex” This effectively criminalised gay people within the country.

LGBT rights advocates in Bhutan have fought for years to have the laws abolished.

The repeal of the laws has been years in the making.

Sangay Khand, then-Secretary of Bhutan’s National Land Commission, proposed the idea of abolishing the law in September 2013.

Rainbow Bhutan Team for IDAHOT 2019. Image via Facebook

A recommendation to repeal the laws was resubmitted earlier this month by  Finance Minister Namgay Tshering. The minister described the statues as “a stain”on Bhutan’s reputation.

Namgay Tshering added that the laws had become meaningless, particularly after Bhutan became a constitutional monarchy in 2008.

Article 213 outlawed “unnatural sex, if the defendant engages in sodomy or any other sexual conduct that is against the order of nature.”

If implemented, the laws could have punished same-sex sexual acts with between one month and one year in prison.

But the Buddhist-majority nation is generally accepting of the LGBTI community. Activists say that the trans community is also generally accepted, particularly in rural areas.

However, LGBT communitoes continue to face stigma and discrimination.

Tashi said:

There are lots of barriers and our education system does not understand LGBT.

Tashi added that many LGBT youths drop out of school as a result.

The Integrated Biological and Behavioral Surveillance (IBBS) survey revealed a high number of Bhutanese LGBTI people have attempted suicide.

The survey also found that about 70 percent of Bhutan’s LGBT population resorts to drug and alcohol use to deal with discrimination and stigma.