Yosola Olorunshola/pahichan – “In Nepali society, women are still taken as second class citizens,” said Apeksha, a 22-year old activist working to promote gender equality and LGBT rights in Nepal. “That’s why lesbians face double discrimination — we’re women and LGBT.”
Born in a remote Nepali village, she first realized she was gay when she was 13 but did not know what her feelings meant.
“I thought I had a kind of disease because I didn’t have any kind of feelings for boys and only liked girls,” she said.
Unable to share these feelings with anyone in her small community, she was forced to live with her confusion in silence. “I didn’t understand my sexuality. I didn’t know who I was.”
Things changed when she met a girl at school who had the same feelings as her. Living in a poor, culturally conservative community, where gay, lesbian, and transgender people were entirely invisible, they felt compelled to keep their relationship hidden from their families.
However, when Apeksha was 16 years old, her parents were outraged to discover her identity. They immediately banned her from going to school and tried to force her into an arranged marriage, believing this would cure her of her sexuality.
“My parents are uneducated. They’ve never been to school, and they couldn’t believe my sexuality was natural. They thought it was a habitual thing and that when I got married it would stop.”
When she refused, they began to physically and mentally abuse her. Like too many LGBT individuals around the world, Apeksha and her partner attempted suicide because they could not see a future for themselves.
“It’s not my choice to marry a boy,” Apeksha said. “If I don’t live freely, how can I live in this world?”
Fortunately, they survived and decided to escape. They sought refuge with the Blue Diamond Society in Kathmandu, Nepal’s first LGBT rights organization, partly funded by US Aid. The organization provided Apeksha and her partner with sheltered accommodation in Kathmandu and an interest-free loan to help them lay the foundations for an independent life.
Since its foundation in 2001, the Blue Diamond Society has led the fight for gay rights in Nepal, campaigning for constitutional change. It’s a little known fact that in 2015, Nepal became one of the first countries in the world to include protections against discrimination, violence and abuse towards LGBT people in its constitution. Believed to be one of the most progressive countries in Asia when it comes to gay rights, Apeksha’s story reveals that these political advances to do not always filter down to lived experience.
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