A Celebration of Courage: Sunil Pant's Speech at A Celeberation of Courage 2007

The Following is the full text of the speech delivered by Sunil Babu Pant's , Founder and President of the Blue Diamond Society, at A Celebration of Courage 2007. Nepal's Blue Diamond Society was the recipient of IGLHRC's 2007 Felipa de Souza Award.

The Right to Be

“Namaste”, dear friends --- on behalf of the Blue Diamond Society (BDS). We are the Nepali movement of lesbians, gay men, bisexuals and transgendered, intersexed, “queer” (LGBTIQ), sex workers and others who suffer because of sexual discrimination, including our families, friends and allies. Birthing just six years ago, we are an integral part of the current and critical nation-wide struggle for human rights, democracy, justice and freedom. As in all countries, and especially in the developing world, to champion the human rights of the marginalized means that we are also key for HIV/AIDS education, prevention and care outreach.

We are greatly honored by the International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission (IGLHRC) Felipa de Souza award, which underscores the rights, the courage and the humanity of those who seek freedom and dignity and rise from the dark to the light of life. The Felipa award is a morale-boost for those of us in Nepal and elsewhere facing very difficult times --- an inspiration to continue to be courageous and to persist in our liberation. Our thanks to the Australian Federation of AIDS Organizations and all those who supported our nomination. And our solidarity with the so many others around the world who are deserving of such recognition and encouragement.

IGLHRC’s early support helped BDS to survive when few were with us! Your urgent action alerts and letters to the government over the past four years helped secure the release of our friends abducted or wrongly imprisoned by Nepal’s security forces. Coming as it does, the Felipa Award uplifts the profile of BDS and our mission just when we need to be sure not to lose our hard won place in Nepal’s historic process of political democratization and more enlightened socio-cultural understanding. With our thanks, is our plea that we can count upon your and others continued support so that we can fulfill the momentum in this time of change that is still precarious for all Nepalese.

To remove barriers to justice and promote human rights for all Nepalese includes eliminating the stark realities of violence and torture of LGBTIQ people. Discriminations of caste and male domination control everything in much of Nepal - power, government, security forces, resources, opportunities, personal and family life.... Up to now, there is little protection from discrimination and related violence through the constitution and laws of Nepal. Our politicians, policy makers and leaders in other spheres lack understanding about us and are limited by a world view of male dominated (often abusive) heterosexuality. Since BDS started our campaign against violence and abuse of LGBTIQ’s in 2003, the barriers have been weakened, somewhat. Our being in the vanguard denouncing the King’s autocratic direct rule and the people power street demonstrations of last year’s historic “jana andolan 2 “ movement made LGBTIQ issues an integral part of a new Nepali political map.

BDS has mobilized sexual minorities over the past six years by creating service centers in seven cities and network associations in fifteen others. We have had direct contact with more than 60,000 individuals from the communities we serve. Today, millions of Nepalese know of the Blue Diamond Society and many social justice organizations support us. With our progress, however, is the awareness that so many more need to be served --- the poor in our cities, and the rural areas from the mountains to the populous lowlands bordering India. We are encouraged by the few courageously principled politicians who lead the way in publicly supporting us, such as Ms. Chitra Lekha Yadav, Deputy Speaker of the House of Representatives; Jagannath Khatiwoda and Ganesh Shah, Members of Parliament; Shashi Shrestha, State Minister of Health; youth leader Gagan Thapa; and major political parties: the Nepali Congress, Neplai Congress Democratic, Communist Party of Nepal (United), Janamorcha (people’s front), and more.

Yet in this crucial period of change, the ignorant and prejudiced among politicians, and the abusers among the security forces still put us at risk. The interim constitution does not include guarantees against discrimination because of sexual orientation and/or gender identity. Many face violence on a day-to-day basis, and transgendered cannot get citizenship registration. We are heartened that following a meeting with BDS, a very brave trangendered person who yearned for citizenship represented herself in such a way that the citizenship registration official did not require her to indicate male, but in the space allocated for male or female gender, wrote “both”.

On April 18, BDS and three of our network organizations filed a writ against the Prime Minister’s Office, the Parliament and the Ministry of Law, Justice and Parliamentary Affairs to the Supreme Court of Nepal! In it, we demand the defense and protection of human rights of sexual and gender minorities through enactment of laws and state policies and the abolition of all current discriminatory laws and policies. This comes during the period when the government of Nepal and civil society, brought to interaction by last year’s historic people’s movement, are in a complex process to create a new constitution for Nepal. We are with those committed to human rights and democracy for all.

Furthering common purpose and political will for a democratic constitution is a challenge given our history, the diversity of groups within our country, those who don’t want change because they have exploited, and those who want only change to put themselves in positions to exploit. After years of civil war, the Maoists have joined the interim government, but for most of them their doctrine excludes our right to be who we are. They dismiss us as social pollutants, by-products of capitalism! We continue to make every opportunity to meet with the Maoists and all who would benefit from enlightenment.

In the light, showing what is possible, our activists working with Nepali government, civil society and private sector counterparts are grassroots BDS family members who often have had little or no formal education. The empowered “metis”, our transgendered, are inspirational teachers for us all! Key to our success are our staff and volunteers who come from the very groups we serve. Their peer outreach is much more effective than any coming from outsiders.

As I speak, BDS works in our transitional national process with political parties, the Nepal Bar Association, judiciary and other government ministries, women’s organizations, youth, the media, ethnic and other self-defined minority groups as part of creating a new constitution and a new Nepal. Part of mobilizing all for the good of all, we are the key voice that no one should suffer discrimination, be a victim of violence, be excluded from employment, education, housing, social service -- or from their family and home - because of sexual definition or HIV status.

We are proud of IGLHRC’s honor, and of the courage and contributions of all of our fellows. I wish they could be with us now. How inspired you would be! But with our achievements, we still confront heart wrenching realities and resource limitations. From a handful of us, without any financial support six years ago, we have been able to flower thanks to our members’ courage to come to the light. That would not have been possible without initial seed support that has since become diverse: international organization support (first UNAIDS); bilateral support (NORAD, HIVOS, USAID and DFID), NGOs and foundation support (early on, the Foundation for Integrative Aids Research/FIAR, SIDACTION and Elton John AIDS Foundation), and, needless to say, our allies in human rights organizations. To all who help and who have helped, including the sponsors of this celebration, our unending thanks. To all, within and outside Nepal, including the many individuals who give and help in so many ways, the Felipa Award is yours, too. And it is an inspiration to all our fellows in our region and throughout the world. We have been and continue to be encouraged and inspired by them. Thanks to IGLHRC, we wish to return energy, encouragement and hope in our solidarity. We honor the light in all of us. With your continued confidence and support - which is essential - we will carry on for freedom, justice and equality in Nepal. On behalf of the Blue Diamond Society family, “Namaste”.