Lesbians, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex (LGBTI) people in Nepal have been fighting for state and societal acceptance, non-discriminatory laws and policies, and the right to marry partners of their choice with guaranteed legal protections of marital rights. The journey to equality has been marked by significant milestones.
- In 2011, the Census included third gender as a gender category.
- In 2013, the government issued citizenship documents in three genders — male, female, and other —and in 2015 applied a third gender option to passports.
- In 2015, Nepal's new Constitution guaranteed gender and sexual minority groups “the right to employment in state structures on the basis of the principle of inclusion.”
- In March 2023, Nepal's Supreme Court issued an order that Parliament amend the discriminatory language in the Marriage Registration Act of 1971. This decision paved the way for same-sex couples to have the right to marry. Subsequently, in June 2023, the Court directed the central government to allow sexual and gender minority people to apply for temporary registration of same-sex marriages. In November 2023, the Ministry of Home Affairs granted permission for one same-sex couple to register using “husband” and “wife” terminology at the local, provincial level.
Amidst this backdrop of activism, the voices of LGBTI elders have often been overlooked. To bridge this gap, Mitini Nepal and Outright International collaborated to create “Our Lives, Our Stories: LGBTI Seniors in Nepal.” This eye-opening storybook offers a glimpse into the lives of ten individuals, ages 52 to 70, who identify as sexual and gender minorities. The project is part of the LGBTI Elders Advancing Project that Outright International coordinates in Asia in collaboration with SAGE USA.
Within the pages of this storybook, the storytellers share their personal journeys and advocate change. Each story is a tapestry of experiences woven with threads of love, protest, and a longing for a more inclusive society. The storytellers identify as lesbian, gay, transgender, third gender, transman, transwoman, and intersex, representing the diverse spectrum of sexual and gender identities.
The stories in “Our Lives, Our Stories: LGBTI Seniors In Nepal” shed light on the profound impact of compulsory heterosexual marriage in Nepal. Many of the storytellers recount being forced into child marriages and compelled to bear children while secretly navigating same-sex or trans relationships. Some have formed long-term partnerships that have not been legally recognized. A separate survey conducted by Mitini Nepal in 2022, reveals the complexities of their lives. Survey results found that 31% of LGBTI elders were single, 15% were in heterosexual marriages, 13% were in ritual same-sex marriages, and 24% were in heterosexual marriages while also having same-sex partners. The recent Supreme Court ruling in 2023 regarding marriage registration for sexual and gender minorities raises questions about how it will impact the family lives of older LGBTI people and whether it will provide them with the desired legal recognition and protections.
The stories also illuminate the cumulative effects of violence and discrimination that LGBTI seniors have endured throughout their lives, from cultural rejection and family isolation to labor exploitation, financial precarity, and health services discrimination. Denied senior citizen benefits and grappling with declining health, some of the elders battled not only the external forces of discrimination but also the internal struggles of depression.
As a 68-year-old South Asian lesbian woman who had the privilege of editing “Our Lives, Our Stories: LGBTI Seniors In Nepal,” I hope the book is used not only to push for older LGBTI protections and better aging environments for younger LGBTI people but also used to stop the practice of forced marriage, especially child marriage, which is a human rights violation of children across the gender spectrum. Forced marriage at any age prevents the equality of girls and women of all sexual orientations and genders. It is a vehicle for gender-based violence against girls, women, and LGBTI youth of all genders.
“Our Lives, Our Stories: LGBTI Seniors in Nepal” offers a lens for cross-movement and intergenerational advocacy. As much as it is timely for LGBTI people's relationships and consensual same-sex marriage to be legalized in Nepal, it is also vital to stop practices such as forced marriage and child marriage, which prevail in Nepal as in many other Asian countries and global regions.