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Nepal to offer shelter to South Asia's battered gay

in NEPAL, 22/06/2011

After organising beauty pageants for gays and transgenders, followed by extravagant same sex weddings, Nepal will now move to more sombre issues, becoming the first country in South Asia to offer shelter to battered gays.

While several Nepali NGOs have been running shelters for women, who are the victims of domestic violence, and survivors of trafficking, Blue Diamond Society, Nepal's pioneering gay rights organisation, is set to become the only NGO in South Asia to offer a shelter to lesbians, gays, bisexuals and transgenders (LGBTs) who face violence in their own countries due to their different sexual orientations.

The LGBT Centre for South Asia, the first of its kind, is coming up in Kathmandu's Dhumbarahi area. The five-storey building will have conferencing facilities, a theatre, a clinic and a shelter for members of the community who face violence and death threats in their own countries.

"In countries like Bangladesh, Pakistan and Afghanistan non-conformity is taboo and members of the community face violence and even the possibility of death," says Sunil Babu Pant, the founder of Blue Diamond Society and Nepal's only openly gay MP. "We had a pair of teenaged girls from Kolkata run away from home and come to us for help. One was from the Hindu community and one Muslim and there was additional parental anger. The shelter is meant for persecuted people like them."

In a gesture that has endeared it to Nepal's gay community, the republic's first Maoist government in 2008, headed by Pushpa Kamal Dahal Prachanda, made budgetary allocations for them and the land for the centre was bought with the money - NRS 25-30 lakh a year. Further assistance came from the Danish and Norwegian governments. Norway donated $150,000 for the construction of two buildings after Blue Diamond Society, then working from rented offices in Kathmandu, faced regular trouble with landlords, who threw them out under pressure from neighbours.

The last eviction caused deep distress especially as Blue Diamond Society was then also running a hospice for gays with HIV/AIDS. Pant described how the sick patients had to be moved on stretcher. Currently, there are 20-30 people at any given time in the hospice, with some of them being at the terminal stage and disowned by their families.

Pant says the centre should be up and running in the next 15 months - provided they manage to raise the rest of the money needed. Currently, Blue Diamond Society is seeking to raise $150-170,000 to complete the project.

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