Penjor, the 44-year-old transgender has been selling thukpa (rice porridge) on the streets of Thimphu to support her family. She faces discrimination of kinds and kinds every day. She doesn’t care.
Members of Rainbow Bhutan, an LGBT (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender) community in Bhutan, had their own unique and touching stories to tell during the observation of the International Day Against Homophobia, Biphobia and Transphobia (IDAHOT) on May 17.
Penjor said name-calling, abuse and discrimination were some of the difficult things that she frequently faced, but her outlook towards life has always been positive.
“While there are people who are generous to me, there are some who discriminate me for being what I am and refuse to eat my rice porridge saying its cursed,” she said.
Health officials, representatives from the civil society organisations, media, Lhak-Sam, UNFPA, RENEW, and individual supporters observed the IDAHOT 2018 themed ‘alliances for solidarity’ at Hotel Migmar in Thimphu.
The day is observed around the world every year to bring attention to the discrimination and violence LGBT people face and also to recognise advancements in LGBT equality.
Bhutan first observed the day in 2016.
Outreach coordinator with Lhak-Sam (BNP+), Tenzin Gyeltshen, said while the community has achieved a lot over the years, LGBT community members continue to face discrimination.
“A large number of gay and bisexual men refuse to seek services provided due to self-stigma, fear of being outcast, and due to the social construct,” he said.
The community members said building alliances was important to achieve equality and opportunity for all.
The executive director of Bhutan Cancer Society, Dechen Wangmo, said the network has increased since the inception of the community.
“As supporters, we also have the responsibility to create some enabling environment for them to get meaningful employment and give them an opportunity to thrive like any of us because if you look at it they have more barriers than we do,” she said.
Besides outreach, networking, and advocacy activities, Tenzin Gyeltshen said that the community recently started peer counselling and documentation of human rights and other violation cases like rape and domestic violence cases happening to the LGBT community members.
Tenzin Gyeltshen said the high prevalence of STIs (sexually transmitted infections), especially in gay and bisexual men, prevalence of drug and alcohol abuse, increasing mental health issues such as depression and anxiety, and sexual and physical abuse are some of the pressing issues of the community.
He said there is also high suicidal rate in the community.
The LGBT community in Bhutan was formed in 2014 with five members under the guidance of Lhak-Sam. The community today has 118 registered members.