Transgender woman in Nepal dreams big and succeeds
This week the 6th ILGA-Asia Regional Conference is taking place and as the largest conference of its kind on the continent it is an occasion to spotlight champions of the LGBTI movement in the region.
This year Nepal has taken several historic steps in recognizing lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex (LGBTI) people. In September the country adopted a constitution which protects LGBTI from discrimination, violence and abuse. This followed another recent decision to provide passports recognizing a third gender. These changes in laws and policies are transforming society, but history is made by people. UNAIDS and the Asia Pacific Coalition on Male Sexual Health (APCOM) spoke with Meghna Lama, a transgender woman, who is a champion of LGBTI rights.
Ms Lama grew up in a rural area and moved to Kathmandu, where she opened Pink Tiffany- the first of restaurant of its kind in Nepal. The place caters to the LGBTI community by providing a space where they can come to be themselves and have a good time. Ms Lama who won the 2010 Transgender woman contest in Nepal and represented her country at the Miss International Transgender Queen competition also works as a model. After she joined the Blue Diamond Society, she says she ‘found her sexuality’ and moved to Kathmandu to pursue her higher studies. Since then she has found great success but it hasn’t come easily.UNAIDS/APCOM spoke to Ms Lama about her extraordinary journey.
Meghna Lama: Before I came into contact with the Blue Diamond Society, I did not understand my sexuality. No one had counselled me about being LGBTI. I lived in a village and I had never seen LGBTI people before. After I joined the Blue Diamond Society, I realised who I truly am and decided to embrace my gender identity.
UNAIDS/APCOM: You chose to embrace a different gender identity.What was it like ‘Coming Out’ for you?
Meghna Lama:It was hard for me. I’m an only child. I had a brother but he died due to an accident when he was 18, leaving behind a wife and a child. Being the only son left, the responsibility of my family lay on my shoulders. Nepal is deeply rooted in culture, I was supposed to get married to a woman and continue my family legacy by having children, but slowly I convinced my parents not to make me marry. Then I started to openly embrace being a woman and many of the neighbours began taunting my parents and saying mean things to them. I thought to myself “Just because I’m a transgender, why should my parents have to face all of this?”. I decided to finish school and requested the president of Blue Diamond Society to transfer me to Kathmandu so I could get away from all of the negativity in my village. I thought that if I left, my family would be saved from all of these taunts.
UNAIDS/APCOM: How is the family support situation now?
Meghna Lama: Today, I am a step closer to success. Many local magazines and newspapers have featured me and I am known and respected by many people. Those very neighbours who taunted my parents are now coming to congratulate them on my achievements. After lots of convincing, my parents and other members of my community are supportive of me. They even came down to Kathmandu for the opening of my restaurant, they saw so many famous celebrities and reporters at the opening of Pink Tiffany and were so proud of all of my achievements. When I go back to my village, everyone greets me nicely and accept me for who I am.
UNAIDS/APCOM: Can you tell us more about Pink Tiffany?’
Meghna Lama: LGBTI people are scared to go to restaurants because they are discriminated against. They are treated badly by the public. I wanted to have a place where not only LGBTI but heterosexuals and LGBTI supporters could also come, and be themselves and have a good time. This is our restaurant.
UNAIDS/APCOM: Tell us about the stigma and discrimination that you have faced?
Meghna Lama: Everywhere LGBTI people face stigma and discrimination. Even when I was opening my restaurant, the people around made very nasty remarks. They said “What the hell is this, what kind of people are coming into this neighbourhood and spreading ‘dirt’ everywhere”, “It is a shame to us that they are here”. I even heard the same kind of things from my landlord. Only recently have they opened up and started being nice to me. Stigma and discrimination shadow LGBTI people, everywhere they go. We have to try to change people’s mindset into positivity only then will this issue be solved.
UNAIDS/APCOM: Nepal is slowly but steadily moving towards more acceptance of LGBT. Do you see it going in a positive direction?
Meghna Lama: Nepal is progressive on LGBTI issues. Although stigma and discrimination still exists, I see a lot of positivity towards us in Nepal. The new constitution has included LGBTI rights. Nepal is one of the top South Asian countries that has paved the way for LGBTI community. It states that everyone is equal and has equal rights to citizenship. They also now give passports to LGBTI people that state their gender as ‘O’ for others. They accept us and treat us like equal citizens. It’s great.
Meghna Lama: There are many young LGBTI people who are not educated, suffering from diseases and lacking support from family and the community. I still think that more work needs to be done for the LGBTI youth of Nepal. We need to work towards educating them and making sure they are on the right path. The public should also receive education and all of us in Nepal need to move forward and end stigma and discrimination. LGBTI people should be respected as a part of society and have education, jobs and be free from stigma and discrimination.
UNAIDS/APCOM: What’s next for you?
Meghna Lama: I plan to open many other branches of Pink Tiffany in all parts of Nepal. Here, many LGBTI people can get jobs. LGBTI are not only made for sex-work and through my business and advocacy, I want to change their mindsets and include them into my business as it grows. I want to help the LGBTI community in Nepal and will continue to do so in any way that I can.
UNAIDS/APCOM: Many young people in Nepal are looking to you for inspiration. What message would you like to leave for them?
Meghna Lama: You have to believe in yourself. When you believe in yourself there is nothing in this world that is impossible. I’m a transgender and I chose my own path to success. There are so many people out there who don’t take the right path, don’t do that. Be successful and always choose the path that is right. Dare to dream and dare to make those dreams come true.