POKHARA, Nepal – Gays, lesbians, transgender people and their supporters marched in a Nepalese town Friday to demand recognition as a third gender in citizen certificates, to allow same-sex marriage and to criminalize discrimination based on sexual preference.
Dressed in colorful clothes, laden with beads and other jewelry, they danced to Bollywood music played over loudspeakers as they marched for about 3 kilometers (2 miles) though the center of Pokhara, a resort town 200 kilometers (125 miles) west of the capital, Katmandu.
Sunil Babu Pant of the Blue Diamond Society, a group that supports sexual minorities in Nepal, said the rally was an opportunity for people to come out.
"The rally gives us an opportunity to seek the support of the public and be more visible in the society," Pant said. "There are more and more people coming out in the open, and this rally gives them a chance."
Pant, a former parliament member, has been campaigning for rights of sexual minorities to be included in the new constitution, which was being written by the Constitution Assembly before it expired earlier this year. A new assembly is scheduled to be elected in November.
Nepal's Supreme Court ruled in 2008 that the government should issue citizenship certificates with a third gender. The government said it would, but the process is taking time.
Pant said that those seeking the third gender certificates were not able to get jobs or passports, enroll in colleges or own property because of the delay, and that the government was not doing enough to help their community.
Basu Guragai, 26, who recently announced he is gay and joined the rally, said thousands of gays in Nepal are afraid to come out in the open fearing their friends and family.
"The gay community in Nepal wants same-sex marriage laws," Guragai said. "We want to live as a couple with other men, and that should be allowed legally."
As the estimated 2,500 participants marched along the streets of Pokhara, many residents watched and cheered. There was no trouble reported at the rally.
Sunita Gurung, a convenient store clerk, said that it was the first time she had seen such a rally and so many transgender people, but that she did not have any problems with what they were demanding.
"It is their personal choice and if they want that way of life — they should be able to have it," Gurung said.
Nepal is considered a conservative nation. Most of its people are Hindu, and many still follow traditional beliefs. Most marriages are still arranged by parents, and extended families all live together.
It was only after the fall of the monarchy and the election of a Constituent Assembly in 2008 that the sexual minorities began to demand rights. Pant's appointment in the assembly was considered a milestone for the community.