Bhutan’s LGBTI community had a good reason to celebrate over the weekend.
The small Himalayan kingdom’s parliament voted to repeal two laws which criminalized homosexual sex late on Friday (7 June).
Bhutanese LGBTI rights activists did not try to hide their emotions following the historic decision.
‘A lot of us cried,’ said Tashi Tsheten of LGBTI rights group, Rainbow Bhutan.
‘We are a small and marginalized community and when our rights are discussed in parliament, it makes us extremely happy.’
Bhutan, a landlocked country which borders the northeast of India and southwest of China, has a population of around 750,000.
Though they have never been enforced, sections 213 and 214 of the Penal Code officially banned ‘unnatural sex’. This effectively criminalized gay people within the country.
LGBTI rights advocates in Bhutan have fought for years to have the laws abolished.
‘A stain’ on Bhutan’s reputation
The repeal of the laws has been years in the making.
Sangay Khand, then-Secretary of Bhutan’s National Land Commission, proposed the idea of abolishing the law in September 2013.
A recommendation to repeal the laws was resubmitted earlier this month by Finance Minister Namgay Tshering. The minister described the statues as ‘a stain’ on Bhutan’s reputation.
Namgay Tshering added that the laws had become meaningless, particularly after Bhutan became a constitutional monarchy in 2008, AFP reports.
Article 213 outlawed ‘unnatural sex, if the defendant engages in sodomy or any other sexual conduct that is against the order of nature’.
If implemented, the laws could have punished same-sex sexual acts with between one month and one year in prison.
A vote to fully repeal the two laws will go to Bhutan’s upper house on Monday (10 JunCampaignersners are confident the upper house will vote to scrap the laws.
‘There are lots of barriers’
LGBTI rights in Bhutan are a mixed bag in Bhutan.
The Buddhist-majority nation is generally accepting of the LGBTI community.
LGBTI rights activists say that the trans community is also generally accepted, particularly in rural areas.
However, LGBTI people continue to face stigma and discrimination in Bhutanese society.
‘There are lots of barriers and our education system does not understand LGBT,’ Tashi said, adding that many LGBT youths drop out of school as a result.
The Integrated Biological and Behavioral Surveillance (IBBS) survey revealed a high number of Bhutanese LGBTI people have attempted suicide.
The survey also found that about 70% of Bhutan’s LGBTI population resorts to drug and alcohol use to deal with discrimination and stigma.