I also missed the Gay Pride March, which took place the day I was arriving from Berlin so I'm sorry, no colourful pictures to accompany this piece except for the flag.
In Bhutan I know that while we are a very traditional society we are also very accommodating and open to many things. We are very liberal when it comes to women, sex and divorce and given that our ancient traditions and customs (unlike many traditional ones) do not discriminate or ostracize people based on faith, race, gender, beliefs etc. we have been extremely progressive on many fronts compared with not only our neighbours but even the rest of the world.
It is indeed something that we take great pride in.
While Gay, Lesbian and Transgender issues were never on the forefront or even discussed, there is no denying that like every society(maybe some societies more than others)Bhutan also has them. In Bhutanese society, like everything, we make no big issue out of it. If you are one, you simply are. There are no hate crimes, no discrimination, no ostracizing just because you are one.
Just as women have the right to do what they want and choose to live as they please, so also do people like gays and lesbians have the freedom to do as they wish.
Like any society though, Bhutanese society is no different in that they gossip and talk about people. This can be particularly damaging in a fish-bowl society (Bhutan's population .5 million) where not only gay and lesbian's are targets but every person (irrespective of your class, race, gender, irrespective of what you do) can become the subject of gossip and rumours. That is about the only reason I can think of, why Gay, Lesbians and Transgender people may be hesitant to come out.
But lately Bhutanese journalists are exploring the emergence of Gay, Lesbian and Transgender's who seem to be embracing their sexuality without inhibitions. "The door to the closet in Bhutan is slowly swinging open....." starts an article in Bhutan Observer about a young cross-dressing woman who is anything but hesitant to talk about her experiences of being in many relationships with other women. Apparently she was even married a couple of times to women who were aware of her sexuality. (Getting "married" here means civil union)
Another article by BO reports that Lesbians may be more in number than gay men, only because women are more likely to feel freer or more comfortable to come out than Bhutanese men (says a lot about Bhutanese women!)
So keeping in mind that society is extremely tolerant of these issues it comes as a surprise that the government would have a penal code that spells the very opposite of what Bhutanese society is or does.
In the case of women and abortion the Penal Code of Bhutan - which never took a moral stand on issues on abortion before -suddenly came out and deemed that it would be a punishable crime if a woman was found having an abortion (unless for reasons listed in the Penal Code). I sometimes wonder why we have such a legislation in the first place when it is Totally (deliberately?) not even enforced. I mean what are we trying to prove and who are we kidding? Do we think that by making such a law our moral image is uplifted?
As a woman I think it is to the contrary. It would be better if the legislation was dictated by what society is willing to condone or has no aversions to (at least in this case). So also with homosexuality.
I went through the Penal Code curious to see what it said about homosexuals. I even asked a member of Parliament what our official standing was on this issue. The Penal Code says nothing about it except under "UNNATURAL SEX" article 213: A defendant shall be guilty of unnatural sex, if the defendant engages in sodomy or any other sexual conduct that is against the order of nature. (?!)
What is sexual conduct that is against the order of nature? Against the order of nature might mean BESTIALITY which according to article 209 states that a defendant shall be guilty of Bestiality if it concerns sexual acts with an animal. But since that is already spelled out in 209 then what is 213 trying to say? Does homosexual conduct go against the order of nature in Bhutan? It says sodomy is unnatural so that means being a homosexual is unnatural?
I guess it says nothing, because when I asked a member of Parliament about the ambiguity of this law, I was told : "the prevailing laws are silent on the issue. It more or less sounds like homosexuality is not illegal. However, marrying in the court may not be allowed. Of course, this is just my own interpretation."
So in my opinion herein lies the danger of having such an article that can be left open to interpretation where even a member of Parliament doesn't know what to make of it. A person/lawmaker who is against homosexuality can interpret it in anyway he/she might want to and because of this it could not only lead to crimes against homosexuals and transgenders but it would also ensure that a person (Gay, Lesbian or Transgender) can't ask for protection should a crime be committed against him/her.
It might in the future also deter people of that sexual orientation from coming out.
This kind of law (like the one on abortion) does not reflect how Bhutanese society feels or is. Bhutanese society as I know it is very accepting, tolerant and the least bothered about penalizing a person for what he or she does in his/her personal life and they have never demanded any official standing or even penalization. So as Gay pride month came and went, it left me wondering why our government would want to tarnish its own image when it has one of the most progressive and accepting societies to begin with.
Footnote: Theasiamag.com (asian magazine) reran this article on their site. Check it out.