South Asia Transgender and Hijra Consultation and Regional Dialogue on LGBTI Health and Rights in Asia and the Pacific
Nepal hosted the first South Asia Transgender and Hijra Consultation: Advancing Trans/Hijras’ Rights & Health in South Asia on 3-5 February 2015, that brought together over 70 participants from South Asia and Asia Pacific region to discuss common issues, exchange experiences and extract recommendations for future action. The consultation was co-organized by the Blue Diamond Society (BDS) and UNDP under Multi-Country South Asia (MSA) Global Fund HIV Programme (Phase 2).
It was a huge learning and networking opportunity for me at a personal level. I met and interacted with many transgender men and women, hijra activists, civil society groups, government officials from various countries, officials from national human rights institutions, development partners and HIV and health experts. It was very fascinating to interact with young activist like myself from the region, where we had many differences and similarities.
The consultation was successful in addressing specific issues related to health and rights of transgender people in the region, including the following:
- Appropriate age of consent and parental consent for young transgender people (below age 18 years) to undergo sex reassignment surgery or hormonal therapy, or to access HIV services (including testing services);
- Need of addressing specific issues of young transgender people such as bullying at school, physical and sexual harassment; and
- Wider engagement of other stakeholders such as UNICEF (for young transgender people’s rights and protection), UNESCO (for young transgender people’s education), etc.
The Regional Dialogue on LGBTI Human Rights and Health in Asia-Pacific took place from 25-27 February 2015 at Bangkok, Thailand. The dialogue was attended by almost 200 delegates (mostly LGBTI individuals) from across the Asia-Pacific region.
I was particularly fascinated to see many people sharing their personal stories, and majority being young people (some of them were openly speaking for the first time), and people from every corner: from Fiji, Tonga in the Pacific to Iraq, Afghanistan in the west. We were all diverse in our nationality, culture, and socio-political and economic background, yet we were all connected with one similar trait: our sexuality or our gender identity.
We all were comfortable talking about our issues, which we usually find difficult to talk back home. The sessions included every aspect of LGBTI lives: from rights and health needs to access to education and legal environment. All the stories were a narrative of pain, struggle, courage, and ultimate victory. The dialogue provided safe space for everyone and especially for the new emerging young leaders (like the young gay men from Bhutan) where they could network and initiate activities in their respective countries. It provided hope and motivation. And more encouraging was to see active participation and commitment from government and NHRI officials, especially from Mongolia, Bangladesh and Indonesia.
I was particularly moved by the story of a mother and her son from Vietnam. I could just relate their story to my own. It was painful, but yet very inspiring. I could not hold tears at times. I personally feel that this kind of lived stories & experiences needs to come out so that people will see and feel what is hidden inside the closeted doors of LGBT lives and what it is like to be a LGBT person. I hope all these stories from the dialogue will come out as a book, someday soon, as requested by many other participants.
Bharat Shrestha – Youth Voices Count Member- Nepal