For the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender informal community in the country, it was history in the making when one of them spoke openly about his identity. It was a huge achievement.
Was there a reason for celebration? The answer is yes and no. Unlike in many countries, homosexuality is not a big issue here. It is considered taboo because it was not talked about or discussed as much as today. With a movement for gay and lesbian rights in many countries, it is through exposure and, to a large extent, the society opening up, that such issues are discussed more openly these days. And some are too excited about the issue, as it draws attention.
Nobody choses to be a lesbian or a gay; it is a genetic imperative. It is not that we are seeing homosexuals only today. We can surmise that we always had such people in our society. With media, especially social media, and an increasing movement in the fight for rights, we are suddenly feeling that it is a new thing.
To be fair, Bhutanese society, as tolerant it is, has been accepting of, say, transgenders. There may be a lewd or funny remark passed, but quite often, it ends there. Society does not ostracise them and their kind. We are quite a liberal society and this is especially true when it comes to sex.
So it is with our outlook at such issues and, for that matter, more serious ones. For many, being a LGBT, or MSM, as some prefer to be called, is not even an issue or problem. Take for instance, the HIV positive people. When it was the HIV/AIDs heyday and people called it a killer disease, many were scared of HIV positive patients. Society has since accepted them with awareness and, when they realised that there are worse diseases, and AIDS was not a death sentence with immediate effect.
And our religion, which dictates our lives, doesn’t condemn people with a different sexual orientation. We may be a little conservative, but we don’t condemn such people.
The only hitch is an outdated (and possibly imported) provision in the penal code, which grades sodomy as a petty misdemeanour and considers it as “unnatural sex.” We have fortunately no record of people being penalised for this crime.
What is good is that, with people coming out in the open, talking about their sexual orientation, we can prevent sexually transmitted infections. This is because, if society, including health professionals, looks askance at their fellow citizens, it could send them into hiding for the fear of being prosecuted. This will increase health risk.
A tolerant society we are, maybe, but it is high time we revisit the provisions of the penal code. The legislature is today made of educated and qualified elected members. This is a good opportunity to accept our brethren, who feel out of place because of the law.