Yangyel Lhaden 

After launching its toll free number 1966 on July 16, an organisation based for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, intersex and questioning (LGBTIQ+), Pride Bhutan, received about 30 calls until August 4.

The organisation launched the toll free number to provide support, refer and advocate for the community.

A founder of Pride Bhutan, Tenzin Gyeltshen, said that many people, who face gender and sexual orientation crisis, do not open up. “This affects the individual’s mental health.”

He said the society is not really accepting people with different gender and sex orientation.

“Through the toll-free number, an individual could talk without fear as their identity will not be revealed.”

The organisation received calls from adolescents above 14 years, who were overwhelmed with puberty and confused with gender and sexual orientation.

Tenzin Gyeltshen said advocacy and awareness was important to young adolescents so that they become resilient.

He said the organisation’s role was not to label a person about which category of LGBTIQ+ they fall in, but to  advocate about different gender and sexual orientation. “It is up to an individual to decide their gender and sexual orientation.”

The organisation also receives calls from LGBTIQ+ community with mental health issues, which are then referred to National Commission for Women and Children and national mental health programme for counselling.

He said LGBTIQ+ community was at risk of being bullied and stigmatised.

In 2020, Pride Bhutan’s data through their network shows 409 LGBTIQ+ suffered from mental health issues, 27 individuals experienced incidences of stigma, 19 experienced violence, 16 were bullied, and 47 faced discriminations.

Tenzin Gyeltshen said they also provided peer-based counselling such as about  use of hormonal pills for transgender.

He said they advised transgenders to conduct medical checkups every three month as hormonal pills damage liver.  It is important for them to get tested.”

He said globally HIV (human immunodeficiency virus) or any sexually transmitted disease was high among LGBTIQ+ community. “Through the toll-free number we also provide contraceptives.”

Pride Bhutan’s data shows 12 individuals had sexually transmitted diseases like syphilis, gonorrhea and HIV.

Tenzin Gyeltshen said most LGBTIQ+ worked in drayangs before the pandemic and became jobless. “We helped them register for Druk Gyalpoi kidu.”

He said they also try to engage the community members through support from donor agencies.

Tenzin Gyeltshen said any individuals needing support could connect them by dialing 1966. “ We are here for you.”

Edited by Tashi Dema