Monday, December 15, 2008

Miss Gay Nepal Wows Kathmandu and Beyond

Miss Nepal derailed but Miss Gay right on course

Kathmandu, Dec 14 (IANS) As Nepal undergoes a series of social and cultural revolutions, Sandhya Lama, 20, has emerged as an unusual icon.”I realised I was different from others when my classmates started ragging me in Class 8,” says the slender, poised 5 ft 4” Lama who could be mistaken as a model. “‘Why are you so girlish,’ they would taunt me.

“I liked women’s clothes and I liked dancing and I gradually realised that I was actually a girl at heart,” the transgender youth told IANS.

She was lured by an older acquaintance to leave her home in Hetauda town and go to Kathmandu with him, where he promised to launch her career as a dancer. He cheated Sandhya but she survived the sexual exploitation to carve out a new identity as a woman.

One day, Lama saw a programme on the state-run television channel about a gay rights group, Blue Diamond Society (BDS), which was helping sexual minorities fight for their rights.

Excited, she contacted the NGO and began working for it as a peer counsellor, advising gays, lesbians, commercial sex workers and intravenous drug users about the perils of HIV/AIDS.

This month, Lama beat 54 other transgender contestants to win Nepal’s three-year-old gay beauty pageant and become the Himalayan republic’s gay ambassador to tackle stigma and discrimination related to HIV and AIDS.

“The World Bank supported the contest with Nepali Rs.2.6 million (over $34,000) as part of its Development Marketplace projects,” says Sunil Pant (pictured above left), founder of BDS and Nepal’s first and only openly gay MP.

The projects are intended to support non-conventional approaches to address basic problems. Besides getting the World Bank’s recognition, the “Talent Contest 2008: Beauty and Brain” also steals a march over the traditional Miss Nepal beauty contest.

Miss Nepal, Nepal’s oldest and best known pageant, was blocked by the ruling Maoist party this year on the ground that it debased women by reducing them to merchandise to promote products manufactured by the sponsoring companies.

However, BDS, the organiser of the Miss Gay pageant, says it faced no opposition. But then, unlike the Miss Nepal criteria, which were opposed by the Maoists, the Miss Gay contest is more liberal. A contestant can be married and aged up to 40 years.

Besides being literate and articulate, she has to be aware of the HIV/AIDS issue as well as the rights of sexual minorities. She has to know about the changing socio-political scenario in Nepal and the gay movement to find a voice in the new constitution that will be promulgated in 2010.

In the talent round, Lama performed a skit in which she was the HIV, depicting how the virus attacked the human body and the precautionary measures.

The crown was hers when asked what she would do if she became a lawmaker. She said, “Seek to provide medical treatment for third genders living with HIV and AIDS and try to build an old-age home for them.”

Being Miss Gay is a tough act. It is a 10-5 job with a salary of NRs.10,000 during which the title holder has to interact with donors, ministers and bureaucrats and members of her community, including people living with HIV and AIDS and commercial sex workers.

Where does Lama see herself in the next five years?

“Definitely not as a politician. But contributing as a social worker and trying to establish myself as a dancer.”

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