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Addressing LGBT+ Issues in Bhutan: A Pathway to Inclusive Happiness

Updated: Apr 9

Photograph By Pride Bhutan

In a world plagued by violence and discrimination against individuals with diverse sexual orientations, gender identities, expressions, and sex characteristics, the International Day Against Homophobia, Transphobia, and Biphobia (IDAHOT) holds immense significance. Since its inception in 2004, this annual event has been a powerful platform to raise awareness about the challenges faced by lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, two-spirit, and intersex (2SLGBTQI+) people, advocating for inclusivity and equality. Bhutan has actively embraced this cause since 2016, actively involving communities, stakeholders, and allies to foster a nurturing environment for the 2SLGBTQI+ population across various sectors.

The theme for IDAHOT 2023, "Together always: united in diversity," urges individuals worldwide to come together and strive for the advancement of laws and policies that safeguard the rights and dignity of the 2SLGBTQI+ community. It acknowledges the importance of inclusivity, emphasizing the need for broader participation and engagement from the general population. This resonant theme challenges the notion that 2SLGBTQI+ issues are isolated struggles, emphasizing the power of collective action to drive positive change.

Despite the varying levels of marginalization and discrimination faced by Bhutanese 2SLGBTQI+ individuals, the impact of prejudice reverberates throughout the community. It affects their overall well-being, limits opportunities, and even puts their lives at risk. From a governmental standpoint, discrimination and marginalization have far-reaching economic and social implications. For instance, when discrimination acts as a barrier, citizens are unable to contribute to the workforce and economy, rendering the government's investment in free healthcare and education less effective. Overcoming these challenges is pivotal for the collective progress and prosperity of the nation.

At the forefront of addressing 2SLGBTQI+ issues comprehensively is the Bhutan National Gender Equality Policy (NGEP). By integrating the concerns of the 2SLGBTQI+ community into its framework, the NGEP envisions a just, equal, and progressive society where all individuals have equal opportunities, benefits, and rights to reach their full potential and contribute to Bhutan's socio-cultural, economic, and political development. Serving as a guiding framework, the NGEP reaffirms the government's commitment to achieving substantive equality and fosters inclusive and sustainable socio-economic growth. Furthermore, it enables the development and implementation of targeted interventions based on gender, sexual orientation, and sex characteristics.

To better protect and support 2SLGBTQI+ individuals in Bhutan, specific policy changes must be considered. Recognizing and facilitating gender identity change for transgender individuals, with the assistance of relevant agencies, is a crucial step towards enhancing their political participation and affirming their rights and identities. Additionally, within the education domain, there is a pressing need to prioritize creating inclusive environments that address the high dropout rates among girls and 2SLGBTQI+ students.

Supporting the 2SLGBTQI+ community in Bhutan necessitates open dialogue and understanding between 2SLGBTQI+ individuals and their heterosexual counterparts. It requires approaching discussions on 2SLGBTQI+ issues with an open mind and a genuine willingness to bridge the gaps in understanding. By fostering empathy and initiating dialogue, significant strides can be made in creating an inclusive society that upholds the happiness and well-being of all citizens.

For Bhutan, a nation whose developmental philosophy and core values revolve around happiness, addressing 2SLGBTQI+ issues is not only crucial but also an obligation. Bhutan's pursuit of Gross National Happiness (GNH) places it in a unique position to lead by example and create an inclusive society where the happiness of every single citizen is valued. Bhutan has the potential to serve as a model from which other countries can learn from.

Tenzin Gyeltshen,

Executive Director, Pride Bhutan: "Celebrating Diversity"

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