LGBT rights in Bhutan
|Status||Illegal (not enforced, decriminalization pending)|
|Recognition of relationships||No|
Lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) people in Bhutan may face legal challenges not faced by non-LGBT people. Homosexuality is illegal in Bhutan. The Penal Code (aticles 213 and 214) states that same-sex sexual acts (regardless of whether they were consensual or done in private) are punishable by a prison sentence of between one month to less than one year. However, the law is not enforced and is currently being reviewed by the Parliament.
LGBT people in Bhutan face little violence or persecution, though most Bhutanese do not know they even exist with the idea of being gay or transgender "pretty much unheard of". In recent years, due to Bhutan opening up more to the outside world, Bhutanese LGBT people have started to publicly come out and establish visible outlets for the LGBT community. As such, attitudes among the general population are changing.
- 1 Legality of same-sex sexual activity
- 2 Recognition of same-sex relationship
- 3 Blood donation
- 4 Living conditions
- 5 Summary table
- 6 See also
- 7 External links
- 8 References
Legality of same-sex sexual activity
Section 213 of the Bhutan Penal Code 2004 states,
"A defendant shall be guilty of the offence of unnatural sex, if the defendant engages in sodomy or any other sexual conduct that is against the order of nature".
Section 214 states,
"The offence of unnatural sex shall be a petty misdemeanor."
The United States Department of State issues this warning to LGBT travelers to Bhutan: "Although there are no laws that explicitly prohibit consensual same-sex sexual activity, laws against "sodomy or any other sexual conduct that is against the order of nature" exist. Under the Penal Code, a person can be imprisoned for as long as one year for engaging in such acts. One government official noted that prosecution under this law is rare, as criminal intent must be proven by the prosecution. There have been no reported cases of such charges.
On 29 May 2019, the Penal Code (Amendment) Bill 2019 (Dzongkha: འབྲུག་གི་ཞིས་འགེལ་ཁྲིམས་དེབ་༼འཕྲི་སྣོན༽ དཔྱད་ཡིག་ ༢༠༡༩) was introduced by the Chairperson of the Legislative Committee, MP Tshewang Lhamo (DNT), to the Parliament of Bhutan. At first, the removal of sections 213 and 214 was not proposed in the bill. However, the Minister of Finance, Namgay Tshering (DNT), suggested the change as a comment and said that section 213 should change "to keep up with the times". The Legislative Committee of the National Assembly was supportive. When the bill was referred to the Legislative Committee, it decided to take the Finance Minister's suggestion seriously, and asked him to give it in writing, which the Finance Minister agreed to do, and allowing the committee the ability to propose it as an amendment. Tshering said "My primary reason is that this section is there since 2004 but it has become so redundant and has never been enforced. It is also an eyesore for international human rights bodies.", and that the sections had become "a stain" on the country's reputation.
On 7 June 2019, the National Assembly approved the bill in a first reading. On 10 June 2019, the bill passed the second and final reading with 38 votes in favour votes and 1 vote against, with 5 absentations. The bill will go to the National Council for the winter session in 6 months where it will be sent for royal assent once passed.
Recognition of same-sex relationship
Currently, Bhutan does not provide any form of legal recognition for same-sex couples.
Tashi Tsheten, director of Rainbow Bhutan, said that a marriage bill with gender-neutral pronouns was placed during the 2018 summer parliamentary session but was deferred due to the 2018 Bhutanese National Assembly election. With the newly-elected left-wing government in place, Tsheten and the community believes that the conversation around the bill will be revived.
According to the Bhutan Medical and Health Council, anyone in good health aged at least 18 years and weighing at least 45 kg (100 lbs) may donate. Until recently, there have been few restrictions on blood donations in Bhutan.
Ignorance about homosexuality is common due to stereotypes in popular culture. Bhutanese culture does not share the typical Western view of heterosexuality and homosexuality. Some have referred to it as an openly bisexual society, although this is disputed. Women are more likely than men to be open about their sexual orientation. There are cultural and traditional struggles for those who seek acceptance. According to a 2016 Integrated Biological and Behavioral Surveillance (IBBS) survey, over 42% of transgender women and 23% of gay and bisexual men in Bhutan had attempted suicide more than once. The survey also found that transgender women and gay and bisexual men were often victims of "extreme physical and sexual violence". A 2019 study to see how sections 213 and 214 affected the community showed that 69% of the respondents felt the two clauses impacted them negatively.
In 2013, the introduction of Facebook led to increased visibility for the LGBT community with the creation of dedicated Facebook groups. In 2014, Rainbow Bhutan was set up as a community for LGBT people with five members; this grew to 136 members in 2019. In 2019, LGBT activist Tashi Tsheten said that the full LGBT movement started from 2015 onwards, when the community started organising programmes on HIV. In 2017, LGBT groups began advocating outside of the scope of HIV/AIDS and began working more in the open. In 2015, activist and physiotherapist Passang Dorji came out as gay for the first time on national television. In February 2015, Karma Dupchen, a civil engineer and LGBT activist, created LGBT Bhutan, Bhutan's first ever Facebook page dedicated to spread awareness about the LGBT community.
Buddhism, the main religion of Bhutan does not condemn homosexuality. In 2015, Dzongsar Khyentse Rinpoche, Bhutan's most prominent Buddhist teacher, said that sexual orientation has nothing to do with who will reach enlightenment. He further stated that Bhutanese should not merely tolerate gay people but should respect them. He said, "Your sexual orientation has nothing to do with understanding or not understanding the truth. You could be gay, you could be lesbian, you could be straight, we never know which one will get enlightened first… Tolerance is not a good thing. If you are tolerating this, it means that you think it's something wrong that you will tolerate. But you have to go beyond that – you have to respect."
Bhutan Observer, one of the country's main weekly newspapers, has written a significant number of articles on LGBT issues which elicited a lot of interest, making them the most commented articles on the paper's website. The government-supported newspaper Kuensel, meanwhile, has referred to gays as being the "Third Gender" in an article discussing HIV programmes targeted towards gay men. In November 2017, a presentation to sensibilise senior police officers on the stigmatisation faced by LGBT people was held in Phuentsholing. Police officials said the presentation has sensitised them further and made them understand issues related to the LGBT community. Chief of Police Colonel Chimi Dorji said, "After the training, we will come up with a procedural guidebook on LGBT. We will then distribute it among the officers. It will help us to deal with the LGBT community in a free and fair manner".
The International Day Against Homophobia, Transphobia and Biphobia was first celebrated in Bhutan in 2016. United Nations offices in the country launched a video campaign to defend the rights of LGBT people. The LGBT pride flag was flown in the country for the first time, at the UN House in Thimphu. In 2018, the event was celebrated at Hotel Migmar with government representatives as well as from civil society and the media. The event has been observed each year ever since.
There is no annual gay pride parade or other public display in Bhutan. LGBT activist Tashi Tsheten has said that they do not plan on holding one, not because of a hostile environment or oppressive government, but because "pride parades are a form of activism where people go out on the streets and talk about policy and legal changes; and that's not something that Bhutanese agree with. We believe in building human relations and talking one-to-one. Connecting heart-to-heart. That's where the real change happens".
Tashi Tsheten, director of Rainbow Bhutan, said although there was a general acceptance of transgender people, especially in rural areas, they still face much discrimination, especially in schools, saying that "there are lots of barriers and our education system does not understand LGBT," adding that most LGBT youths drop out of school.
In 2015, the Dzongkha Development Commission, which seeks to promote and protect the Dzongkha language and introduce new words, announced Dzongkha terms for lesbian (མོ་སྦྱོར།), gay (མཚུངས་སྦྱོར།), bisexual (ཟུང་སྦྱོར།), transgender (མཚན་སྒྱུར།), transvestite (སྤྱོད་སྒྱུར།), intersex (མ་ནིང།), homosexuality (འདྲ་སྦྱོར།), and homophobia (མཚུངས་སྦྱོར་ཞན་ལོག).
The word "chakka" is an Indian slang term used as a slur for gay and effeminate men. The word "phomenmomen", meaning not male and not female, is used to label a gay person, but a more correct translation might be "intersex". Gay Bhutanese do not like nor use this word. Gay men themselves use English terms to describe themselves: "gay king" is an older top, "gay queen" is an older bottom, "freaking prince" is a young top, "freaking princess" is a young bottom, and "closet celebrity" refers to a closeted man that everyone knows is gay.
LGBT activist Tashi Tsheten said that, previously, in 2009 and 2010, Bhutanese officials would state at international conferences that the country had no homosexuals at all.
Dasho Neten Zangmo, the head of Bhutan's Anti-Corruption Commission described as "the most important woman in the country" and the "Iron Lady of Bhutan", was the first senior Bhutanese government official to make a comment about gay Bhutanese, when she said in a speech in August 2014 to high school students: "Romantic relationships, by the way, can be boy-boy or girl-girl."
In 2016, two Bhutanese National Assembly members Madan Kumar Chhetri and Ugyen Wangdi attended the Salzburg Global LGBT Forum, hosted by the Salzburg Global Seminar and held in Chiang Rai, Thailand, alongside two Bhutanese LGBT rights activists.
The Bhutan Kuen-Nyam Party (BKP) has expressed support for LGBT rights. In 2018, the party included the rights of LGBT people in their manifesto for the 2018 Bhutanese National Assembly election.
In June 2019, during the parliamentary debate on the decriminalisation of homosexuality, some MPs called for enacting legislation granting LGBT people some rights. MP Tshewang Lhamo (DNT), the chairperson of the Legislative Committee said, "A lot of people are affected in our society because of Sections 213 and 214. We must understand that laws need to be changed as per the changing times. Everyone should have the freedom of choice. We only consider male preferring female and vis-à-vis as natural, and anything beyond that as unnatural. People must know that everyone is equal before the law irrespective of who they are. This particular Section 213 discriminates against a section of people and this is the reason why our committee has come up with a proposal to remove this section." MP Kinley Wangchuk (DNT) said, "Even if there is no harm, we must not look at the law based not only on the country-level, but globally. It's also not fine if it is kept as it is. On a global level, outsiders might think there is no law at all meant for LGBT community and that they are considered as an invisible section of society, which might create a suspicion. Rather than removing the section, it's also important that we make a clear legal rights for them first". MP Jurmi Wangchuk (DNT) echoed Wangchuk's statement.
One of the first LGBT-related opinion polls in Bhutan carried out by an exchange student at the Royal Thimphu College on campus with 150 participants resulted in the following responses in 2013. 60% of the respondents believed that homosexuality is immoral and 40% believed that homosexuality should be accepted and homosexuals protected from discrimination and harm. However, with only 150 participants and all of which were within a single area, the validity of the poll to be used as a national basis is very lacking.
In 2019, the government-supported newspaper Kuensel stated that there were 316 people registered as LGBT in the country. Of these, 3 were lesbian, 21 transgender women, 31 transgender men, 3 bisexual women, 16 bisexual men and 62 gays. 10 were below the age of 19 years, 93 were between 20–30 years and 33 above 30 years. This number was 97 in 2017 and 118 in 2018.
Lhak-Sam (BNP+) is the country's first association of HIV positive people. The association was formed in September 2009 and was registered as a civil society organization in November 2010.
Although gay and bisexual men are 19 times more vulnerable and transgender women are approximately 34-47 times more vulnerable to HIV infections, as of 2018 Bhutan has only one recorded case of HIV infection in the LGBT community.
Human rights reports
2017 United States Department of State report
In 2017, the United States Department of State reported the following, concerning the status of LGBT rights in Bhutan:
- Acts of Violence, Discrimination, and Other Abuses Based on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity
"The constitution guarantees equal protection of the laws and application of rights but does not explicitly protect individuals from discrimination for sexual orientation or gender identity. Laws against “sodomy or any other sexual conduct that is against the order of nature” exist. The penal code imposes penalties of up to one year in prison for engaging in prohibited sexual conduct.
Members of the LGBTI community reported instances of discrimination and social stigma based on sexual orientation.
The law does not provide any distinct legal status to transgender individuals, nor does it provide explicit protections."
|Same-sex sexual activity legal||(Not enforced; decriminalization pending)|
|Equal age of consent||(Pending)|
|Anti-discrimination laws in employment only|
|Anti-discrimination laws in the provision of goods and services|
|Anti-discrimination laws in all other areas (incl. indirect discrimination, hate speech)|
|Recognition of same-sex couples||(Proposed)|
|Stepchild adoption by same-sex couples|
|Joint adoption by same-sex couples|
|LGBT people allowed to serve openly in the military|
|Right to change legal gender|
|Access to IVF for lesbians|
|Commercial surrogacy for gay male couples|
|MSMs allowed to donate blood|
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