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How Nepal’s constitution got queered


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The LA Review of Books has a fascinating article by Kyle Knight about the complex struggle to include protection of LGBT rights—including official recognition of a third gender—in Nepal’s new constitution. In a country that otherwise retain a largely patriarchal and reactionary legal system, this was an amazing triumph. Here’s a snippet from the piece:

Nepal became only the 10th country in the world to enshrine specific protections for LGBT people in its constitution. The path to constitutional protection for a group at times openly derided as “social pollutants” was neither linear nor predictable, and took a unique combination of courage and political wisdom. It is reflected in the rise of Sunil Pant, who in 2001 was an unemployed computer engineering graduate handing out condoms in a dusty Kathmandu park, and who seven years later became Asia’s first openly gay national-level elected official when he was voted into the Constituent Assembly — a 601-person chamber charged with drafting the new constitution…

In 2007 when the court issued its judgment in Pant’s Yogyakarta Principles case, it ordered the government to take three steps: audit all laws and scrap those that discriminated against LGBT people; form a committee to study same-sex marriage legislation; and legally recognize a “third gender” category based on an individual’s own self-identification. Judicial precedent has few teeth in Nepal. But as an augur of public opinion, the case resonated well. It also propelled Pant to a new level of political legitimacy, representing an increasingly visible and popularly comprehensible minority.