First gay sports fest shows changing Nepal attitudes

Mon Oct 15, 2012 1:51am EDT
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By Gopal Sharma

KATHMANDU (Reuters) - Clad in pink, blue and yellow clothes, more than 250 lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) athletes took part in a sports festival in the Nepali capital, Kathmandu, at the weekend, billed by organizers as the first in South Asia.

About 1,500 spectators cheered as the athletes, waving rainbow colored flags, marched at the Dasharath Stadium in the heart of Kathmandu in the opening ceremony of the three-day event that showed how attitudes are changing, albeit slowly, in the conservative, Hindu-majority nation.

The athletes were accompanied by masked dancers and Panche baja -- musicians playing Nepal's traditional instruments including pipes and drums.

"After I participated in the tournament, my confidence has increased," said 29-year-old Bakti Shah, who took part in football and athletics.

American Olympic diving champion Greg Louganis, on a visit to Nepal to support the rights of sexual minorities, kicked off the event at a football match, wearing a Nepali cloth cap and cream-colored Buddhist prayer scarf.

"Initially I was a little worried whether we will be able to hold such a big event in a major public venue," said well-known activist Sunil Babu Pant, founder of the Blue Diamond Society, a leading gay rights group.

"We have done it and proved that we can do," added Pant, a former member of parliament.

Homosexuality is still taboo in Nepal, which does not have clear laws about the rights of the increasingly assertive gay community.   Continued...

A contestant performs during the Pink Pageant, at the closing ceremony of the first South Asia Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender (LGBT) Sports Festival in Kathmandu October 14, 2012. According to organizers, the three-day long festival was to push for LGBT rights through sports. REUTERS/Navesh Chitrakar