Nepal shelter for ostracized gays a sign of change

Fri Jun 24, 2011 5:17am EDT
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By Gopal Sharma

KATHMANDU (Reuters Life!) - The first ever shelter for ostracized gays has opened in Nepal -- a growing sign, say activists, that the impoverished, conservative Himalayan nation is becoming more aware of the rights of its gay population.

Homosexuality is taboo in this majority-Hindu country and while there are no specific laws against gays or same-sex marriages, "unnatural sex" can result in up to one year in jail.

Run by Nepal's leading gay rights group, the Blue Diamond Society (BDS), the home and adjoining hospice open to gays, lesbians, bisexuals and transgenders provides shelter to people who have HIV/Aids and have been abused and abandoned by their families.

"These people need care and are very late with the treatment. They need to be looked after in their last days of life and even to perform their last rites after death," said Sunil Babu Pant, BDS's founder.

"The families don't even (want to) receive their dead bodies. So the BDS organizes their burial or cremation."

The shelter, tucked away in a quiet residential area in the outskirts of the Nepali capital, Kathmandu, can accommodate up to 30 people who receive free medical care from doctors, as well as a place to stay.

There is no sign board outside the brick-walled compound -- a deliberate attempt, say caretakers, to avoid local attention in a country where many will not even rent their premises to homosexuals.

People who visit the shelter are reluctant to talk about their problems, but happy for the support.   Continued...

<p>Raju Baral, 27, who is HIV positive, speaks on the phone in the Care Support and Treatment Center run by Blue Diamond Society in Kathmandu June 23, 2011. REUTERS/Navesh Chitrakar</p>