Gender identification has been a hot-button topic in America for decades. Activists have picketed for things such as three restrooms: one for males, one for females, and one for others. Thus far, arguments such as these have been pushed aside. In Nepal, however, concrete progress has been made in the area of gender identification.
Earlier this year, Nepal issued its first gender-neutral passport. Instead of forcing applicants to select male or female, people now have the option to pick ‘Other’ in the gender field. Nepal has also been issuing census and citizenship cards with the ‘Other’ gender option since 2011. Nepal is not the first country to change how gender is represented on a passport, however. Australia and New Zealand have already issued gender-impartial passports. Moves like these do not go unnoticed to the rest of the world and Nepal knows this. Plans are underway to help promote Nepal as a gay-friendly tourist destination.
This kind of action is great news for the LGBT community. People in Nepal who identify as a third gender have faced hardships when trying to find jobs or applying for school. This kind of discrimination should be lessened (and has been with the issuance of unbiased gender citizenship cards) with this major passport move by the country.
Nepal, in general, is very open to the LGBT lifestyle. Until 2007, cross-dressing was illegal in the country, but, following a strict monarchy ruling, it is now legal, along with other laws that favor the LGBT community. Although the government is making strides to accept their lifestyle, some citizens still don’t approve of them and most of the violent crimes in the country are committed against the LGBT community. Due to this discrimination, many transgender Nepalese people don’t attend school and, thus, the group as a whole has a very low literacy rate. The Blue Diamond Society, a LGBT activist group in Nepal, announced last year that they want to implement rules to improve this statistic.
One of the reasons Nepal is so progressive on gender neutrality issues could be due to their religious beliefs. The country’s citizens are mostly Hindu or Buddhist. In the Hindu religion, Shiva is worshipped as an Ardhnarishwara, meaning half-male/half-female. In indigenous societies, it is believed that third genders have special spiritual powers.
It took years for Nepal to take these kinds of concrete steps for LGBT equality in their country. It’s never too late for the rest of the world to get started on similar initiatives.