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Tiny Nepal Plans Its Own Gay Games Competition

by Jason St. Amand
National News Editor
Friday Mar 23, 2012
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The tiny Himalayan nation of Nepal has traditionally been one of the most conservative and inward-looking societies in the world. Sitting on top of the world with some of its highest peaks, the people long followed a virtually absolute monarch and the rigorous local sect of Buddhism.

But in recent years, the nation that sits astride China and India has made great strides into the 21st century. One of the most dramatic manifestations of that is the about-face the people and government have made toward gay rights.

The nation is trying to encourage Western same-sex couples to tie the knot with Mt. Everest as a backdrop. And now, the Nepalese have announced an LGBT sporting event. The Vancouver (Canada) Sun reported that the multi-sport mini-Olympics will be called the "Blue Diamond National Sport Competition." Like the Gay Games, it will take place over the course of a few weeks (two) weeks.

It is planned for late September or early October at the national football stadium and other venues in and around Kathmandu, the capital. Athletes are being invited to participate in sports that include track and field, volleyball, football, martial arts, tennis and yoga. Perhaps most appropriate for this most mystical of nations, there will be a competition in yoga.

The Blue Diamond Society is a gay rights group based in Kathmandu that created the event. A spokesperson said that the competition also welcomes "hijras" -- men who dress and behave like women.

"Renowned and respected Nepali athletes will support as coaches and referees for the program," Sunil Pant, one of the competition’s organizers, the Wall Street Journal reported. Pant is the country’s only openly gay lawmaker and heads the Blue Diamond Society.

The ultimate aim of the competition is to "to mainstream LGBT people into the larger society, promote healthy lifestyles, encourage physical fitness, and promote health mentally and spiritually," Pant said. He hopes the competition will become an annual event in Nepal and that it eventually spreads to other countries.

Australia’s government is supporting the event and donated 1.6 million Nepali rupees (about $20,000), according to the Journal.

"I cannot speak on behalf of the government but, in my view, the event will definitely bridge barriers and alter mindsets," Keshav Raj Pokharel, a senior official at Nepal’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs told India Real Time.

A 2007 Supreme Court ruling decriminalized homosexuality in Nepal and the country’s government created several laws to protect the LGBT community. A year later the court ruled that the government must enact laws aimed toward LGBT citizens, including one that would recognize same-sex marriage. A bill for marriage equality was drafted in 2009 and was supposed to be introduced in 2010; however, it has been postponed until May of this year. In 2011, Nepal also recognized transgendered people as a "third gender" in addition to male and female.

The Huffington Post interviewed Badri Pun, a 37-year-old former volleyball player who identifies as a third gender person. He told the newspaper that he was forced to quit competing in his chosen sport when he was 22 because of his gender identity.

"Because I was different from my team members, I was stripped off the opportunities of participating in international competition," Pun said. But because of the country’s rapidly evolving view of all things LGBT, Pun said he now lives openly as a third-gender citizen. He sees the games as a major step in the nation’s --¬†and, by extension, the region’s -- progress toward full acceptance.

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