When Bhumika Shrestha was little she loved to dress up in her mother’s clothes and wear her sister’s lipstick. Her parents did not see a problem in their son wanting to dress-up. He was just a little kid after all. But Bhumika, then called Kailash, didn't grow out of it. When she became a teenager she knew for sure that she didn’t want to be a boy anymore, but a lady.
“My family gave me a boy’s name, Kailash. I didn’t like it because when I grew up my feelings and my way of thinking was totally a woman. I didn’t know why, but I felt like a girl,” says Bhumika Shrestha.
Last year the Nepalese government announced it would be the first country to include a third gender in its national census. It was a landmark announcement that citizens no longer had to conform to either the male or female box on the questionnaire. But unfortunately, to date this census has not resulted in a clear count of transgender people in Nepal.
The Blue Diamond Society (BDS), an organization for the LGBT community, has nearly 400,000 officially registered members.
Since the organization was founded in 2001 by Sunil Pant, it has been extremely successful in advocating the rights of the community.
Bhumika Shrestha is an example of this success. From being taunted by her community when she was younger, she is now an avid spokesperson for the BDS, and the country’s first transgender politician.
“In Nepali society, especially in my village, people do not understand. When I walk around, people look at me and start laughing,” Bhumika explains how it wasn’t easy for her to grow up in a small village.
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She felt like she was the only one who did not feel comfortable in the body she was born in. But it all changed when Bhumika was approached on the street by a BDS member, who asked her to come to their office.
“I was sixteen,” she remembers, “and for the first time in my life I felt I wasn’t alone anymore. There are other transgender people too.”
Bhumika started regularly visiting the BDS office. She gained confidence through talking to others who equally did not fit within the tight framework of Nepal’s society.
Her next bold step was to participate in the first Miss Pink Pageant, a beauty contest especially for third gender people. She won.
Winning the first Miss Pink Pageant put the country's spotlights on Bhumika and the transgender community in Nepal.
“It was madness after I won the contest. It seemed like every journalist in Nepal wanted to speak to me,” she says.
Bhumika’s new-found stardom launched her political career. Out of 50 candidates, she was elected as a new member of Nepal’s Congress Party to represent minorities.
In the run-up to her election as Miss Pink, Bhumika released a statement on the problems with ID card registration for transgender people.
Campaigning by Bhumika and the BDS led to a court decision in 2007 that third genders should be allowed to specify their sexuality on their ID card. But unfortunately implementing this at government offices has been difficult.
Having an ID card that still shows her birth name, Kailash, can get Bhumika in a lot of trouble when she travels. But in Nepal you also depend on the card when you want to buy a house or apply for a job. When government officials see a male identity card, but a woman is standing in front of them, it’s confusing.
Like many court rulings in the small country wedged between two giants, China and India, this one has not yet been implemented, leaving Bhumika and other transgender people having to explain themselves over and over again.
Though the LGBT movement has come a long way since independence, politicians in Nepal are taking their time.