Dear National Council, Please Repeal Sections 213 & 214.
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Dear Honourable MPs,
I write this petition on behalf of Bhutanese who identify as LGBTIQ (lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans, intersex, queer). If we are to go by the Kinsey Scale estimate of 9-10% of total population identifying as LGBTIQ, I could be writing this on behalf of at least 72,000 Bhutanese. This is the number of Bhutanese in Chhukha, the second most populous dzongkhag in the country (according to the NSB, Chhukha had almost 69,000 people in 2017). This is just to put things in perspective.
MPs have asked me for exact numbers in Bhutan. I cannot produce these exact numbers as 90% of the LGBTIQ population are closeted due to fear of being judged and harassed. The little information we have is also collected thanks to the Health Ministry wanting to map MSM (men having sex with men) for health reasons. This population is sadly not even identified as vulnerable/ at risk despite being among the most vulnerable social groups.
We understand the need for deliberation and legal process in parliament, but we would like our MPs to understand this from a standpoint that is not heteronormative. There are incidences of gay men being victims of blackmail and extortion because of sections 213 & 214 (SAHRA Human Rights Violations Report 2019). There are transwomen being raped and not being able to report the violation because of the same sections.
The existence of these two sections in the Penal Code are antithetical to section 15 under Article 7 of the Constitution of Bhutan that states: "All persons are equal before the law and are entitled to equal and effective protection of the law and shall not be discriminated against on the grounds of race, sex, language, religion, politics or other status."
Bhutan may not be a homophobic country, but the two sections 213 & 214 clearly demonstrate a bias against gay sex. To the outside world, we have criminalised homosexuality and thousands of Bhutanese for their SOGIE (Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity Expression). We continue to cry ourselves hoarse by telling anyone willing to listen that no one has been incarcerated due to the two sections. That we are not homophobes. But does it matter? What's written in black and white carries more weight. People will believe the law. Not opinions.
There is the opinion that we ought not to look outside as we are very Bhutanese in our ways, but the two sections did not even originate from within Bhutanese law. They are legal imports. We are also being asked to be patient via comparison to the worst example of India having taken more than a 100 years to enact their equality law.
The world is only waking up to sustainable development now. Bhutan is a pioneer in sustainable development thanks to our beloved development philosophy of Gross National Happiness (GNH). Must we now wait just because we are afraid of being "revolutionary"? Our 4th Druk Gyalpo revolutionised the concept of development by turning his back on GDP as a measure of progress.
One of the pillars of GNH is Good Governance. According to UNESCAP, "Good governance has 8 major characteristics. It is participatory, consensus oriented, accountable, transparent, responsive, effective and efficient, equitable and inclusive and follows the rule of law. It assures that corruption is minimized, the views of minorities are taken into account and that the voices of the most vulnerable in society are heard in decision-making. It is also responsive to the present and future needs of society." Is the current position of the National Council to not repeal clauses 213 & 214 good governance?
We beseech the MPs of the National Council to repeal these redundant laws as they threaten more than they help Bhutanese citizens. We write this having full confidence in the existence of current laws related to sexual crimes. Perhaps these laws can be changed to accommodate the fears of bestiality and necrophilia? The LGBTIQ population gets unfairly clubbed together with people who suffer from pathological abnormalities due to the phrase "unnatural sex". Being LGBTIQ is not abnormal.
The definition of what is natural or unnatural sex ought to take into account the idea of consent. If consent is involved, then what two people do in private should not concern any of us. If consent is absent, then the act of forced penetration/ sex can be classified as rape. There are adequate laws in the Code to address this.
This is not a petition to demand LGBTIQ rights. This is a petition to our Honourable MPs to recognise that Bhutanese who are LGBTIQ are humans too with the same fears and hopes as you. The only difference is that you are in a position to better their lives through the repeal.
It is our fervent hope and prayer that our MPs will choose to better the lives of all Bhutanese on 7th February 2020.
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