The optimistic lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, intersex and queer (LGBTIQ) community in Bhutan expressed surprise when members of the National Council proposes to retain the clauses of unnatural sex in the country’s penal code.
Penal Code of Bhutan 2004’s section 213 states that a person is guilty of the offence of unnatural sex if an individual engages in sodomy or any other sexual conduct that is against the order of nature and section 214 grades the offence as a petty misdemeanour.
Last year lower house National Assembly recommended to repeal the clauses.
International human rights group Amnesty International has called on Bhutanese parliamentarians to seize this “historic opportunity.”
“This will be an important step in recognizing that Bhutan supports the equality of all citizens regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity,” said Babu Ram Pant, the South Asia campaigner at the U.K.-based organisation. “For a country that prides itself on the happiness of its people, Bhutan must without any delay rid itself of laws criminalizing consensual same-sex relationships,” he said in a statement.
Amnesty International also said that the community has faced social hostilities. “The amendment will be the first step towards removing discrimination, harassment, bullying and violence that many LGBTI people or those perceived to be LGBTI continue to face in Bhutan,” said Pant.
“Bhutanese are generally quite tolerant about anyone being LGBTIQ. But we need to go beyond just tolerating,” said Namgay Zam, an independent journalist who has been advocating for the community and has started an online petition to encourage the upper house to pass the bill. “We need to accept that humans not only come in all shapes, sizes, and colors, but also with all kinds of sexuality. It’s about social inclusion after all.”
At least 316 people had identified themselves as LGBTI in the country until last year. They continue to campaign under Rainbow Bhutan banner for equality.
A petition campaign run attracted over 3500 signatories supporting gender equality.