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Elton John backs Nepal's gay community

The British singer has taken up cudgels on behalf of Nepal's Blue Diamond Society - the only gay rights organisation - to spread awareness about HIV/AIDS.
IANS | By HT Correspondent, Kathmandu
PUBLISHED ON JUL 24, 2007 03:48 PM IST

British singer Sir Elton John has taken up cudgels on behalf of Nepal's sexual minorities, who were recently told by a government official that instead of trying to educate the gay community about the spread of HIV/AIDS they should "find something better to do".

The Elton John AIDS Foundation, Britain's largest charity that supports AIDS intervention programmes across the world, issued a statement from London, saying it was "extremely proud" to support the Blue Diamond Society (BDS), Nepal's only gay rights organisation, and the HIV/AIDS work it was doing in the country.

"Men who have sex with men, transgender communities and other sexual minorities are made far more vulnerable to HIV infection when they are forced to live their lives in secret by a society that denies or condemns their existence," Robert Kay, executive director of the Foundation, said

"BDS is working to inform these communities about HIV/AIDS and their rights and support those who are HIV positive to access appropriate treatment and care services."

The foundation, which will send a copy of the statement to the appropriate ministries in Nepal, is urging the Nepal government to work in tandem with NGOs like BDS, saying they reach out to vulnerable communities, especially in remote areas where there is a high HIV/AIDS prevalence level and limited government treatment and care services.

The foundation, which in 2005 donated 25,000 pounds to BDS to support its AIDS programmes, issued the statement after a support project started with the money in Nepal's remote Dhangadi district was vilified by a district public health officer and other NGOs as promoting homosexuality and polluting society.

Though Nepal's government ignored the incident, it created a furore abroad. Gay rights organisations condemned Krishna Bhatta, the Dhangadi public health officer.

Bhatta, who presides over a monthly meeting with health workers in the area, also said at the controversial meeting earlier this month that there were no gays or transgenders in Dhangadi and therefore, the BDS care and support programme was "absolutely unnecessary".

A woman health worker from a well known NGO in the area was also reported as saying that if the BDS programme was allowed in Dhangadi, it would promote homosexuality and "pollute entire society".

According to BDS, more than 15 people living with HIV have been sent to Kathmandu for further support, treatment and hospice facilities since the scheme started two months ago.

Kay said the foundation was "appalled" to hear about the "bigoted and factually incorrect attitudes" shown at the meeting.

He is asking the government of prime minister Girija Prasad Koirala to show leadership in promoting the rights of all citizens under the UN covenants on Human Rights, to which Nepal is a signatory.

The foundation is also asking that officials, particularly those working in the area of HIV/AIDS, be sensitised to the needs and rights of sexual minority groups.

In Nepal, where sons are preferred over daughters, homosexuals are treated as outcasts, refused jobs and often thrown out by their families.

There are also repeated instances of police harassing and assaulting gays and transgenders.

The gay community says it feels especially let down that the new multiparty government has done nothing to improve their status, though they supported the pro-democracy struggle against King Gyanendra's absolute rule last year.

With just four months left before a crucial election that will result in a new constitution for Nepal, the sexual minority is lobbying hard to get the rights of gays, lesbians, trangenders and other sexual minorities protected in the new statute.

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