Bhutan’s LGBTQI community and the challenge of Cyberbullying

The social media has not been a quiet place or easy place for Bhutan’s new LGBTQI community and according to the members of the community, they are still largely vulnerable to cyberbullying.

 Pema Dorji, a member of the LGBTQI community said that the LGBTQI community mostly use platforms such as WeChat, WhatsApp, Facebook, Tik Tok and very few are on Instagram but there has been a rampant rise in fake profiles on Facebook

He said that the LGBTQI community mostly face cyber bullying in form of harsh and unrelated comments to posts on social media.

Mr. Pema said that he is neutral when it comes to LGBTQI or society’s view because, there is two sides of a coin to everyone else as well.

One of the incidents he shared was about a transgender person who was openly called upon in one of the social media groups. He said that it had attracted a lot of negative attention and the community felt helplessly bad having seen the majority of the society criticizing them for being themselves.

He said that generally the empathizers feel that the society is to blame but he shared that even within the community there are a lot of common bullying going on especially for those who live with real accounts being cyberbullied by those with fake accounts.

One of the incidents he recalled was about a post on his Instagram profile where he was slut shamed and humiliated by a fellow community member. He said that the guy was persistent and had even threatened him when he refused to converse.

Another form of bullying on social media towards the community is by posting their pictures and commenting on their appearances and their natural choice of gender.

He added that putting sexual advances under pretense of fake profile is quite common among gays and lesbians but this is because they have a hard time coming out in the open.

He said that most of the transgenders do use their original profiles and even though they use it, it is quite hard to be accepted.

He said “In western culture LGBTQI use LGBTQI specific dating apps like Grinder or Planet Romeo, which is not possible in our case”.

He said that sometimes they mistakenly hit on straight people and then there is an awkward response and he on behalf of the community understands that people get uncomfortable which was not the intent to begin with.

 Normally, the community members prefer to live behind fake accounts like normal people being suppressed under societal norms and expectations. Some Facebook users reported that they had received obscene and explicit images from people claiming to be a part of the LGBTQI community.

 Passang Dorji, who handles Communication and IT for Rainbow Bhutan said that there has been a lot of stigma and cyberbullying instances especially towards the LGBTQI community in the past years in Bhutan but gradually the community has got more acceptance.

He said that when he joined the LGBTQI support community back in 2015 or 2016, he found there were a lot of suicide cases and attempts at suicides.

He added, “Yes, it is true, some people send absurd images even make threats of sexual abuse and blackmail the LGBTQI people to reveal their identities at their work place or classes and people need to understand that these things lead to more stigma in the community.”

He said “I might be wrong to talk about these issues if one would ask me from a LGBTQI perspective but as per the case study report that we have carried out, it shows that a lot of cyberbullying activities has arisen for the LGBTQI community”.

 He said, “Such incidences have gone as far as suicide attempts among the members of the LGBTQI family.”

He said that fake accounts might be important for the community as although there is a better acceptance in the society as compared to the historic times, it is still at a nascent stage to openly accept their presence without stigmatizing them.

“About misrepresentation of LGBTQI community by people messaging behind fake accounts, yes to certain extent it could be true as there might be people who may want to portray the LGBTQI community badly, but even if they are real LGBTQI members, I accept that such direct messages would not be acceptable in case of anyone and normally these people are the ones that rainbow Bhutan is having a hard time tracking and calling to attend in our advocacy programs and all,” he added.

 Pema Dorji said that mental health is a very important issue for anyone being cyber bullied and especially for the LGBTQI community he said that they are more vulnerable as people use their gender, appearances against them.

He said, “We become more conscious, stressed out and at some point, anxiety is induced”.

He added, “Not to blame anyone though, but what happens is when we say that we have mental health problems due to this they tell us to ignore or not be so anxious about it, however unless it happens to someone, they cannot realise the pressure from it.”

He said that there is very little awareness for them regarding cyber laws and therefore it becomes another hurdle when someone bullies them.

 Deki Choden, Career Education and Counseling, a former focal counsellor for the Thimphu Thromde for psychological assistance said that cyber bullying does not only involve people from LGBTQI but it covers the entire society.

She added “Cyberbullying encompasses the entire teenage population and mental health is closely associated with it, but yes the LGBTQI community are more vulnerable as they are trying to find their own identity and at some point they are not accepted in the community. So it requires more support from our side in terms of mental health support.”

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