The National Assembly (NA) took the step and approved the removal of section 213 and 214 of the Penal Code of Bhutan, that criminalizes ‘unnatural sex’ and also prescribes a punishment for it, on 8 June, 2019 after the finance minister, Namgay Tshering, addressed the need to remove the section.
The Bill will be tabled in the National Council (NC) for the winter session where deliberations will be held on whether to endorse the Bill or not. Pema Dorji and Tashi Tsheten, members of the LGBTIQ community, are hopeful for a positive outcome.
They said that they were present during the time when the deliberation were taking place in NA, and that some of them even burst into tears out of happiness after the section removal was approved by almost all the Parliamentarians in the lower house.
Pema Dorji said, “For a country like ours that does not even have a billion population, we never intended on going out in the streets and shouting for our rights, like in other countries. But rather, our strategy was very different as we focused more on personal relationship building. Although this section was affecting our existence and it needed to go away as it does not look good on the country’s reputation either, so we kept doing ground work alongside.”
They said that the section created fear among the LGBTIQ community that anyone against their community could cite the law or misuse against the community.
Tashi Tsheten added, ‘’Frankly, we expect things to go well. But then again, we also have people who tell us that there are chances that this Bill might get killed.’’
“It is not just section 213 and 214 that will be passed to the National Council, there are other sections as well, the major one being reduction of age of consent. There was a lot of confusion going on although it was finally passed, so we are not sure how NC will react, but we hope that NC sees the wisdom in the decision of NA,” he stated
Pema Dorji hopes that the section gets removed so that Bhutan won’t be listed with the other 71 countries that criminalizes homosexuality. He said, ‘’Most of the countries that have not decriminalized homosexuality yet are the orthodox countries with brutal punishment, although this is not the case in our country. But the outsiders might think our country is the same as we are doing far better but since we are also listed with these countries, it does not look good.’’
LGBTIQ community members stated that if nobody is getting affected or prosecuted then why stick to the very regressive law.
The community members did not expect the current government to prioritize their plight and concerns and bring up the decision right away as they thought it might take a few years time, but nonetheless it happened.
According to Pema Dorji, the decriminalization of homosexuality is empowering the LGBTIQ community to assert their rights so they are not exploited and discriminated.
The LGBTIQ said such a landmark change came with the help if the finance minister who used to work as a program officer at National Aids Control program and knew about the issues of the community faced, especially the laws discriminating against them.
The removal of the section has helped to increase their visibility and for now the community is trying to build a friendlier space for the ones who are coming out, and make others around them understand that it’s okay to be different.