Informal records with the Lesbian Gay Bisexual Transgender Queer (LGBTQ) community in the country revealed that of the 18 transgender women who came out, 17 of them dropped out of school at a very early age.
LGBTQ community in Bhutan is an informal group with 87 members. The members consists of two lesbian, 45 MSM (men having sex with men), 11 bisexual, 18 transgender women and 11 transgender men. Not having registered as a CSO, the LGBTQ community is being supported by Lhak-Sam and funded by Global Fund.
Talking to Business Bhutan, Deyon Phuntsho who is an MSM and a member of LGBTQ community said that though there are gays dropping out of schools as well, the number is much higher among transgender women.
“Transgender women are biologically male; however, their sexual orientation is that of a woman. Therefore, wanting to wear kira in schools, wanting to keep long hair, and being called names for being different are among the many reasons they drop out,” said Deyon Phuntsho, adding that stereotypical roles and traditional norms do not allow transgender women to do as they wish.
He also said that they often land up being the victims of harassment, sexual abuse and physical violence, just because they are gay, bisexual or transgender.
During the media advocacy on HIV and SOGIE (Sexual Orientation Gender Identity and Expression) this month conducted by Lhak-Sam, a transgender woman, Tshering Pelzom, came out about her sexual orientation. Naïve then, in 2004 when she was just in class IV, she thought that there was no point in studying school as she was never going to get an opportunity to wear kira in Bhutan and live like a woman.
Little did she know that in some years Bhutan like any other country in the world would see an increasing number of LGBTQ people.
“I thought that discipline in schools for people like me was too strict: I wanted to wear kira but could not neither could I open up about my sexuality and I was being increasingly bullied and called names, which led me to drop out of school,” said Tshering Pelzom.
Asked why it was still difficult for the LGBTQ people to live a ‘normal life,’ Deyon Phuntsho said: “I don’t find anything wrong with the life I am living right now. Just because we are gay or people living with HIV, it doesn’t mean that our life is abnormal.”
Deyon Phuntsho also said that some of the major challenges faced by the LGBTQ community are sexual harassment and verbal abuse, unwillingness to come out and avail services, deprivation of equal rights, discrimination, stigmatization, and sexual abuse.
He added that Lhak-Sam and the community also lack government support and limited financial resources to break free from social, cultural and traditional stereotypes and norms imposed.
“Just treat us like any other human being. We are entitled to all the rights as a citizen,” said Deyon Phuntsho.
Some of the suggestions the LGBTQ community put forward to tackle dropout problems in schools is to create conducive and friendly environment among teachers and students, and to enforce strict rules against bullying, violence and verbal abuse.
Deyon Phuntsho also added that the education system should allow transgender women to wear kira and transgender men to wear gho in schools.
Meanwhile, a senior counselor with Department of Youth and Sports under Ministry of Education, Kezang Dukpa, said that schools have various awareness and intervention programs to ensure that school is a safe place for students of diverse needs and choices.
“With the placement of counselors in schools, works on enhancing the psycho-social ambiance of schools are prioritized,” he said, adding that parenting education cover sexuality and understanding gender orientation.
He also added that bullying, harassment and discrimination in the schools are closely addressed through orientation programs for teachers and students.
“There are children with transgender orientations continuing their education with counselor’s intervention. These prevention and intervention program have immensely helped students with diverse needs and choices,” he said.
However, despite advocacy by the government, family members, friends and the society, a certain degree of stigma remains attached to LGBTQ in Bhutan.
Lucky Wangmo from Thimphu