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KATMANDU, Oct 1 (UPI Next) -- Lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and inter-sex Nepalis will be able to register as “third gender” for the first time in the country's history and campaign openly for legislative seats in the planned Nov. 19 elections.
Importantly, Nepal’s major political parties have opened the way for LGBTI candidates to appear on their tickets.
"Even though the major political forces have accepted sexual minorities, traditional Nepalese society has not accepted them," Purushottam Dahal, a political science professor at Nepal Sanskrit University and former editor of the national Rajdhani newspaper, told UPI Next.
"Sexual minority candidates are not likely to affect the results if they run as independents. But if major political parties nominate them as election candidates, they will have a significant effect on the result," Dahal said.
Nepal, a country of about 26.6 million people, has 12.5 million registered voters. The Blue Diamond Society in Kathmandu, which was Nepal's first advocacy group dedicated to sexual minorities when it was founded in 2001, estimates there are about a half million Nepalese who qualify as third gender. Government census officials have not yet finalized their count of the country’s LGBTI population.
Sixty-two third-gender candidates, representing many of Nepal's 130 registered political parties, have been announced for the country's 601-seat Constituent Assembly, including 28 lesbian, 21 homosexual, 12 transgender and one bisexual candidate, in 31 of Nepal's 75 electoral districts.
"This will pressure the government, the election commission and political parties to create a conducive environment for the election," Sunil Babu Pant, who became Nepal's first gay parliamentarian when he won a seat in 2008, told UPI Next.
"If we are denied, we will contest as independent candidates."
Pant is among 365 "third gender" Nepalis who recently joined the Communist Party of Nepal-Unified Marxist Leninist, which won the third-largest number of seats in the last assembly elections in 2008.
"We have expressed our commitment to ensure the third gender's representation in the Constituent Assembly," party spokesman Pradeep Gyawali told UPI Next.
The Supreme Court in December 2007 ordered that sexual minorities be guaranteed the same rights as other citizens, such as rights to employment and education.
The election commission ran a massive campaign last month during voter registration to encourage transsexual or transgender voters to sign up under the new third gender designation.
"We implement gender balance and inclusiveness in our policy, and will take the necessary initiatives to create an environment for the third gender to participate in elections," Election Commission spokesman Bir Bahadur Rai told UPI Next.
Political analyst Surendra K.C., a history professor at Kathmandu's Tribhuvan University, said Nepal has taken the lead within the South Asian region in recognizing sexual minorities.
"Nepal is a progressive nation in the context of alternate sexuality," he told UPI Next.
"If the third gender emerges as a power in the upcoming Constituent Assembly elections, this will set an example to the world that Nepal has respect for gender equality, diversity and inclusivity."
Some Nepalis are resisting the change.
"People identifying as LGBTI should not be deprived of their rights," Tara Prakash Poudel, an associate professor at Nepal Law Campus, told UPI Next, using the abbreviation for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender or intersex individuals.
“However, they should not be represented in the CA because their presence will set the wrong precedent.
"Every community, region and disabled will start seeking their representation in the CA. This will transform the CA into a comedy platform.”
Badri Pun, president of the newly founded gay rights organization Inclusive Forum, has also been selected as a candidate by the Communist Party of Nepal-Unified Marxist Leninist, and will run for a seat in Myagdi district, 150 miles west of Kathmandu.
"We demand representation of our community to ensure our rights in the new constitution," Pun told UPI Next.