Bipana Thapa, 24, came to Kathmandu from Pokhara five years ago for higher studies, having no idea that she was a part of Nepal’s sexual minority.
Only after she met others like her in the college did she realise her identity. She got involved with the Blue Diamond Society (BDS) and started dressing up as a woman. But she was living in Kathmandu and in a dire need of work to pay her bills.
“After people saw the way I talked and behaved, I didn’t get any work. I did hard labour for a while, but I was fired from that too,” Bipana recalls.
It reached a point where she did not even have enough to eat, so she took up sex work out of sheer desperation. She was still doing that when the COVID-19 lockdown closed the country. Money is tight again, and she is living off her savings and the help she gets from BDS and her LGBTIQ friends.
Urvasi Moktan, 23, realised she was different from others when she was in grade 11. She had come to Kathmandu from Kavre with the help of relatives, but when she didn’t find any work she was compelled to join the sex industry.
“I hate to identify myself as a sex worker but we are forced to continue in this profession to survive,” she says adding that her family still doesn’t know about her work.
But the lockdown has added to the problem because now she cannot work for fear of getting infected with the coronavirus. She says, “The lockdown has become a punishment for people like us who earn by night for the next day’s meal.”
Minakshi from Sindhupalchok came to Kathmandu after completing her high school and is now pursuing her BA in Kathmandu. After being associated with BDS the 24-year-old trained to be makeup artist, but when no one hired her she started a street shop.
“I made Rs 1,700 a month selling stuff on the streets. I couldn’t make a living with that money and in the end I was forced to become a sex worker,” she says. However, she is once again unable to support herself, let alone her younger brother who is studying in Kathmandu.
Back home, Minakshi’s mother, the only one who knows about her identity lives by herself. Her father has been living with a new wife after he remarried. She says she would quit sex work in a heartbeat if only she had another work to support her family.
The good news is that some help has come — Mister Gay Nepal 2013 Bisworaj Adhikari has been providing trans-women sex workers with meals at a restaurant in Lazimpat.
“Unlike others, LGBTIQ people are away from their families and they don’t have a situation where they can go back home. Which is why many of them are without food,” explains Gautam, adding that some 7-8 people come for meals daily.
The BDS is also distributed relief in various wards inside and outside the Valley, but the demand is much greater, especially from those who have not yet identified themselves openly, and are scattered across the country. Many LGBTIQ people have also had their house owners refuse to deduct rent, and in some cases even hike the charge.
Gauri Nepal of BDS estimates that half of Nepal’s LBTIQ community have lost their jobs during the lockdown, which has added to the mental health problems She says: “Having to spend an entire days in their rooms, they are also more affected by the ill treatment of people towards them.”