Bhutan | A beauty queen offers visibility to the LGBT community

(Thimpu) Tashi Choden will not only be the first-ever candidate to represent Bhutan in the famous Miss Universe pageant, but she is also the only openly gay public figure in the Himalayan country.

Posted at 6:59

Namgay Zam
Media Agency France

Bhutan is certainly known for its concept of “Gross National Happiness”, which aims to promote the well-being of its citizens rather than economic growth.

But until February 2021, homosexuality was considered “sexual behavior contrary to the laws of nature” in the penal code and was therefore illegal in this Buddhist country.

The coronation in June of Mme Choden in Miss Bhutan was therefore a “big deal” for the country of nearly 800,000 people and for its LGBT community.

“I speak not only for the Bhutanese community, but also for the minority on a platform like the Miss Universe pageant,” she told AFP. “I can be her voice”.

The 23-year-old, who lost her parents nine years ago, says she came out in 2021, on International Pride Day, after “a lot of research and soul searching.”

This announcement initially provoked “a very strong reaction” within his conservative and religious family, but Mme Choden thinks it’s important that those close to her were part of the coming-out process.

“The most important thing for me is their acceptance,” she said. “After a while, they took to it very well. And I’m very grateful for that, because a lot of people aren’t blessed with that kind of acceptance.”

“As long as they know that I’m going to be successful in life, that I can make it on my own, that I can be an independent woman, I don’t think my sexuality really matters to them.”


PHOTO NAMGAY WANGCHUK, AGENCE FRANCE PRESS

Tashi Choden

Despite some backlash, her victory at the Miss Bhutan pageant appeared to win the country’s support.

Prime Minister Lotay Tshering personally congratulated the young model and wished her success.

open the way

Bhutan has always followed its own path, which does not focus on economic growth but also focuses on the ecological preservation of its snow-capped peaks and valleys.

The country has a negative carbon balance and its constitution requires that forest cover 60% of the territory.

It steers clear of the traditional global tourism model, levying a $200-a-day “sustainability tax” on inbound foreign tourists — a fund used to offset their carbon footprint.

It wasn’t until 1999 that television was allowed. Local residents have a passion for archery and it is not uncommon for phalluses to be drawn onto houses to keep evil at bay.

In this atypical country, members of the LGBT community report many instances of discrimination and social stigma.

However, the decriminalization of homosexuality in 2021 has paved the way for greater openness, believes Rinzin Galley, a gender aesthetician.

“With decriminalization […] I feel more comfortable in public than before,” he told AFP.

“I like wearing makeup and going out, and it’s not normal for a boy to go out with makeup on.”

Several transgender women have changed their name and gender on their ID cards. And the LGBT community is gradually gaining visibility.

The presence of Mme Choden at Miss Universe inspires hope among the nation’s queer youth.


PHOTO NAMGAY WANGCHUK, AGENCE FRANCE PRESS

Tashi Choden

“Seeing a gay woman become Miss Bhutan allows the rest of the gay community, especially gay youth, to aim for more important goals in their lives,” Regita Gurung, a young bisexual woman, told AFP.

“That representation paved the way for the rest of us to be confident in who we are in public.”

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