KATMANDU, Nepal (AP) — About 1,000 gays, lesbians, transgender people and their supporters, many dressed in colorful clothes and holding banners, marched through Nepal's capital on Thursday to celebrate and demand rights for their community, in what has become an annual festival.
It was the fourth year the rally was held, with organizers saying the march through the streets of Katmandu was an opportunity for sexual minorities to come out in the open and educate the public.
"This is the day when we gay people are able to come out in the open without any fear or shame to celebrate with our community," said Bhumika Shrestha, one of the organizers of the rally.
Nepal is considered a conservative nation. Most of its people are Hindu, and many still follow traditional beliefs. Most marriages are still arranged by parents, and extended families all live together. It was only after the fall of the monarchy and the election of a Constituent Assembly in 2008 that sexual minorities began to demand rights.
"We are here to appeal to the general public so they stop all types of discrimination against us," said Nisha Sharma, a rally participant. "We are your children, brothers and sisters, so please don't despise us. Love us and treat us like your own."
Katmandu-based Blue Diamond Society has been campaigning for Nepal's sexual minorities and demanding that the new constitution, which was being written by the assembly before it expired last year, include rights for them.
The group has also been demanding that the government continue to issue citizenship certificates with the category "third gender" for people who do not wish to be identified as male or female.
Activists say "third gender" minorities have had difficulty getting jobs or passports, enrolling in schools or owning property without proper citizenship certificates.