Sat, 03 Jun, 2023

Taking it to the street

By Erica Pandey

With the Gaijatra festival and the annual Nepal Pride Parade around the corner, Kathmandu’s LGBTI community has been spearheading the advocacy effort for gay rights through street art. City walls have been decorated with spray paint art and posters depicting gay love and showing the equality between homosexual and heterosexual couples. The activists behind this art are Danish and Nepali student members of ActionAid Global Platform Nepal. ActionAid is dedicated to providing non-government organizations and youth activists the resources and the leadership skills to create change in their communities. The students were involved in a month long training program centered on creating leadership skills for social change, and they chose LGBTI rights as their cause. “Love can happen with any person,” Senior Program Manager Parshu Ram Rai said. “Love is love, and there’s no difference. And that’s why these students wanted to get involved with this issue.” According to Rai, the students were also drawn to gay rights because it has been a relevant topic of discussion in society today. gayActivism (1) Last month, Nepal’s Blue Diamond Society collaborated with ActionAid to put up two such posters. One poster, put up under a bridge adjacent to Ratnapark, is a pastel green and shows a black and white sketch of two men about to kiss. The other poster is on a wall in Kamaladi. It is pink and features a similar sketch of two women about to kiss. Both have the caption “Maya Lai Bujhau,” meaning “Let’s Understand Love,” in Devanagari script. The lesbian love poster also has “#LoveIsNeverWrong” written underneath it.  The students designed the tagline “Maya Lai Bujhau” and developed the concepts for the posters and painted street art. “Maya Lai Bujhau” was a way for the Nepal chapter of ActionAid to foster an environment of tolerance and acceptance of LGBTI Nepalese people in Kathmandu. The organizing members of the “Maya Lai Bujhau” project were Shristi Kharel from Nepal and three activists from Denmark. In a statement detailing their efforts, the team said, “As participants of the ActionAid’s Global Citizen Course we have a strong motivation for promoting social change. And what better way to do this than to shed light on the problematic fact that acceptance for the LGBTI-community is still lacking in Nepal.” gayActivism Other examples of the students’ street art across the city include spray painted  pictures or words with a singular message of support for the LGBTI community.  One work has been painted outside Tri-Chandra College and illustrates three  different stick figure couples: heterosexual, gay, and lesbian. Underneath each  couple is the simple message: “Love.” Another example of the project’s outreach  is graffiti under a bridge at New Road that reads “Love is Love” repeatedly.  Similar to the goal of the “Maya Lai Bujhau” posters, these other examples of street art seek to appeal to the community by promoting homosexual love as equal to heterosexual love. By equating the loves and encouraging the community to understand love, the street art can pull the community to the next step of tolerance of LGBTI Nepalese people. “[Homosexuality] is not a mental illness. It has a lot to do with genes and hormones. We do not control them,” continues the ActionAid activists’ statement. “People have started talking,” noted Rai. “The response on Facebook and has also been really positive.” Rai added that the advocacy efforts had garnered both a national and an international response. A post about the students’ street art was featured on the “Being LGBT in Asia” Facebook page. The greater goal of the Blue Diamond Society, ActionAid and similar advocacy groups is to free the LGBTI community from stigma of mental illness or abnormality. And awareness, the first step to achieving this goal, has been brought about by the Kathmandu street art campaign.