More than a month after a huge earthquake in Nepal destroyed 309,000 homes and killed at least 8,000 people, tens of thousands of families are still waiting for government aid to construct temporary shelter before the monsoon rains arrive in mid-June. Many of them have been living in outdoor camps since the quake hit on April 25th.
But relief camps have been segregated into male and female quarters, leaving transgender people with few places to access the already limited services. The scramble to get thousands of trans people adequate relief shows that one of the countries with the most advanced gender-identity laws in the world still can’t regulate acceptance, even at desperate times of need.
These photos were taken at an outdoor camp in Kathmandu, where a Nepalese LGBT-rights group has opened a camp specifically for what they refer to as “sexual minorities.”
Gay, transgender, and intersex victims of the earthquake may “find services for the general community inaccessible because of stigma and discrimination,” said Jess Letch, protection and gender advisor for the Red Cross, which has so far led a multimillion-dollar relief effort in the country.
“Although the third gender is officially recognised in Nepal, aid response facilities, such as [toilets], are usually set up for men and women,” Letch told Fusion via email. “There is rarely the consideration for the third gender which can leave people without the services because other community members won’t accept them.”
Letch said the Red Cross has strategies to raise awareness of the needs of marginalized groups so they are fully included in response planning. “Ensuring the we meet the needs of the most vulnerable is not just about resources but knowledge and attitudes, too,” she said.
Back in 2011, Nepal was widely recognized as the first country to include a third gender option in its census forms. Earlier this year, the government announced it would start issuing passports with a third gender, something the U.S. is still having trouble with.
But as the earthquake relief efforts have shown, even the most most progressive gender laws don’t automatically result in acceptance.
The transgender community has been “equally affected if not more,” by the earthquake, wrote the founders and directors of the Blue Diamond Society, the group that has set up the camps for sexual minorities, in an appeal for donations last month.
BDS provided a list of members across Nepal whose houses have been destroyed, and the Red Cross said they’ve been able to provide many of them heavy-duty waterproof cloth, blankets, and water purification tabs to help get them though the initial emergency period.
According to the group, about 300 transgender women in Kathmandu make a living through sex work and currently have no other way of earning money. They said the immediate need includes tents, clothes, blankets, and medicine.
BDS has also run out of food for the care, support and hospice for LGBT people living with HIV. There are some 19,000 reported cases of people living with HIV in Nepal, according to 2011 estimates from the World Bank. However, officials believe the actual numbers are closer to 50,000 people living with HIV.