Beauty Queen provides a vision for the LGBT community

Posted on Tue 12 Jul 2022 at 09:58

Not only will Tashi Chuden be the first contestant to represent Bhutan in the famous Miss Universe pageant, but she’s also the only gay public figure in the Himalayan country.

Bhutan is certainly famous for its concept of “gross national happiness”, which is supposed to promote the welfare of the citizens rather than economic growth.

But until February 2021, the Penal Code deemed homosexuality a “sexual conduct contrary to the laws of nature” and therefore illegal in this Buddhist country.

So Ms Chudin’s coronation in June as Miss Bhutan was a “big deal” for a country of about 800,000 people, and for the LGBT community.

“I am not only speaking for the Bhutanese community, but also for the minority on a platform like the Miss Universe contest,” she told AFP. “I can be their voice.”

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

The announcement initially sparked a “very strong reaction” within her conservative and religious family, but Ms Chudin feels it is important for those close to her to be part of the exit process.

“Above all else, their acceptance matters to me,” she said. “After a while, they accepted it very well. And I am very grateful for that, because not many people are fortunate enough to have that acceptance.”

“As long as they know I’ll be successful in life, can function on my own, and can be an independent woman, I don’t think my sexuality really matters to them.”

Despite some backlash, her Miss Bhutan contest victory seemed to have the country’s support.

Prime Minister Lutai Tsering personally congratulated the young model and sent her wishes for success.

– open the way –

Bhutan has always gone its own way, focusing not on economic growth but also on environmental conservation of its snow-capped peaks and valleys.

The country has a negative carbon balance and its constitution states that the forest must cover 60% of the land.

It is moving away from the traditional global tourism model, levying a $200 per day “sustainability tax” for entry to foreign tourists – a fund used to offset their carbon footprint.

It took until 1999 to allow television. Residents maintain a passion for archery, and it is not uncommon to see rods drawn on homes to ward off evil.

In this atypical country, members of the LGBT community have reported many cases of discrimination and social stigma.

However, the decriminalization of homosexuality in 2021 has paved the way for more openness, believes Rinzen Galli, a gender fluid esthetician.

“With the decriminalization lifted (…) I feel more comfortable than before in public,” he told AFP.

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

Many transgender women have had their name and gender changed on their ID cards. The gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender community is also gradually gaining visibility.

Ms. Chudin’s presence in the Miss Universe pageant brings hope among the country’s gay youth.

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

“This representation paved the way for the rest of us to be able to trust who we are in public.”

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