Tibet’s Pride

Photo Credit: Londhen Thupten
Photo Credit: Londhen Thupten

Today, millions of people around the world celebrate the annual gay pride weekend with a slew of events meant to continue bringing visibility and rights to the LGBTQ community. This year has marked a particularly new milestone for gay rights, with the United States Supreme Court legalizing same-sex marriage nationwide just days ago. The ruling has sparked a renewed debate, with some nations such as Canada and the UK having already legalized same-sex marriage.

Other countries that have not passed similar rulings, such as Hong Kong, have anti-discrimination laws but no protections for LGBTQ individuals. The probability of legalizing same-sex marriage is thus considered low, with the city-state currently facing political upheaval amid tensions with the mainland.

Meanwhile, some countries have responded heavy-handedly to those calling for an end to homophobia, with Turkish police firing rubber bullets, tear gas, and water cannons at those who participated in today’s banned gay pride march in Istanbul’s Taksim Square. Although homosexuality is not criminalized in Turkey, what’s known as the largest gay pride event in the Muslim world happens to fall under the holy month of Ramadan and has angered more conservative members of the population.

In China, neither same-sex marriage nor civil unions are recognized, per the official policy of the ruling communist regime. With some Chinese “conversion clinics” still using hypnosis and electroshock therapy to “cure” homosexuality, LGBTQ groups have begun combatting such outdated practices and thus created growing awareness of this issue among Chinese citizens. Changing attitudes on the issue are apparent on social media outlets like Weibo (the Chinese equivalent of Twitter), where many users recently expressed support for the Supreme Court’s decision on gay marriage.

But in “ethnic minority” territories like Tibet, no LGBTQ organizations are currently in existence. The presence of underground gay bars in the capital of Lhasa, now apparently defunct, is in itself considered a challenge to the social pressures and traditional Tibetan cultural norms on marriage and sexuality. While this conservative attitude towards homosexuality is also deeply-ingrained among the exile population, the generational gap becomes apparent when comparing this traditionalist mindset with the more liberal values held by many Tibetan youth.

Interestingly, social attitudes may slowly be shifting among the diaspora, as His Holiness the Gyalwang Karmapa has boldly expressed progressive sentiments on social issues like feminism and gender equality in recent years. His Holiness the Dalai Lama has also voiced similar opinions, publicly declaring support for same-sex marriage and gay rights.

As the public conversation both in Tibet and in exile continues to move forward on this and many other key issues, the future for a Tibetan “Pride” indeed may not be too far ahead.

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