KATHMANDU, March 24, 2013 (AFP) - Lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender activists from across Asia gathered in Nepal this weekend to plan strategies for overcoming problems in the region, including religion and culture.
The gathering, organised in advance of the next UN Human Rights Council session this summer, featured activists from over a dozen countries and Nepalese government officials.
"I laud the courage you have shown despite the circumstances you live and work in," Riddhi Baba Pradhan, Nepal's Minister of Women, Children and Social Welfare told more than a hundred assembled guests.
"This conference in Kathmandu proves that the common assertion that LGBT rights are incompatible with Asian values is false."
The seminar, a brainstorming session aimed at developing region-specific recommendations for the UN rights body, looked at problems faced by activists in the region, including religion and culture, and strategies to overcome them.
Selected to host the event, Nepalese activists jumped at the opportunity to showcase the country's openness to diversity and recent gay rights progress.
"In Nepal we have strong traditions of respecting diversity, including in sexuality and gender," Sunil Babu Pant, the country's gay rights leader told AFP.
Nepal's LGBT rights movement began formally in 2001 when Pant founded an HIV and human rights support organisation by handing out condoms and lubricant in a dusty Kathmandu park.
The movement achieved international fame in 2007 when the country's Supreme Court issued a decision ordering the government to scrap all discriminatory laws, examine same-sex marriage policies, and issue citizenship documents acknowledging a third gender.
Pant, who in serving in Nepal's erstwhile parliament, was the first openly-gay federal-level politician in Asia, and encouraged the UN to "embrace Asia's vast diversity" when considering human rights.
"Not everyone in the world likes the lesbian or gay or transgender labels, so we have to make sure human rights are for everyone," he said, echoing a common sentiment of the two-day meeting.
In a video statement inaugurating the conference, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon said: "Far too many people and governments still refuse to acknowledge the injustice of discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity and the hardship it causes."