“Yes, our son is gay”: A Nepali father’s awakening

Bhojraj Pokharel (translated by Niranjan Kunwar)

On December 21, 2007, Nepal’s Supreme Court decided on a landmark case, Sunil Babu Pant and Others v. Government of Nepal, decriminalizing homosexuality and allowing same-sex marriage in Nepal. Despite the legal victory, social acceptance and understanding of the complex set of challenges faced by gender and sexual minorities needs much improvement. I chose to translate this piece primarily to contribute to this long-winded process of public sensitization. This article stands out for several reasons. It’s written by Bhojraj Pokharel, a former Chief Election Commissioner and an influential leader of Nepali civil society. Fifteen years after the Supreme Court verdict, an entire generation has come of age in a rapidly transforming world. Nepal’s LGBTIQ+ movement has matured, with numerous young people coming out online and offline. Yet, the older generation still seems stuck in the past. Bhojraj ji’s words provide much-needed guidance to those struggling in confusion and hope to those committed to justice and equality. This article was first published in Nepali in Kantipur (Koseli) on March 25, 2023. 

June 8, 2014. After dinner, I was chatting with my wife Amuda and son Adheep. The conversation progressed and Adheep said, “I want to confide something to you two today.” His habitual expression turned slightly grave. Both of us responded, “What is it? Tell us.”

“Don’t get shocked.”

“Just out with it.” We tried to make it easier for him.

“I’m gay.”

I briefly glanced at both faces. Adheep’s expression was pensive, Amuda’s confused. 

“That’s alright,” I tried to lighten the atmosphere.

For a few moments, the room was hushed.

I spoke once again, “We’ll always be with you regarding this. This is not your choice. Isn’t that right, Mamu?”

I address my wife the way our son and daughter do: “Mamu”. She completely agreed with my stance, adding soothing comments to make it easy for him.

We hugged our son. After finding out about his condition, we felt closer to him and our love only increased. I don’t know why – he became even more dear to us.

We had a long conversation that night. He told us about his past. As much as possible, we tried to reassure him. We were careful to not let him feel any embarrassment or unease.

We only had one complaint – Why didn’t you tell us anything all these years?

He told us about his partner, the fact that he is a foreigner and the probability of their forthcoming marriage. We congratulated him, genuinely happy.

After that conversation, it felt like there was more joy and lightness inside our home. 

Before I went off to bed, I examined my son’s expression once more. His sense of relief was evident. His confession to us probably felt like putting down a heavy load he had been carrying. 

Those days, my father’s health was a bit precarious. He was almost a hundred years old. We were afraid this news might distress him. To shield him, we decided not to tell anyone in Nepal apart from my brother.

But we were so ignorant – his older sister, residing in America, already knew about her brother. They had agreed not to tell us, worried we might be shocked!


Ever since he was a child, everyone loved Adheep. Even as a young boy, he showed abundant love and compassion for others. He wasn’t mean, neither was he quarrelsome. He had a harmonious, calm nature. It was as if he didn’t know how to lie or cheat. 

His schooling began at the age of two and before he turned eight he started staying at the St. Xavier’s School hostel in Godavari, on the outskirts of Kathmandu. Even after completing the School Leaving Certificate exams, he did his eleventh- and twelfth-grade studies at a residential school in Ranikhet, near Nainital in Uttarakhand. His undergraduate and graduate years were also spent at dormitories, at the State University of New York in the United States and later at Columbia University. 

Suffice it to say, he hasn’t been with us since he was eight years old. During holidays, he arrived as a guest, and before he could properly settle in it would be time to return to school or college. As he grew older, his behavior gradually changed. I particularly noticed how he grew distant from our family and relatives, though he used to enjoy spending time with family as a child.

By the time he reached the tenth grade, he socialised only with a few friends and didn’t show much interest in spending time with our family. Once in a while, we even advised him to maintain relations with everyone.

We had no idea why he was behaving like that. 

It was only after finding out about his condition that I understood why he had distanced himself from family and relatives. As far as our society is concerned, it is unnatural to belong to this community. It is criminal. Gender and sexual minorities are viewed as vulgar and degenerate, dregs of Western culture. And without bothering to consider their humanity, many in our society use despicable, disparaging and disgraceful descriptors for them, making it difficult for those who belong to this community to carry on living. 

Instead of facing inhumane treatment or outright neglect, instead of enduring bitter words or experiences, better to not go anywhere! At least that way, one won’t get humiliated. This was the reason why my son had been gradually embracing solitude. 

The night I became privy to his secret, I couldn’t sleep well. Not because of his condition but because of my own ignorance. Turns out, I still carried traces of a traditional father figure. I had failed to become his friend. These days, even families living under the same roof don’t really live like a family. The family is falling apart. Even at the dining table, the smart phone gets more importance than communion over a meal. In these days of disconnection from one’s own family, it’s even more crucial to create an atmosphere conducive to conversation.

Even during his school days, my son had very few friends. Despite attending a school known for being the best and the most modern at the time, he doesn’t really have any friends. Even though he is straightforward, harmonious and easygoing, he gets along with very few people. It wasn’t that he was unable to make friends. I realised that he was intentionally removing himself from social spaces, whose values and inner workings he was quite familiar with. 


After I retired from the state bureaucracy in 1999, the four of us went to south India for a religious tour. I remember how in Madhya Pradesh, when a group of ‘third genders’ entered our railway car singing and dancing raucously, my son had panicked. I hadn’t realised why he had been so terrified.

When he was abroad working or studying after high school, his emails were usually laced with a sense of despair. I used to respond at length, “I’m pretty sure you are grappling with a problem, just tell me what it is … No need to hesitate or feel awkward, don’t keep it to yourself … Every problem in this world can be resolved. Be honest with me.” He always let it pass. 

But he had responded once: “There’s no point bringing up an issue that doesn’t have a solution.”

I grappled with myself internally after reading those words, trying to make sense of them. Must be a pretty intense issue that negatively impacted his outlook on life, I assumed. A problem related to his career, studies or romantic life, we figured.


He grew up. As is the custom, friends and relatives not only brought up the topic of his marriage, they also suggested prospective brides to us. My elderly parents were naturally eager to witness their grandson’s wedding. 

Mamu would bring up the subject of marriage with him more than I would. Apparently, his responses were pretty routine: “I’m not going to get married … Don’t talk about marriage with me.”

My son is superb. He is well-acquainted with the ways of this world. “We should not interfere with his desires and what he considers to be the right thing, and whenever he indicates his inclinations, we can fulfill our responsibilities then.” I made peace with that thought. 

He never had a girlfriend. Even when he was a young adult, he didn’t entertain conversations about marriage. What was the actual issue? We never adequately followed through with that line of inquiry. 

I had taken on important professional roles working with gender minorities. I was already exposed to these ideas. 

Finally, I began to connect the dots. 


When I retired from government service, I was only 45 years old. I had worked as a secretary in various important ministries for almost seven years but I couldn’t rely on a government pension for the rest of my life. I became engaged in various non-governmental jobs in order to make ends meet, to support my family and to fund my children’s education. Those opportunities not only bolstered my finances, they helped me gain a worldview more expansive than the one confined by the boundaries of government. 

My first job after retirement was to lead a team tasked with identifying the prevalence of HIV/AIDS in Nepal. The ensuing report, “The State of HIV/AIDS in Nepal,” turned out to be a foundational document that influenced long-term policies, programs and work-plans aimed at preventing and controlling the spread of the virus. 

In that process, in 2004, I became involved with Policy Project Nepal, established by FHI, an international NGO. Its primary objective was to help the government amend existing laws and create new ones to protect and support the communities most vulnerable to HIV/AIDS. Due to socio-cultural prejudice and ignorance, HIV-positive individuals tend to hide their status, putting themselves and others more at risk. Consequently, the rate of community transmission increases. Included in our programs was a mandate to empower these individuals and help them advocate for themselves. We worked with the government to change discriminatory policies and laws. Clearly, gender and sexual minorities were at great risk regarding HIV/AIDS.

I consulted with numerous individuals from this community. The range and magnitude of their problems made me feel as if I was facing a unique mountain of obstacles. I heard of and witnessed bitter incidents of individuals facing humiliation, intolerance and violence – at the hands of their families, their neighbors, society and the state (mainly, the police). For me, it was an opportunity to listen to thousands of stories that laid out the extent of psychosocial harm caused by negative discrimination, due to which some even lose their lives.

After working in close proximity with this community, I was able to gain their trust. There were moments when my eyes filled with tears while listening to them. After revealing that they were gay or lesbian, some had been thrown out of their homes. They heard comments from family-members such as, “I wish I’d suffered a miscarriage instead!”, “I wish they’d die or disappear!” et cetera. While walking down the street, they heard taunts such as “Hijra!”, “Socially depraved!”, “Impotent!”, “Why don’t you die!”, et cetera. They had to face endlessly insulting questions and behaviours while seeking medical service. I heard countless narratives detailing lives filled with toxic encounters at every step. 

Completely abandoned by society, compelled to contemplate suicide while getting through life and, in addition, cursed and hated by one’s own family! Imagine the mental and emotional anguish of these people. Imagine the difficulty of crafting a normal, dignified life in society because of something one did not choose. 

It’s true that the suicide rate among this demographic is alarmingly high, a direct result of social neglect, insults and discrimination. A regular dose of jibes – “Chhakka!” and “Napunsak!” – has the potential to cause irreparable harm and destroy an individual’s humanity. A few high-profile suicides come to mind now, probably caused by this society’s attitude to these issues. 

Many high-profile families, despite being aware of the situation, force their son or daughter to get married to someone from the opposite sex just to placate society. And those marriages quickly end, compelling an innocent person to sacrifice their life. I have several friends whose children belong to this category but they never dare to say – My child is also a homosexual. They are hypocrites who care more about their apparent social standing than their own children’s lives. Instead of supporting their children, they demoralise them. 


It wasn’t just me. Several colleagues affiliated with Policy Project were aware of the scale of the painful impact caused by our society’s inherent malaise. And so, we had somewhat realised and attempted to overcome our own discriminatory attitudes. 

The offices of Policy Project Nepal were located on the third floor of a building in Pulchowk. I still remember that one afternoon when we were all on the terrace enjoying a meal like we usually did. A female colleague who was also part of our team blurted out, “Bhojraj-ji, if only our sons were also gay!”

She had made the comment in the context of a larger professional environment in which a few Nepali and foreign individuals working with gender and sexual minorities had been globally recognised and honoured. At the time, we merely chuckled, lighthearted. 

This was around 2006, when my son was already 20 years old. 

I thought of myself as someone well-acquainted with the struggles of gender and sexual minorities. Turns out, I had been clueless regarding my own son. 

Now, I know about it. But because of my own reticent nature, it took me some time to bring the issue out into the open. Some people consider this to be a strictly private matter. But then I thought, “This is not an entirely private matter either.”

My stance, supported by my family, is this – Members of this community, so often compelled to suffer indignity without proper rights, should be encouraged to come out openly, and their families and society should accept this in an ordinary way.


October 19, 2018. Tika day of Dashain – the tenth day of the biggest festival for Nepali Hindus. 11 am. The metropolitan offices of Malsch, Germany. “According to German laws, your marriage is now registered and, from today, the two of you are partners,” the chief of the metropolitan government said after the grooms took their vows, and – as she handed the marriage certificate to Adheep and Tobias Volz – instructed them to exchange rings. This marriage registration was between two men. In other words, both were husbands.

There was no possibility for Adheep and Tobi to get married in Nepal because our legal system has only imagined marriage between opposite sexes. That’s why, since Tobi is German and German laws allow same-sex marriages, we had deliberated quite a bit before fixing the details of this marriage. 

The German government had assigned the date nearly ten months before the day of the marriage. In the interim, my father passed away and we had to observe a year of mourning. It’s not considered appropriate to participate in any sacred event during this period, but we weren’t in a position to manipulate the given date. We didn’t have any plans to include traditional Hindu rituals in the marriage; we were simply going to a government office as witnesses. If we canceled the appointment, we might have had to wait for years for another one. But if we kept the appointment, we were afraid that we’d be subjected to rampant social criticism in Nepal. On top of that, this was a very sensitive step for my son and I was concerned that he might harbor a complaint, thinking, “My parents could not join me even on a day like this.” In the end, I consulted my younger brother Sekhar and, after receiving his permission, we ended up in Malsch.

After the exchange of the rings, champagne bottles were opened, according to custom. Since we don’t consume alcohol, we held on to our juice glasses. We made a toast, participated in photo sessions and then attended a reception jointly organised by our sons. I had invited more than a thousand guests when my daughter got married. It felt like I’d conducted my son’s marriage somewhat in secret, concerned with social norms. That thought still makes me uncomfortable. 

If bold, worldly folks like us waited for four years before publicly announcing “Our son is gay” and “He is married to another man,” what might be the situation of regular folks?


“This is a consequence of modernity.” Some people take that stance.

But homosexuality’s existence has been indicated in the Puranas and the Vedas. Instances of it being accorded due respect in ancient societies have been described in various stories and documents. Lord Shiva’s incarnation as Ardhanarishwar (in which the male and female aspects are fused into one); the worshiping of kinnar and kinnaris; that instance in the Ramayana when Lord Ram blesses the hijras – we are all aware of popular examples like these. Several cultures have accepted homosexuality, but others – primarily those linked to strict religious traditions – still struggle with the concept. A considerable number of people view homosexuality as an unnatural trait rather than understand it as a natural expression of human diversity. 

With regard to the legal and constitutional framework, Nepal has made large gains within a relatively short period. Nepal’s constitution has made provisions for citizens to demand a citizenship card based on one’s chosen gender, has given property rights to these citizens, has articulated that citizens cannot be discriminated against based on gender and sexuality, et cetera. Still, although the constitution has guaranteed respect, dignity and freedom and has stated that citizens cannot be discriminated against on the basis of gender or marital status, we have yet to see these provisions properly reflected in practice. 

The supreme court of Nepal has already set a precedent that gender and sexual minorities – in other words, those who identify as gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender and intersex – cannot be discriminated against on the basis of their gender or sexual orientation and cannot be denied any rights guaranteed by the constitution. But members of this community have not been able to exercise those very rights. In fact, there has not been much change in our society’s hatred and ignorance. 

If the state and society continue to despise and insult this community, if family members view them as a disgrace, then who will come to their aid? This is a critical question. It’s important to transform our nature that compels us to deny our children’s reality. Because the family has the potential to play the most influential role, the family ought to be prepared. One ought to alleviate a bruise, instead of exacerbating it. One ought to provide a safe and supportive environment. 

If those playing leading roles in society are able to bring the truth out in the open, the ones suffering might find relief. Those guardians compelled to deny or make excuses for their children’s expression might find encouragement. It was with this intention that we, Adheep’s parents, decided to write this article. And we consulted with our son before publishing it. And this is what we’d like to say to Adheep and Tobi – We are happy and we hope that your lives are also prosperous and beautiful.

Bhojraj Pokharel is …

Niranjan Kunwar is the author of Nepal’s first queer memoir, Between Queens and the Cities (2020).