LGBT rights in Bhutan

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StatusIllegal[1] (not enforced)
Discrimination protectionsNo
Family rights
Recognition of relationshipsNo

Lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) people in Bhutan may face legal challenges not faced by non-LGBT people. Homosexuality is illegal in Bhutan. The Penal Code (aticles 213 and 214) states that same-sex sexual acts (regardless of whether they were consensual or done in private) are punishable by a prison sentence of between one month to less than one year.[1]

LGBT people in Bhutan face little violence or persecution,[2] though most Bhutanese do not know they even exist with the idea of being gay or transgender "pretty much unheard of". In recent years, due to Bhutan opening up more to the outside world, Bhutanese LGBT people have started to publicly come out and establish visible outlets for the LGBT community. As such, attitudes among the general population are changing.[3]

Legality of same-sex sexual activtity[edit]

The United States Department of State issues this warning to LGBT travelers to Bhutan: "Although there are no laws that explicitly prohibit consensual same-sex sexual activity, laws against "sodomy or any other sexual conduct that is against the order of nature" exist. Under the Penal Code, a person can be imprisoned for as long as one year for engaging in such acts. One government official noted that prosecution under this law is rare, as criminal intent must be proven by the prosecution. There have been no reported cases of such charges.[4]

Decriminalisation efforts[edit]

Some members of the Parliament of Bhutan have publicly called for the laws to be repealed.[5]

Recognition of same-sex relationship[edit]

Currently, Bhutan does not provide any form of legal recognition for same-sex couples.

Blood donation[edit]

According to the Bhutan Medical and Health Council, anyone in good health aged at least 18 years and weighing at least 45kg (100 lbs) may donate. Until recently, there have been few restrictions on blood donations in Bhutan.[6]

Living conditions[edit]

Ignorance about homosexuality is common due to stereotypes in popular culture.[7] Bhutanese culture does not share the typical Western view of heterosexuality and homosexuality. Some have referred to it as an openly bisexual society, although this is disputed.[8] Women are more likely than men to be open about their sexual orientation.[9] There are cultural and traditional struggles for those who seek acceptance.[9] According to a 2016 Integrated Biological and Behavioral Surveillance (IBBS) survey, over 42% of transgender women and 23% of gay and bisexual men in Bhutan have attempted suicide more than once.[10]

Buddhism, the main religion of Bhutan does not condemn homosexuality. In 2015, Dzongsar Khyentse Rinpoche, Bhutan's most prominent Buddhist teacher, said that sexual orientation has nothing to do with who will reach enlightenment. He further stated that Bhutanese should not merely tolerate gay people but should respect them.[11]

Bhutan Observer, one of the country's main weekly newspapers, has written a significant number of articles on LGBT issues which elicited a lot of interest making them the most commented articles on the paper's website.[12] The Government-supported newspaper Kuensel, meanwhile, has referred to gays as being the "Third Gender" in an article discussing HIV programmes targeted towards gay men.[13]

Dasho Neten Zangmo, described as "the most important woman in the country" and the "Iron Lady of Bhutan", was the first senior Bhutanese government official to make a comment about gay Bhutanese, when she said in a speech in August 2014 to high school students: "Romantic relationships, by the way, can be boy-boy or girl-girl."[11]

The International Day Against Homophobia, Transphobia and Biphobia was first celebrated in Bhutan in 2016. United Nations offices in the country launched a video campaign to defend the rights of LGBT people.[14]

The Bhutan Kuen-Nyam Party has expressed support for LGBT rights.[15]

A same-sex couple who went public with their relationship in 2018 reported being fully accepted by their families and friends.[16]

Public opinion[edit]

One of the first homosexuality opinion polls in Bhutan carried out by an exchange student at the Royal Thimphu College on campus with 150 participants resulted in the following responses in 2013. 60% of the respondents believed that homosexuality is immoral and 40% believed that homosexuality should be accepted and homosexuals protected from discrimination and harm. However, with only 150 participants and all of which were within a single area, the validity of the poll to be used as a national basis is very lacking.[7]


According to 2018 estimates from the United Nations Development Programme, there were about 9,100 men who have sex with men in Bhutan.[16]

Human rights reports[edit]

2017 United States Department of State report[edit]

In 2017, the United States Department of State reported the following, concerning the status of LGBT rights in Bhutan:

  • Acts of Violence, Discrimination, and Other Abuses Based on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity
    "The constitution guarantees equal protection of the laws and application of rights but does not explicitly protect individuals from discrimination for sexual orientation or gender identity. Laws against “sodomy or any other sexual conduct that is against the order of nature” exist. The penal code imposes penalties of up to one year in prison for engaging in prohibited sexual conduct.
    Members of the LGBTI community reported instances of discrimination and social stigma based on sexual orientation.
    The law does not provide any distinct legal status to transgender individuals, nor does it provide explicit protections."[17]

Summary table[edit]

Same-sex sexual activity legal No (Never enforced)
Equal age of consent No
Anti-discrimination laws in employment only No
Anti-discrimination laws in the provision of goods and services No
Anti-discrimination laws in all other areas (incl. indirect discrimination, hate speech) No
Same-sex marriages No
Recognition of same-sex couples No
Stepchild adoption by same-sex couples No
Joint adoption by same-sex couples No
LGBT people allowed to serve openly in the military Emblem-question.svg
Right to change legal gender No
Access to IVF for lesbians Emblem-question.svg
Commercial surrogacy for gay male couples No
MSMs allowed to donate blood Yes

See also[edit]

External links[edit]


  1. ^ a b State-sponsored Homophobia A world survey of laws prohibiting same sex activity between consenting adultsArchived 17 October 2012 at the Wayback Machine
  2. ^ "Bhutan's first openly gay couple get nothing but love from the public". 12 February 2018.
  3. ^ Ryan, Hugh (28 October 2015). "Gay in Nirvana: Bhutan's LGBT Population Emerges from the Shadows" – via
  4. ^ "Bhutan- Threats to Safety and Security". United States Department of State online. Archived from the original on 28 March 2008. Retrieved 15 August 2013.
  5. ^ "Bhutan lawmaker says law criminalizing gays may go". 16 September 2013.
  6. ^ "Who can be a blood donor?". Retrieved 1 January 2015.
  7. ^ a b "Bhutan's underground gay community seeks acceptance". 16 September 2013. Retrieved 31 December 2014.
  8. ^ "Bhutan - GlobalGayz".
  9. ^ a b "More equal or less equal?". Retrieved 31 December 2014.
  10. ^ "Amid Widespread Stigma and Harassment, Bhutan's LGBT Community Seeks Acceptance". The Wire.
  11. ^ a b To Be, or Not to Be, in Bhutan
  12. ^ Wangmo, Phuntsho (19 December 2008). "How Gay Are Bhutanese Gays?". Bhutan Observer online. Retrieved 14 April 2017.
  13. ^ Pelden, Sonam (28 November 2011). "Healthcare for the third gender". Kuensel online. Retrieved 28 November 2011.[permanent dead link]
  14. ^ "Welcome to IDAHOT Newbies !".
  15. ^ "BKP pledges an inclusive government – KuenselOnline".
  16. ^ a b "Bhutan's first public Gay couple receive positive responses after coming out - The Bhutanese".
  17. ^ BHUTAN 2017 HUMAN RIGHTS REPORT This article incorporates text from this source, which is in the public domain.