Despite gains made in many parts of the world, lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex (LGBTI) people are, in some regions, increasingly persecuted and denied basic human rights. Because bigotry thrives where we are silenced by fear, we've created this space for people to share stories of discrimination and survival. Read these stories, share them, and contribute your own. Let the world know that we will not be silent.

wlii-c-190522-SaudiArabia-Nael

Nael/


“I always felt that I’m different but at the same time felt i’m normal because that’s who i’m.”

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78 year-old, white gay man Gary ÒLeeÓ Lawson at home in Fort Lauderdale, Florida. Lee is single, retired and a biker. Behind the scenes photography and video and assistant: Juan Pablo Ampudia, juanpablo@cuartocreativo.com. Phone +52 1 55 8676 5741. Photography by Robin Hammond, pitures@robinhammond.co.uk. Editor: Mallory Benedict, Mallory.Benedict@natgeo.com, +1 202.791.1282. 29 March 2019

Gary “Lee” Lawson/


“Paul and I were friends and partners for about 7 years, we were both gay, motorcyclist and traveled around a lot. He traveled in his work & both of traveled together and separately. Chicago, Milwaukee, St Louis, Minneapolis , Indy, Nashville, KC, MO +++ In fall of 1983 he got pneumonia that turned out to … READ THE STORY

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24 year old pansexual African-American woman of trans-experience Sophia Lee in Queens, New York. Assistant: Alison Lippy, Allison@allisonlippy.com, Phone +1 410 967 1096. Photography and video by Robin Hammond, pitures@robinhammond.co.uk. Editor: Mallory Benedict, Mallory.Benedict@natgeo.com, +1 202.791.1282. 06 February 2019

Sophia/


“Life is full of sacrifices and the unfortunate reality for many LGBT youth is that they have to sacrifice so many things just to live authentically. For me, I’ve had to sacrifice the love of my father.”

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Emma Alcedo/

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“When I lived in Venezuela I developed depression and anxiety since I was 16, of course due to many reasons, but mostly because I wasn’t able to accept myself as trans.”

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20 year-old, black/hispanic, bisexual man Peanut in New York City. Peanut (not his legal name) was born in The Bronx. He has been homeless since he was 17. Behind the scenes photography and video and assistant: Juan Pablo Ampudia, juanpablo@cuartocreativo.com. Phone +52 1 55 8676 5741. Photography by Robin Hammond, pitures@robinhammond.co.uk. Editor: Mallory Benedict, Mallory.Benedict@natgeo.com, +1 202.791.1282. 03 April 2019

Peanut/


“So many people hated, dislike, talked about and made fun of me, I just thought oh this is it, nothing else today I guess”

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wlii-c-190317-Netherlands-Nicky

Nicky Bronkhorst/


“my gym teacher motivated the bullying in the gym classes telling me in front of everyone to not act like a ‘pussy’.”

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63 year-old, Welsh-Jew gay/bisexual Rich Burton Jr expresses his gender identity as Òsexual.Ó He sits with his 72 year old live in domestic partner, white, gay man Pedro Barrios at home in Miami, Florida. Behind the scenes photography and video and assistant: Juan Pablo Ampudia, juanpablo@cuartocreativo.com. Phone +52 1 55 8676 5741. Photography by Robin Hammond, pitures@robinhammond.co.uk. Editor: Mallory Benedict, Mallory.Benedict@natgeo.com, +1 202.791.1282. 30 March 2019

Rich & Pedro/


“We have shared and cared for one another ever since in my vigor muscles bulging I gave my heart and soul to him eternally.”

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73 year-old, transgender queer women, and veteran of the 1969 Stonewall Riots, Victoria Cruz. She sits in the lounge area of Brooklyn based GRIOT Circle, (@GRIOTcircle on Instagram) a community-based, multigenerational organization serving LGBTQ elders of color. Behind the scenes photography and video and assistant: Alison Lippy, Allison@allisonlippy.com, Phone +1 410 967 1096. Photography and video by Robin Hammond, pitures@robinhammond.co.uk. Editor: Mallory Benedict, Mallory.Benedict@natgeo.com, +1 202.791.1282. 04 February 2019

Victoria Cruz/


“My name is Victoria Cruz. Born male, in Guánica, Puerto Rico. Known as Boriquén, before the Europeans came to the Caribbean. My real name was Victor Cruz, one of 11 children. I found out that I was really female at an early age. After the second World War, my father moved to Brooklyn, New York … READ THE STORY

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73 year-old, white, gay man John Swallow at home in Dade City, Florida. John is a drag queen. His stage name is Miss Jo Ann. He lives with his husband Russ. Behind the scenes photography and video and assistant: Juan Pablo Ampudia, juanpablo@cuartocreativo.com. Phone +52 1 55 8676 5741. Photography by Robin Hammond, pitures@robinhammond.co.uk. Editor: Mallory Benedict, Mallory.Benedict@natgeo.com, +1 202.791.1282. 23 March 2019

John Swallow/


“I’ve been chased down street and mocked and beaten for who I am. It only made me stronger and made me fight for my rights and those of others to exist and live free.”

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21 year-old, homeless heterosexual trans man, Terry Ruggiero at Trinity Place Shelter. Trinity Place Shelter is a non-sectarian, 10-bed transitional shelter that provides LGBTQ youth and young adults with a safe place to sleep, shower, eat and store belongings. Trinity Place Shelter provides a unique home and family-like environment where youth receive individualized care, respect, and the basic services so often denied them. Having such a space, staffed by professional social workers, supports our residents in gaining the skills and confidence needed to exit homelessness and begin to live into their dreams. In 2012 the Williams Institute estimated that of all homeless youth, 40% LGBTQI+. The US Interagency Council on Homelessness says the number is closer to 20%-40%. Behind the scenes photography and video and assistant: Alison Lippy, Allison@allisonlippy.com, Phone +1 410 967 1096. Photography and video by Robin Hammond, pitures@robinhammond.co.uk. Editor: Mallory Benedict, Mallory.Benedict@natgeo.com, +1 202.791.1282. 31 January 2019

Terry/


“After all the excitement I then got my top surgery and It was a memorable moment for me because I wouldn’t have to layer up my clothing anymore and I was able to wear my shirt off and feel more comfortable in my skin.”

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A posed posed portrait of 34 year old Human Rights Activist fighting for the rights of LGBTI people in Uganda and on the African continent, Kasha Jacqueline Nabagesera. She describes herself as one of the early pioneers of the LGBT struggle in Uganda and founder and former Executive Director of Freedom and Roam Uganda, the only exclusively Lesbian Bisexual Transgender Women’s rights organization in the country and currently founder and editor of Kuchu Times and Bombastic Magazine. She is the recipient of the Martin Ennals Human Rights Defenders Award and the Nuremburg International Human Rights Award. She has several times been evicted by landlords because of her sexuality. She has been physically attacked many times. Kasha can no longer use public transport. “Every time the media talks about homosexuality in Uganda my face appears, the visibility is so much that it exposes me. People have threatened me with death many times, especially on social media. People have wished for me to be knocked down by cars. They want to cut off my head, kill me.” “Even if I receive these threats, words hurt and depress me, at the same time it allows me to know where I need to improve in my work – attitude change – that’s why I keep doing what I do. It hurts, but it doesn’t really put me down. One day it will change. I am happy to be part of the foundation for future generations to build on.” Uganda. March 2015.  While many countries around the world are legally recognizing same-sex relationships, individuals in nearly 80 countries face criminal sanctions for private consensual relations with another adult of the same sex. Violence and discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender expression is even more widespread. Africa is becoming the worst continent for Lesbian, Gay, Bi-sexual, Transgender, Queer, Inter-sex (LGBTQI) individuals. More than two thirds of African countries have laws criminalizing consensual same-sex acts. In some, homosexuality is punishable by death. In Nigeria new homophobic laws introduced in 2013 led to dramatic increase in attacks. Under Sharia Law, homosexuality is punishable by death, up to 50 lashes and six months in prison for woman; for men elsewhere, up to 14 years in prison. Same sex acts are illegal in Uganda. A discriminatory law was passed then struck down and homophobic attacks rose tenfold after the passage of the Anti-Homosexuality Act. In Cameroon it is also illegal. More cases against suspected homosexuals are brought here than any other African country. In stark contrast with the rest of the continent, same sex relationships are legal in South Africa. The country has the most liberal laws toward gays and lesbians on the continent, with a constitution guaranteeing LBGTQI rights. Because of this, LGBTQI Africans from all over the continent fleeing persecution have come to South Africa. Despite these laws, many lesbians have been victims of ‘corrective rape’ and homosexuals have been murdered for their sexuality. Homophobia is by no means just an African problem. In Russia, politicians spread intolerance. In June 2013 the country passed a law making “propaganda” about “non-traditional sexual relationships” a crime. Attacks against gays rose. Videos of gay men being tortured have been posted online. In predominantly Muslim Malaysia, law currently provides for whipping and up to a 20-year prison sentence for homosexual acts involving either men or women. Increased extreme Islamification in the Middle East is making life more dangerous for gay men there, as evidenced by ISIS’s recent murders of homosexual men. While homophobic discrimination is widespread in Lebanon, life is much safer there than Iran, Iraq, and Syria from which refugees are fleeing due to homophobic persecution. Photo Robin Hammond/Panos for Witness Change

Kahsa/


“I dream of the day I will wake up and walk my dog in the neighborhood and not have to fear to be attacked.”

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A posed portrait of Joseph (not his real name), a Somali living in Kakuma refugee camp in north western Kenya since 2004. Joseph was ostracized by her family for “behaving like a girl.” Joseph identifies as both gay and a trans woman. Homophobia in Kakuma refugee camp is a great source of insecurity says Joseph. Speaking of two of her gay friends she says “One of them has been killed and another friend has been tortured and has escaped the place.” The constant persecution and insecurity weighs heavily on her, as does her positive HIV status: “I had the HIV for two years and I never talk to anyone about the disease… HIV people are not welcome in the camp, those are reasons why I was hiding my disease from others for long.” Talking about her state of mind she says: “I am expecting nothing from this world , there is no cure for this disease and it killed many people. At the moment I am just waiting for death. I have the disease. I could not go to the hospital for treatment. I was persecuted by everywhere even inside the hospital. The local government and NGOs could not help me but I am still alive - I still cannot believe that I am still alive with the disease.” Kenya, October 2017.
The Kakuma Refugee Camp is located in north western Kenya and houses more than 180,000 refugees. The camp is located in a semi-arid desert with temperatures over 30C. LGBTQI+ refugees are a minority; approximately 190 total with 120 Ugandans, and are often targeted by the wider refugee community. The camp, run by the UNHCR, provides food and medical support, however rations meant for a month typically last just two weeks. Treatment facilities are located miles away, and transport is not provided, posing a challenge for those with HIV / AIDS requiring life-saving medication.
While in many places, there has been great progress in recent years in the movement for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, or intersex (LGBTQI+) rights, including an increasing recognition of same-sex marriage, nearly 2.8 billion people live in countries where identifying as LGBTI is subject to rampant discrimination, criminalization, and even death. Same-sex acts are illegal in 76 countries; in some countries, this can result in being sentenced to death. Behind these statistics, there individuals with unique, often harrowing stories. Where Love Is Illegal was created to tell those stories. 
Robin Hammond/NOOR for Witness Change

Joseph/


“one night while I was with my friend lying down together my brother saw us and told the elderly of the town that those two boys are having sex. The Elderly people of the town denounce me and told me that I am a bad person to the community and we do not want this happen to our kids in our town.”

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40 year-old, black, female of trans experience, Malaysia at home in New Orleans. Malaysia is a Retention Specialist and Miss Black Trans International 2018-2019. (Pronouns: Use Malaysia, not she/her/they/them). Behind the scenes photography and video and assistant: Myles Golden, mylessgolden@gmail.com, Phone +1 757 751 3135. Photography by Robin Hammond, pitures@robinhammond.co.uk. Editor: Mallory Benedict, Mallory.Benedict@natgeo.com, +1 202.791.1282. 11 March 2019

Malaysia/


“One day, now as an adult, and in charge of my own life, I decided to put on girls clothes and makeup, and go out in the daytime. I had never been so comfortable in my life.”

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Eddy Love (not real name) is a 35 year old bisexual man. He explains that living in a country where the LGBT community are so stigmatized means one finds it difficult to report sex crimes to the police or even talk about same sex rape. “It pains me a lot about what they have done,” says Eddy when talking about the gang rape by five men that he survived as a young man. Ghana. 13 March, 2018. Photo Robin Hammond/Witness Change

Eddy Love/


“The way that I’m doing with my boyfriend, I can’t be walking and holding each other, kissing outside because it’s not allowed here. Unless I’m in the room with my partner that we know what we are doing”

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A posed portrait of 23 year old Ugandans Ashiraf (left) & Kajjan (right) in Nairobi. Ashiraf identifies as a transgender woman and Kajjan as gay. While same sex marriage is not legal in Uganda, in 2015 the pair conducted a marriage ceremony in a hotel to celebrate their relationship. “We had happiness at the party” says Ashiraf, and then adds “and that was the day.” That was the day their new married life began, and also the day their lives changed for the worse. A friend took photos of the wedding and posted them on social media. Local newspapers got hold of the photos and published them. Two weeks later their neighbors recognized them in the newspaper and went to the police. They locked their door when they heard the mob with the police coming, and hid inside. They could hear them trying to enter and talking together: “They said a lot of stuff, that we are sons of evil, we need to go to hell, we shall kill them direct if we get them.” That night they packed their bags and left for Kenya. But life in Kenya was not what they had hoped. They struggled to be registered by the United Nations refugee agency, and struggled even more to find a place to settle down: “After three months in Kenya, our life was not good at all, as we kept on migrating from one place to another because Kenya is like Uganda they don’t allow us in here. We were beaten, abused, tortured on the way when we were moving,” says Ashiraf. “My boyfriend is HIV positive and I am negative but I have (high blood) pressure. Life is hard because we don’t have money to eat yet we have to take our medicine. The landlord is chasing us out of the house because we don’t have money. I tried to look for jobs but couldn’t get because I naturally look like a transgender. Whenever I go to look for jobs I am abused that I am a lady, sometimes beaten.” Kajjan reiterates the sentiments expressed by his wife: “Up to present time, we are still suffering because I am HIV positive though my boyfriend isn’t, we have nothing to eat, nor food.” Kenya, October 2017.
Nature Network is a Nairobi based organization providing LGBTQI+ refugees in Kenya with support through safe temporary housing, health services, food and security. Nature Network has advocated to police over 50 times, responding to hate crimes, and runs a WhatsApp group of safety tips. Refugees supported have come from Uganda, Somalia, Burundi, Rwanda and Sudan. 
While in many places, there has been great progress in recent years in the movement for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, or intersex (LGBTQI+) rights, including an increasing recognition of same-sex marriage, nearly 2.8 billion people live in countries where identifying as LGBTI is subject to rampant discrimination, criminalization, and even death. Same-sex acts are illegal in 76 countries; in some countries, this can result in being sentenced to death. Behind these statistics, there individuals with unique, often harrowing stories. Where Love Is Illegal was created to tell those stories. 
Robin Hammond/NOOR for Witness Change

Ashiraf & Kajjan/

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“Then our family got to know about it through the social media and newspapers. So we were ashamed in the community”

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wlii-c-190507-Pakistan-SaAd

SaAd/


“It’s one thing never knowing the feeling of freedom, but it’s another feeling that go away completely. “

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wlii-c-190329-Philippines-Vin

Vin/


“most people would find me man enough in their own shallow perception but deep inside me,I’m dying”

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wlii-c-190420-Zimbabwe-MarcMcCay

Marc McCay/


“Growing up in a war torn country where as a boy you are required to be strong, be brave and not be queer, almost killed my spirit.”

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25 year old transgender man Akosua (front) with his girlfriend Cilla (back) (not real names), a 22 year old bisexual woman. Cilla was blackmailed by a former boyfriend after discovering pictures of her with women. Cilla sunk into a deep depression and tried to kill herself. Her father prevented her. Akosua was raised in a traditional Muslim family, his father is an Imam. After attending a lesbian wedding in another city, he returned home to find out pictures from the event had been sent to his family: “One of my brothers slapped me first, and I was like, "Why? Why did you slap me for? What?" And he's like, "What is this? What disgrace have you bring to our family? Why would you go to a girls' with all the lesbians and stuff? Why would you do that?" My two brothers started beating me up.” After this he fled his hometown. Ghana. 08 March, 2018. Photo Robin Hammond/Witness Change

Akosua & Cilla/


“Growing up as a lesbian has always been difficult for me because I have been having a life of struggle and hiding from the society view to violent attacks and discrimination.”

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35 year old gay man Nana (last name withheld). 10 years ago he tested HIV positive. He has been on ARVs (Anti retroviral medication) for seven years. For the first three years he did not address his illness until his health took a negative turn. Speaking about the positive test result he says: “In the beginning it wasn't easy because that's what I say, blame games. I also started looking around. So, where did I got it? Where did I got it, where did I got it? But after taking the medication, thinking positively, I'm okay.” Explaining why he didn’t want to show his face when being photographed he says: “If you are even diagnosed HIV, you can even lose your job without them not telling you that because of this that your job is being taken away from you. They find a way, and then you are off. So that is why my face need not to be shown.” 07 March, 2018. Ghana. Photo Robin Hammond/Witness Change

Nana/


“Living as an MSM is difficult in Ghana. I’m a 35 year old MSM guy here. It all started ten years ago when I met a man in a Abaasa, and we exchanged numbers. I visited him later and it all started, but before then I was feeling sexual urges for the same sex. Since … READ THE STORY

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Zaind (not his real name) is a 30 year old HIV positive gay man. Like many from Ghana’s LGBT community, he has faced discrimination from health workers: “The first time I went to the hospital, I met one nurse, and told that nurse the reason why I fell sick, but I was not pleased with how the nurse welcome me and chastised me with the bible preaching.” Zaind also faced bigotry from those he thought closest to him. He told his mother he was HIV positive: “My mother told me am not part of her children. She has said that this am doing is a curse.” Ghana, Accra. 15 March, 2018. Photo Robin Hammond/Witness Change

Zaind/


“In Ghana, if you are a homosexual you won’t get things easy. Especially in the community you live or anywhere you are, you won’t get things easy.”

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zAINAB/


“I hope one day I could feel comfortable with myself, and even live with a women. HOPEFULLY it will be soon.”

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32 year old Mr. D (not his real name) grew up in a conservative and religious family where carrying on the family name was important. Mr. D was married to a woman and they had a child together. They are now separated. His ex-wife knows about his sexuality, but many in his family do not. “Many, many gays, many homosexuals end up by getting married, getting married with members of the opposite sex - many times, many times, mainly to try and keep their image in front of family.” Mozambique. 17 February, 2018. Photo Robin Hammond/Witness Change

Mr. D/


“I decided to turn my story around, after much fighting, and today I live well because I came out in the open before my brothers and my mother.”

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Anuj Peter is a 30 year-old gay man and a Program Officer for Blue Diamond Society, a LGBTI organisation. One of the main pressures on young men and women in Nepal, he says, is for them to get married. Anuj was not immune to this pressure: “To show me as a perfect man I decided to get married with a lady.” Many gay men get married he says. Fortunately, he says, he didn’t make that mistake: “When I get engaged with her, we decided for pre-honeymoon. We went to for the one night and at that time I feel that that was the worst night of my life. When I start kissing her I feel that this is not the person what I supposed to do because that I already that the fun with the boys. And I compare how I feel with the boys and how I feel with the girls because that was the first time I was kissing some girls in the relationship with. So I think if I cannot spend 10 minutes with her in a one room, how can I spend my whole life in that room.” He pulled out of the engagement: “This is not my right to make her life destroy,” he says. He wishes though that LGBT couples had the same rights as straight couples: “sometime you feel alone and wish that Nepal will legalize marriage equality.” Ultimately he just wants the same rights as everyone else. His message to fellow Nepali LGBT community members is this: “Fight for yourself and fight for your community and the family will accept you. Because there is the love and the connection with the Nepali family.” Nepal's current LGBTQI+ laws are some of the most open in the world – including the legal recognition of a third gender. Tangible implementation of the various government orders has been piecemeal though, a 2014 United Nations report noted. And government officials have continued to harass LGBT groups, including by alleging that organizing around homosexuality is illegal in the country. Furthermore, while laws are progressive, discrimination is wide spread, especially within families, where marriage between a man and a woman and the bearing of children are expected of young Nepalese. Kathmandu, Nepal. 06.11.18. Photo Robin Hammond/Witness Change

Anuj Peter/


“When it comes to reality it was really different. At that time I scared that marriage is not only about the sum of being husband and wife to society. Another part is physical and emotional attachment as well. So I think to quit that relationship.“

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Zulfikar Fahd/


“Yesterday was the most historic day of my life. Canada granted my asylum claim, and from now on I’m able to permanently reside in this country with a chance of being a citizen in a few years.”

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30 year old Delicious (not his real name) is a gay man from Ghana. He says he doesn’t feel safe in his own country. When walking with friends one night, they were attacked by a gang in the street. They were able to escape, however when they reported the assault to the police they were ignored: “I reported to the police and the police was like, ‘Wow. So you're gay?’ You know, instead of them listening to what happened to me, they didn't. But was their head, ‘Okay. It's a gay issue.’ They were like, ‘Alright. So if you are gay, so be it. Then fine.’ My issue was brushed off. They didn't even do any follow ups. They didn't even arrest those who attacked me. So I don't feel safe. I don't feel safe, more times. You need to be doing your things indoors, always” Ghana. 12 March, 2018. Photo Robin Hammond/Witness Change

Delicious/


“My family and friends do not understand why I behave that way. Sometimes they call me names. And my mom used to punish me a lot for that.”

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Drica is a transgender woman and LGBT health advocate. She works with transgender women, educating them on proper condom use. Many in the Mozambican LGBTQI+ community site stigma in healthcare as an impediment to transgender women seeking treatment. Drica has experienced this first hand: “When they called me there, the documents on the form they called Alfeu [Drica’s birth name]. And to me this is a very ugly thing, it's a very boring thing. They called me a name, that name ... that name for me is very painful. I'd rather have them call me Drica.” Mozambique. 21 February, 2018. Photo Robin Hammond/Witness Change

Drica/


“now I’m a transgender woman. It’s what identifies me and in this struggle of my life I had several difficulties with the rest of my family, with my uncle, in the family.”

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Landon Hudspeth/


“Growing up in that church I saw and experienced some of the worst homophobia and bigotry in my life.”

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Pradeep Gade/


“they asked me questions and tried to force their ideas upon me many times and I bet they would never like to be treated that way.”

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Nillam Poudel is 27 years-old, an activist, model, make-up artist and transgender. She talks about the early years of her journey: “I did not wear boys clothes and after I grew up my father started scolding me, and I started wearing male clothes. I did not know I was a transgender then. I did not know my sexuality. At eighth grade I started reading  newspaper and learned that I was a transgender. Even if I wanted to hide, it was impossible to hide my identity. I had very feminine qualities.” Nillam has always fought to be respected and accepted; “The worst aspect has been lack of respect from society. People still use derogative term… I have to suffer through a lot of discrimination… They hurt my spirit but they have not broken me. My sexuality has prevented me from getting work, and I have often wondered why people are so mean to me.” She tries to stay strong but the struggle has taken its toll. “I would be lying if I said I am not experiencing depression… I locked myself for two-three months. I did not want my roommates to find out. I would increase the volume of my TV and cry.” She’s not alone in struggling to be accepted: “I have seen my friends hurt themselves because their families have not accepted them. Many have become alcoholics, while many others have committed suicide.” Still, she is strong she says. “There are still a lot of difficulties and challenges, but I have not lost courage.” Her perseverance has not been in vain. “The best thing has been acceptance from family, friends and being able to accept my own identity.” She has a message for those who read her story: “I want to tell young LGBTI people: Don’t be scared.  First accept yourself and then worry about family or society. If you can’t accept yourself, family and society cant do anything. One you accept yourself, society becomes a background noise. If you don’t accept yourself, society and family will weigh on you. So accept yourself.” Nepal's current LGBTQI+ laws are some of the most open in the world – including the legal recognition of a third gender. Tangible implementation of the various government orders has been piecemeal though, a 2014 United Nations report noted. And government officials have continued to harass LGBT groups, including by alleging that organizing around homosexuality is illegal in the country. Furthermore, while laws are progressive, discrimination is wide spread, especially within families, where marriage between a man and a woman and the bearing of children are expected of young Nepalese. Kathmandu, Nepal. 05.11.18. Photo Robin Hammond/Witness Change

Nillam Poudel/


“They hurt my spirit but they have not broken me. My sexuality has prevented me from getting work, and I have often wondered why people are so mean to me.”

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Growing up transgender was not easy for 19 year-old Rukshana Kapali. “My school life was the most miserable life and most miserable moment. I can remember because of the hate crime I faced… I felt powerless at the time.  I felt that I was alone and I could not do anything.” Not only was she bullied by other pupils, but she was physically assaulted by the principal; “He was telling me that I was bringing bad name to school. I can still remember his fist on my face. I can still remember he kicking on me.  I can still remember the way he yelled. The whole building heard what he was yelling at me. I still remember the whole series of tortures that he started on me when I came out.” Coming out to her family was nerve wracking. She decided she would do it when her family was all gathered together for her grandfather’s birthday; “I was really scared I was really nervous and while I was putting on the clothes… I was like ‘Ok should I really step out?’ Step out, then step in. Step out and step in. I thought lets just take this.” She walked towards the gathering. “How are they gonna yell at me? Are they gonna scream at me or push me? How are they gonna react with me coming out this way? They didn’t speak a word.” After that day, she continued to present as female. Then her family confronted her. “People started to scold me, yell at me, people started talking about me, things accelerated very difficult for me. It was the moment with my parents. We had a emotional scene. I don’t think I wanna recall whatever happened there. That was very emotional part of my coming out.” Eventually, realizing Rukshana was not going to change, her family accepted her. “When my parents started accepting me as their daughter was the happiest moment in my life.” Rukshana is an LGBT and indigenous rights activist. She campaigns in particular for the rights of the Newa people. She says, “We are told that we cannot speak our language. And we are told that our heritage and culture is not valid and it’s not okay to talk about that.” Nepal's current LGBTQI+ laws are some of the most open in the world – including the legal recognition of a third gender. Tangible implementation of the various government orders has been piecemeal though, a 2014 United Nations report noted. And government officials have continued to harass LGBT groups, including by alleging that organizing around homosexuality is illegal in the country. Furthermore, while laws are progressive, discrimination is wide spread, especially within families, where marriage between a man and a woman and the bearing of children are expected of young Nepalese. Kathmandu, Nepal. 01.11.18. Photo Robin Hammond/Witness Change

Rukshana Kapali/


“I believe that for me difficult moments are not just to feel bad but what matters how strongly I am able to stand.”

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Joel/


“But my older brother wouldn’t accept it, and one evening he called some friends and they dragged me out of the house on to the street, hit me and souted to the entire village ‘Joel is gay’.”

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Jethro/

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“I put on a mask (Jethro), I acted like I didn’t care for anyone or anything. The mask that allows me to hide my identity, the mask that makes my parents think that I’ve changed. The mask that got me my freedom”.

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“I was born as a boy but my feeling was a girl,” says 32 year old Simran Sherchan, a trans woman and now National Program Co-ordinator for The Federation of Sexual and Gender Minorities, Nepal. As a child, with no exposure to open LGBTQI+ individuals or educational materials, she was confused about who she was. She then thought she was gay, until at 19, she read about transgender women: “When I realized I was trans - that was the happiest moment in my life. I realized I was not alone.” Simran’s family though wanted her to marry. ”I hid myself in Kathmandu so they couldn’t force me to marry her.” Without a job and family support, Simran descended into poverty. “I had to do sex work for money. For 6 or 7 months. When I was doing that I saw a lot of violence and problems. I really didn’t want to do sex work but I didn’t have other options.” Her experience on the street led her to Blue Diamond Society, a LGBTI organisation in Kathmandu. They offered her a job as an outreach worker. “I left sex work and started my new life. Now i go everywhere for the LGBT community.” When asked what she wants for the future she says “I hope people will accept LGBTI people more now. If we stay in the dark side nobody can see us, we must come into the light show the people that we exist, we are also beautiful.” Nepal's current LGBTQI+ laws are some of the most open in the world – including the legal recognition of a third gender. Tangible implementation of the various government orders has been piecemeal though, a 2014 United Nations report noted. And government officials have continued to harass LGBT groups, including by alleging that organizing around homosexuality is illegal in the country. Furthermore, while laws are progressive, discrimination is wide spread, especially within families, where marriage between a man and a woman and the bearing of children are expected of young Nepalese. Katmandu, Nepal. 30 October 2018. Photo Robin Hammond/Witness Change

Simran Sherchan/


“At the very first day I wore a ladies clothes that time felt that magician sword touch my head and I became a lady… I was so happy that my dream came true.”

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A posed portrait of 28 year old gay man, LGBT rights activist and 2013 winner of ‘Mr Gay Handsom’ Bishwaraj Adhikari. “I lost my friends and family because of my sexuality, because I’m different from others,” says Bishwaraj Adhikari of the time when he first came out. He says his family in rural Nepal thought to be gay meant their son was going to transition to be a trans woman. It was too much for them. “They didn’t know about gays and lesbians,” he says. “My Dad said ‘if you are going to be like this - you have to leave this family.’” Bishwaraj says his life is much better now – “I’m determined to be happy,” he says. He also wants to ply his part in making Nepal an LGBTQI+ friendly country – “I am determined to fight with this community and to claim rights of LGBT.” Nepal's current LGBTQI+ laws are some of the most open in the world – including the legal recognition of a third gender. Tangible implementation of the various government orders has been piecemeal though, a 2014 United Nations report noted. And government officials have continued to harass LGBT groups, including by alleging that organizing around homosexuality is illegal in the country. Furthermore, while laws are progressive, discrimination is wide spread, especially within families, where marriage between a man and a woman and the bearing of children are expected of young Nepalese. Katmandu, Nepal. 28 October 2018. Photo Robin Hammond/Witness Change

Bishwaraj Adhikari/


“I am a gay rights activist and fighting with society for claiming the equal rights where all LGBTIQ can live with equal rights and dignity.”

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Kilian Colin/

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“I was born a rainbow, in a color-blind society. I wasn’t just not allowed to express my gender identity and sexual orientation, but I was also banned from questioning them or even discuss it with my family.“

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Leena/


“I left my country to find a peace but i was not able to ..my life is more wrost”.

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Albert/


“, I was forbidden to tell anyone I was gay, they threatened me to let me out of the family, they asked me to go to a psychologist to ‘fix me'”

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Growing up gay was not easy for 25 year-old Sabak Pogati. ÒI didnÕt feel different, but people made me feel different.Ó School was particularly difficult. ÒThe hatred that I faced around the boys, especially the boysÉthe boys bullied me a lotÉ I used to feel alone. I could not share my stories with people or my friends. I did not have many friends.Ó Reflecting on his childhood he says, Òit was traumatizing and I wish no one to go through what I went while growing up because childhood and its memories should be the precious one. I was so frustrated with my life and didnÕt see nothing good so I always you know thought of committing a suicide.Ó Life has changed though. ÒAfter each thunderstorm there will be a day with rainbows,Ó he says. And he realizes things could be so much worse; ÒI consider very lucky that I am born in Nepal where people are so  receptive. I hear stories from Afganisthan, Pakistan, IndonesiaÑin asian countries people are brutally murdered for being who they  are. I consider myself very lucky and fortunate that I am born in a familyÑmy mom and dad loves me no matter what.Ó Nepal's current LGBTQI+ laws are some of the most open in the world Ð including the legal recognition of a third gender. Tangible implementation of the various government orders has been piecemeal though, a 2014 United Nations report noted. And government officials have continued to harass LGBT groups, including by alleging that organizing around homosexuality is illegal in the country. Furthermore, while laws are progressive, discrimination is wide spread, especially within families, where marriage between a man and a woman and the bearing of children are expected of young Nepalese. Kathmandu, Nepal. 05.11.18. Photo Robin Hammond/Witness Change

Sabak Pogati/


“I used to live a pretentious life with double standard out of the fear within me and of course the social prejudices that exists not only here but everywhere.“

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Anonymous/


“I don’t want to tell them because if i want them to accept me like i am, i should also accept them for who they are (people who can never understand).”

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Glenroy/


“I was force to start life on my own at the age of 16 after I was attack and almost killed by members of my family”

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23 year old transgender woman Artisha Rajaya Laxmi Rana with her partner 24 year old Armont Samsher Rana who identifies as a gay man. They have been together for six years. Armont says; ÒThey say that couples are made in heaven but we met through Facebook.Ó While Nepal is perceived to have progressive attitudes towards the LGBTQI+ community, Armont says there need to be more work before equality truly exists. ÒWe are happy but we donÕt have the rights to get married. Same sex marriage has not been legalized in Nepal. DonÕt we have the right to live like straight couples and get the legal recognition? ArenÕt we equal like other citizens of the country? DonÕt we have the rights to find our partners? Will the Nepali government listen to our voices? Should we always live like this, without getting married? Our spirit hurts when these questions come to mind.Ó Armont and Artisha are passionate about seeing the fight for equality succeed in Nepal. Armont says; ÒPeople say that we go to America or other places where our love is legal, to get married. But as far as possible we would like to stay in Nepal because it is our home.Ó Nepal's current LGBTQI+ laws are some of the most open in the world Ð including the legal recognition of a third gender. Tangible implementation of the various government orders has been piecemeal though, a 2014 United Nations report noted. And government officials have continued to harass LGBT groups, including by alleging that organizing around homosexuality is illegal in the country. Furthermore, while laws are progressive, discrimination is wide spread, especially within families, where marriage between a man and a woman and the bearing of children are expected of young Nepalese. Kathmandu, Nepal. 02.11.18. Photo Robin Hammond/Witness Change

Artisha & Armont Rana/


“Same sex marriage has not been legalized in Nepal. Don’t we have the right to live like straight couples and get the legal recognition? Aren’t we equal like other citizens of the country?”

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ÒI always thought that I was a girl,Ó says 43 year-old transgender woman and make up artist Umisha Pandey. Unlike many trans Nepalese, her family supported her trans identity from early on. Wider society was not so kind. ÒMy childhood passed and in school everyone teased me by calling me a baby girl-boy.Ó With a group of other women she started Blue Diamond Society Ð now NepalÕs biggest and most influential LGBTI organisation. Despite her own immediate family support, she is acutely aware of the impact family pressure has on LGBTQI+ Nepalese. ÒTo face family is really difficult. To say that you are third gender and attracted to the same sex is a courageous act.Ó She see this as a crucial first step though in the countryÕs movement towards a more accepting country. ÒWhen family does not understand, society will not understand, and when society does not understand it is really hard to get the state to understand.Ó When asked about her hopes for the future she says ÒI hope that there will be a society where people like us will also be able to live dignified life.Ó Nepal's current LGBTQI+ laws are some of the most open in the world Ð including the legal recognition of a third gender. Tangible implementation of the various government orders has been piecemeal though, a 2014 United Nations report noted. And government officials have continued to harass LGBT groups, including by alleging that organizing around homosexuality is illegal in the country. Furthermore, while laws are progressive, discrimination is wide spread, especially within families, where marriage between a man and a woman and the bearing of children are expected of young Nepalese. Kathmandu, Nepal. 31.10.18. Photo Robin Hammond/Witness Change

Umesha Pandey/


“I was attracted to boys since I was eight years old. I always thought that I was a girl. I preferred girl’s roles when playing make-belief games.”

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Bandy Kiki/


“This is not me, I thought, So I made up my mind to come clean. First I came out to my family. Their reaction wasn’t good neither was it as bad as I had imagined.”

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Growing up a trans was not easy for 19 year old Angel Lama. ÒI knew I was different in my early age. I used to like wearing skirts. I was kind of like more into pink color more than blue,Ó she says. ÒI was attracted to boys,Ó she adds. ÒAfter harsh bullies and horrible situations I passed out from school to high school where I could not make friends.Ó  She was forced to leave home at 16 by her parents when she refused to give up identifying as female. For a short time she ended up homeless: ÒI was wandering in the streets. At that point I was totally broken because I did not know where to go and ask for foodÑ I was sixteen and half, and everything was strange.Ó She missed two years of school. She has now rededicated herself to her studies and works part time at Blue Diamond Society, a LGBTI organisation in Kathmandu. This year she was crowned ÔMiss Pink 2018Õ - NepalÕs largest and most prestigious transgender beauty pageant: ÒI was once homeless.  Now I am prestigiously crowned Miss Pink Nepal 2018. ItÕs a prestigious stage for transgender women in Nepal. Its a great thing and a great achievement of my life.Ó Speaking about her hopes for the future she says: ÒMy main motivation in life is to make a world a place where normal is not based on gender, body shape, race. But just based on work and your heart.Ó Nepal's current LGBTQI+ laws are some of the most open in the world Ð including the legal recognition of a third gender. Tangible implementation of the various government orders has been piecemeal though, a 2014 United Nations report noted. And government officials have continued to harass LGBT groups, including by alleging that organizing around homosexuality is illegal in the country. Furthermore, while laws are progressive, discrimination is wide spread, especially within families, where marriage between a man and a woman and the bearing of children are expected of young Nepalese. Katmandu, Nepal. 29 October 2018. Photo Robin Hammond/Witness Change

Angel Lama/


“I was once homeless. Now I am prestigiously crowned Miss Pink Nepal 2018 It’s a prestigious stage for transgender women in Nepal. Its a great thing and a great achievement of my life.”

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