Welcome to Pink Tiffany, Kathmandu’s first openly LGBTIQ-friendly restaurant and barMeghna Lama enjoys the nightlife and frequents Kathmandu’s many clubs and bars. But she is often turned away at the door. Even when she has paid for a ticket, reputed clubs have barred her from entering, and when she does gain entrance, she often feels insecure.
Meghna Lama enjoys the nightlife and frequents Kathmandu’s many clubs and bars. But she is often turned away at the door. Even when she has paid for a ticket, reputed clubs have barred her from entering, and when she does gain entrance, she often feels insecure.
For Lama, 25 and a transgender model and activist, these are experiences that she is all too familiar with.
“There are a few spaces in Kathmandu that are welcoming. We’re neglected,” says Lama. For Nepal’s LGBTIQ community, open and welcoming spaces are few and far in between. Legal provisions that mandate equal treatment for all Nepalis, regardless of gender or sexual orientation, rarely translate to concrete action on the ground. This is what led Lama to start Pink Tiffany, Kathmandu’s first openly LGBTIQ-friendly restaurant and bar.
Formerly located in Basantapur, Pink Tiffany has now moved to Thamel’s Saat Ghumti, and proudly flies a rainbow flag outside its window, indicating that it is open to anyone regardless of gender or sexual orientation. Inside, two frescos, one of Gautam Buddha and the other with colourful wings, adorn the walls. A pillar painted with rainbow colours sits in the middle of the restaurant, in front of its bar. The interior is “still under construction,” says Lama.
“We have been a welcoming and secure place for people who aren’t accepted by their families or in some cases, even by themselves,” says Lama. “I’m usually around here to provide counselling and openly talk about such issues.”
For Lama, Pink Tiffany is a sorely-needed safe space for LGBTIQ people. Although official data is lacking, experiences collected by the Blue Diamond Society, a LGBTIQ rights organisation, tells of how the LGBTIQ community, especially transgender people, are often mistreated by people and even by police.
Besides the occasional physical harassment, there are often verbal and visual gestures that can make queer people feel uncomfortable. The LGBTIQ community is more prone to such form of abuse in public places, according to research.
“When I go out shopping, the shopkeepers don’t help me,” says 30-year-old Anuj Petter Rai, programme officer at Blue Diamond Society who has identified as gay for the last two years. “Some stare at me uncomfortably when I walk to the restrooms in restaurants. I lose my confidence in such situations.”
Anecdotal evidence points to widespread harassment at the hands of authorities, says the Blue Diamond Society. Despite legal provisions in the constitution, many institutions are still not willing to employ transgender people or recognise them as ‘third gender’. Although Nepal has a reputation for being an LGBTIQ-friendly country, much of Nepali society remains conservative and closed-off. Across the world, LGBTIQ members, especially transgenders, have higher rates of suicide and mental issues due to discrimination, harassment and violence.
Lama recognises this, as she learned from an early age that many spaces were divided by sex and there was no space for someone like her, who didn’t feel like she belonged to the gender she was assigned. As an eight-year-old growing up in Jhapa, she remembers hesitating to choose between the male and female restrooms and ending up not using either of them. Even during emergencies, Lama never used the school restroom until she was back home.
“I just knew I couldn’t go in there,” says Lama. “I was confused and afraid that I couldn’t figure out what was wrong with me.”
Even after growing up and owning her identity as a transgender person, Lama was devastated to learn that much of Nepali society still didn’t accept her. She would visit companies with her CV to apply for a job and be turned away. She would visit restaurants and bars for a good time with her friends and once again, be turned away.
Pink Tiffany, thus, came about as a solution to both of these problems. The restaurant would employ members of the LGBTIQ community, giving them an income, while also providing the community with a safe space to hang out, celebrate and be themselves without fear of judgments.
Ever since opening in 2015, Lama has faced her share of obstacles. It was both a lesson and surprise for Lama to realise that “people hesitate to provide opportunities to marginalised communities but don’t discriminate when they play the role of a customer.”
“Still, it was challenging to find a space to rent—no homeowners wanted to provide me space, treating me like an outcast,” says Lama. “So I partnered with heterosexual friends to avoid further discrimination.”
She even faced trouble from the police, having been arrested for opening her restaurant until late at night in Thamel.
“We get into trouble for things that are fine for other restaurants in the city,” says Lama. “I was once held for an hour or two for opening my restaurant late. I felt so low that I thought I wouldn’t open my restaurant again.”
But open she did, and Pink Tiffany, ever since moving from Basantapur to Thamel, is doing better business than ever. The restaurant and bar sees 20 customers on an average weekday night, but welcomes more than a hundred on the weekends.
“I was surprised to see many people visiting us,” says Lama. “I had never anticipated that people would accept an initiative from an LGBTIQ member, especially recalling what I had gone through initially.”
The crowd at Pink Tiffany is diverse, consisting not just of LGBTIQ community members but also heterosexual men and women. It also provides a safe space for those who haven’t come out.
“Some heterosexual males and females are curious to learn about our movement,” says Lama. “It’s easier for them to visit us and learn at a pub rather than an NGO. People think that LGBTIQ organisations are only meant for LGBTIQ people, but restaurants are for everyone.”
At Pink Tiffany, different events are organised based upon festivals like Teej, but is not limited to a specific religion or community. There are also drag shows and LGBTIQ entertainment events.
“We try to organise events that are distinct and related to the LGBTIQ community,” says Lama. “It’s fun when my friends come in occasionally and perform drag shows.”
Pink Tiffany is an open and safe space for everyone, even those who wander in without knowing anything except that it is a restaurant and bar. It welcomes everyone, regardless of their gender, cultural background or sexual orientation.
Rai, however, feels that there should be no need for such an exclusive space; instead, he wishes to be accepted as a normal person in society and hopes for the day when all public places will be as friendly as Pink Tiffany.
“I look forward to a more open society and spaces that will treat everyone as normal,” says Rai.