How to get the LGBTI message across?
The Blue Diamond Society (BDS) in Nepal published its own newsletter. Maybe members liked it. But it was not getting the message across to the wider public. What to do?
Nepali English language newspapers love Hollywood celebrity gossip. They regularly cover hot news about Britney and Madonna. Lesson number one: this is how you sell newspapers in Nepal.
The second lesson was world famous in countries with strong ties to Britain. Go to www.page3.com and you will see photos of lovely ladies, too naked to appear in Singapore's Straits Times, Hong Kong's South China Morning Post or Nepali newspapers. The photos, on the notorious PAGE 3, made The Sun, a London tabloid, one of the most profitable newspapers on the planet.
Learning these lessons, Subash Pokharel, working with the Blue Diamond Society, started a new English-language weekly entertainment tabloid for Nepal. It's called PAGE 6. Apparently everyone in Nepal gets the meaning of the title - though it had to be explained to me. The first issue was launched in August, 2007.
Sunil and BDS have become famous in LGBT circles. The International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission, based in the US, gave BDS its Felipa de Souza award in 2007.
But his fame has spread outside our circles. In September the New York Times ran an interview with Sunil, and a handsome photograph. Foreign media are fascinated by the surprising success of BDS. Nepal, of all places! With its history of insurgency and a Maoist led government!
Sunil was a party-list candidate for the Communist Party of Nepal (United) - which is different than the Communist Party of Nepal (Unified), which in turn is different than the Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist). It is the Maoists who won the most seats in the election and lead the coalition government. China, by the way, refuses to recognise that they are "Maoist."
As in the Indian state of West Bengal, Communist does not mean old-style communist. But links to the old Soviet Union are littered around. Sunil himself studied engineering in Belarus, and the head of his party studied years earlier in Moscow.
Three parties in the election supported LGBTI rights in their party platforms - the Maoists, the Congress and the CPN (United).
Back to PAGE 6. Embedded in PAGE 6 is page 4, the page dedicated to "gender talk" and "diversity" - a weekly dose of LGBTI news and comment. PAGE 6 gets page 4 across to a broad Nepali audience.
In the year that PAGE 6 has been published, all the covers have been pop celebrities - except for one. When the BDS won a major court case in December, 2007, that story went on the cover. Circulation did not drop. The next week sexy celebrities returned to page one.
PAGE 6 is the first English language entertainment weekly in Nepal. Currently 5,000 copies are printed. Distribution is mainly in the central Kathmandu valley. It makes a bit of a profit. It's unique in the world as a gay-initiated mainstream tabloid designed to package LGBTI news.