Nepali gay men contesting poll hope to end taboo

KATHMANDU, Feb 26 (Reuters) - At least five Nepali gay men are contesting this year's elections in the hope of shattering taboos in the conservative nation, a gay candidate said.

Homosexuality is effectively illegal in Nepal under a law banning "unnatural sex". Offenders can be jailed for up to a year.

Gay and transgender Nepalis complain that they are often excluded from jobs and schools because of their sexuality, and sometimes are victims of assault or rape, including by police.

"It is a prejudiced society," said Sunil Babu Pant, founder of a leading gay rights group, Blue Diamond Society.

"We are standing in the elections to fight the discrimination against our community," he said. "This is a very symbolic approach to tell all Nepalis that we have equal rights."

Pant and four other gay candidates are standing for public election on April 10 to become members of a new 601-seat constituent assembly. It will be Nepal's first national vote since 1999.

The five candidates have been fielded by the Nepal Communist Party (United), a junior partner in the ruling alliance.

There are already signs the taboo may be beginning to lose its grip. In December, the Supreme Court ordered the government to end discrimination against gays and guarantee sexual minorities the same rights as other citizens.

Pant feels he has a good chance of winning, saying there are hundreds of thousands of gay and transgender voters across the country to whom he will appeal.

"I feel sad and we feel excluded," said Pant, who lives in Kathmandu. "As human beings we all like to be loved and respected. We are deprived of the opportunity to contribute to our society and nation." (Editing by Jonathan Allen and Sugita Katyal)