Participants-hold-Nepalese-and-rainbow-flags-during-the-opening-ceremony-of-the-first-South-Asia-Lesbian-Gay-Bisexual-and-Transgender-Sports-Festival-on-Friday.-Photo-via-AFPClad in pink, blue and yellow clothes, more than 250 lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) athletes took part in a sports festival in the Nepali capital, Kathmandu, at the weekend, billed by organisers as the first in South Asia.

About 1,500 spectators cheered as the athletes, waving rainbow coloured flags, marched at the Dasharath Stadium in the heart of Kathmandu in the opening ceremony of the three-day event that showed how attitudes are changing, albeit slowly, in the conservative, Hindu-majority nation.

The athletes were accompanied by masked dancers and Panche baja — musicians playing Nepal’s traditional instruments including pipes and drums.

“After I participated in the tournament, my confidence has increased,” said 29-year-old Bakti Shah, who took part in football and athletics.

American Olympic diving champion Greg Louganis, on a visit to Nepal to support the rights of sexual minorities, kicked off the event at a football match, wearing a Nepali cloth cap and cream-coloured Buddhist prayer scarf.

“Initially I was a little worried whether we will be able to hold such a big event in a major public venue,” said well-known activist Sunil Babu Pant, founder of the Blue Diamond Society, a leading gay rights group.

“We have done it and proved that we can do,” added Pant, a former member of parliament.

Homosexuality is still taboo in Nepal, which does not have clear laws about the rights of the increasingly assertive gay community.

Same sex marriages have taken place in public but wedding certificates are not given by authorities as there are no laws that recognise such unions. People found guilty of “unnatural sex” face up to one year in jail.

Until about six years ago, homosexuals were beaten on the streets of Kathmandu and arrested.

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