Myanmar’s LGBT community comes together against discrimination

Attendees at yesterday IDAHO event.
Attendees at yesterday IDAHO event.

Left of stage a young effeminate male presses his lips, smacking them together for effect, before swiftly unlatching his longyi, retying it. To the right, his teacher melts into her chair in traditional uniform, basket placed on her desk as she scribbles at non-existent notes.
The young man swans across stage presenting his teacher with a white rose, placing it on her desk; she brushes him off – casting him to the back of the class.
Another young male enters, more masculine, striding over presenting his teacher with a red rose. She reanimates from her puddle, perks up at the sight of the masculine student ordering him to sit at the front of the class – next to her desk.
The skit ends with the masculine student and teacher walking out arm-in-arm as the effeminate young man’s glowing attitude reduces to nothing, he covers his face racing off in tears.
Yangon’s LGBTI community celebrated International Day Against Homophobia (IDAHO) at Sen Lan So Pyay gardens on 17 May, overlooking Inya Lake. The day’s event was to recognize, once again, that sexual identity is not a mental disorder.
Eamonn Murphy, UNAIDS Country Coordinator to Myanmar reminded the crowd that in 1990 the World Health Organisation (WHO) declared that homosexuality was not a mental disorder.
He also reiterated that the World Psychiatric Association released a report reaffirming to countries the fact, that people who are unable to self-identify sexually in a community, either socially or in a family setting, can suffer from mental disorders. The act of acceptance in admission to a friend was featured in a shorter skit later on, depicting a friend coming out to another. It ended with a tearful hug and a reminder, as the actors exited the stage – that regardless of whom you love, you will always be loved. Yet, despite these acts and the community coming together to celebrate these few hours on a balmy Yangon afternoon, the reality for those struggling with sexual identity in Myanmar is bleak. In the 2015 Myanmar Universal Periodic Review, listed seven cases of abuse on the one page report focusing on Sexual Orientation, Gender Identity and Gender Expression (SOGIE) Rights.
In one of these cases a 25-year old transgender woman was arrested and held in a police station over night where she was ridiculed by other prisoners and forced to strip in front of the cells, a humiliating and degrading experience with only one escape bribery. Inevitably she did, a necessity for some and a luxury for others.
The laws allowing police to arrest transgender individuals is under the 1945 Burma Police Act, section 35 (c) and (d). Most individuals are arrested under section 35 (c) that states;
“… any person found between sunset and sunrise having his face covered or otherwise disguised, who is unable to give a satisfactory account himself.”
It is assumed officers would presume transgender women are intending to hide their appearances, far from the case and allowing to the law to be practiced clearly has created prejudice. At the event the Australian Ambassador to Myanmar, H.E Nicholas Coppel, said that the Australian government will work with the Myanmar government, to assure the protection of Myanmar’s LGBT community, also working towards repealing laws that discriminate against the LGBT community – in particular the colonial era law from 1861, Section 377 of the Penal Code.
Section 377 criminalises “voluntary carnal intercourse,” this can be used to imprison individuals for up to 10 years, but despite this, there weren’t any prosecutions in 2015.
“It is used more for arresting transgender women,” says Hla Myat Htun the Program Manager of Colors Rainbow and the Festival Director for the &Proud Yangon Film Festival. He also told The Global New Light of Myanmar that the LGBT community is not asking for different or special rights, but for human rights.
“We are also humans fighting for our rights, we are here living in the community, the same community, sharing everything in the country. We are here and we are a part of the country, we are looking forward to developing the country by contributing our time, effort and skills to help the government,” said Hla Myat Tun.
Hla Myat Tun has helped organise previous IDAHO events in Myanmar. In 2014 the event was held at People’s Park in Yangon, but for the past two years the event has been held on private property after a Minister held reservations to pride events after it was against “Myanmar culture.”Despite this one instance Hla Myat Tun said that the previous and current governments have been well receptive of the LGBT community and has had meetings with them in the past. Hla Myat Tun said that in the future they would like to work with the government to hold pride parades in the street, as is the custom in many countries around the world. But, it all depends on, “the countries situation and the opinions of the government,” he added.

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