Myanmar Times: LGBT activists push for equality

LGBT activists push for equality (click to view)

Homosexuals face abuse and violations of their human rights, say activists, who are planning to launch a campaign to raise awareness of their plight. Members of the gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender community are working through the Myanmar LGBT Rights Network to promote equal rights and justice.

Ko Hla Myat Tun, an LGBT rights program officer for civil society group Colour Rainbow, told The Myanmar Times that activists plan to work with government officials, legal advisers, ethnic minorities, community-based organisations and the media to put a stop to homophobia.

"Homosexuals are being abused and face discrimination in education, jobs and healthcare. It's time to raise their voice in public," he said.

"We need to educate people that [being] LGBT is not a disease or a threat to society, or something to be ashamed of. We will work until society accepts the reality of the homosexual condition and ends discrimination," he said.

Any kind of human rights abuse or violence can be reported to the network, Ko Hla Myat Tun said.

"We will try to help the victim by providing legal advice or support," he said. "The most important thing is to change long-term traditional attitudes, and LGBT themselves should take the lead [on this]. It's useless to blame government or the police or society, but we can offer respectful examples of LGBT identity."

Ko Moe Aung of Myanmar MSM Network said the law against homosexual activity should be abolished or amended as it is an affront to human rights.

"The police use abusive language and physical violence against us because of our physical appearance or profession. If they're in a good mood it goes no further than that, but otherwise they charge us with a crime," he said.

Most MSM members are poor and struggle to make a living while trying to steer clear of the police, he said, adding: "Our status is low, but that doesn't mean we're criminals. Discrimination by society denies us job opportunities."

Members of the LGBT community want to be treated as human beings and live in society with dignity but this is hindered by old attitudes and malpractices, he said.

"We want to contribute and put our abilities at the service of society," said Ko Moe Aung.

U Aung Myo Min, executive director of Equality Myanmar, said Myanmar retainss laws against homosexuality that have long since repealed by Britain, its former colonial occupier. "We should lobby government to rethink [anti-sodomy sections of the Penal Code] ... [these laws are] an abuse of human rights and discriminatory against homosexuals," he said.

On May 17, Colour Rainbow and Myanmar LGBT Rights Network marked International Day against Homophobia (IDAHO) with events in Yangon, Mandalay, Pyay, Monywa, Pathein, Kyaukpadaung and Kawthoung that were supported by the British Embassy, UNAIDS and other organisations.

Dr Nyan Zaw, a member of the Myanmar National Human Rights Commission, said at a ceremony in Yangon that the commission would support the LGBT community's push for equality. "Any abuse or physical torture can be reported to the commission and we will pursue the matter," he said.

Equality Myanmar and Colour Rainbow have documented instances of discrimination against, and human rights abuse of, LGBT individuals living in Myanmar. The study also shows how section 377 of the Penal Code, which bans sodomy, contributes to harmful social discrimination, impunity for law enforcement agents and the repression of sexual orientation and gender identity.