Pro gay rights former king of Cambodia dies aged 89

Norodum Sihanouk who lived through tremendous changes in his country and spoke out in support of gay marriage in 2004, died in hospital in Beijing yesterday

Pro gay rights former king of Cambodia dies aged 89
16 October 2012

Norodum Sihanouk the former king of Cambodia died aged 89 yesterday at a hospital in Beijing.

King Sihanouk lived through tremendous changes in his lifetime. He became king in 1941 because the French colonial rulers thought as an 18-year-old he would be easier to manipulate than his father. He helped bring about Cambodian independence without bloodshed in 1953.

During the Vietnam War, Sihanouk tried to keep Cambodia neutral between the clashing Americans and Communists. The Americans under the orders of President Nixon and Henry Kissenger, without the approval of Congress, used the presence of Viet Cong bases in eastern Cambodia as an excuse to drastically carpet bomb the area leading to 150,000 to 600,000 civilian deaths and food shortages.

In 1970 a US-backed coup installed Lon Nol as Cambodia’s leader, forcing Sihanouk into exile in China. He then formed an alliance with the Khmer Rouge guerillas led by Pol Pot. During the years of the Khmer Rouge genocide when 1.7 million people died, Sihanouk was kept prisoner in his palace. Among those who died were five (out of 14) of Sihanouk’s children and at least 15 grandchildren.

When Vietnam invaded Cambodia in 1979 Sihanouk fled to exile in China again, where he stayed until the Vietnamese withdrew in 1990. He was crowded king again in 1993.

The king abdicated in 2004 due to ill-health, handing the crown to his son Norodom Sihamoni, Cambodia’s ambassador for UNESCO who taught ballet dancing in France from 1981 to 2001.

The current king, now aged 59, has never married. His father said that he ‘loves women as his sisters’. In a piece about gay life in Camobodia journalist Patrick Winn reported last year: ‘Gay Cambodians note with a wink that the king is a style-conscious bachelor and former ballet instructor in Paris’.

In 2004 Sihanouk, who was married to five or six women, spoke out in favour of same-sex marriage in Cambodia after seeing gay marriages in San Francisco on TV. ‘I am not gay, but I respect the rights of gays and lesbians,’ he said. ‘It’s not their fault if God makes them born that way.’

Following the news of his death last night UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon acknowledged Sihanouk’s ‘long dedication to his country and his legacy as a unifying national leader who is revered by Cambodians and respected internationally’.

See the BBC’s Norodom Sihanouk’s Life in Pictures and read his obituary.  

HAVE YOUR SAY

MORE TOP STORIES

Artist turns hateful comments aimed at Caitlyn Jenner into re-creation of Vanity Fair cover

Artist turns hateful comments aimed at Caitlyn Jenner into re-creation of Vanity Fair cover

Conor Collins: 'For every person who sees it another person is shown the persecution and real danger trans people face'
No thumbnail available
No thumbnail available

Indiana voters will now have to wait at least until 2016 to vote on gay marriage ban bill

State Senate move results in process having to start all over - supporters were hoping for vote this year
No thumbnail available

Preacher, who thinks gays are 'sinners', runs for political office in heart of gay London

Bible fundamentalist takes on the gays of Soho in the name of Christ
No thumbnail available

Writer disagrees 'wholeheartedly' with Florida publisher who slammed Adam Lambert and GLAAD

South Florida Gay News staff at odds after featuring Lambert
No thumbnail available

New gay dating app Zank denies copying Jack’d format

The founders of Zank, China’s new mobile gay social networking app, say they differentiate themselves from global app Jack’d by prioritizing common interests like events and venues
No thumbnail available

Singapore judge's decision 'major setback' says Human Rights Watch

Yale University and companies with headquarters in Singapore should condemn judge's upholding of anti-gay law, says Human Rights Watch speaking exclusively to Gay Star News
Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker doesn't think scouts need to be 'physically' protected from gay adult leaders

Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker doesn't think scouts need to be 'physically' protected from gay adult leaders

Walker is against lifting the ban on gay adults being involved in Boy Scouts of America
No thumbnail available

How the Right are the grinches trying to steal Christmas

From the battle over whether Jesus and Santa are white, to the surprising truth about the only religion who has ever banned Christmas
No thumbnail available

HIV-positive gay man may avoid US deportation on persecution claims

Immigration officials are reconsidering deporting Miguel Rosiles-Camarena from the US after he claimed he would be targeted in Mexico for being HIV-positive and openly gay