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 Print This Article

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

No thumbnail available

Gay Americans cross the pond for marriage

GSN speaks to some ex-pats who left the land of opportunity for the chance to marry in the UK
No thumbnail available

Lady Gaga bites back at Madonna's Born This Way jibes

Gay champion Gaga breaks silence over Madonna feud, speaking out against the queen of pop in New Zealand
No thumbnail available

DR Congo looks to ban gay sex

African country is one of the few to not explicitly ban homosexuality, but that could all change with the introduction of new legislation
No thumbnail available

US Department of Education extends sex discrimination protections to cover transgender students

The US Department of Education has released new guidelines that make clear that transgender and gender non-conforming students are protected from discrimination in schools under the federal law banning sex discrimination in education.
No thumbnail available

Lesbian starts vigil as Ukraine debates anti-gay law

British campaigner Clare Dimyon starts solo vigil outside Ukranian embassy in Hungary against gay censorship law 8711
No thumbnail available

Kesha to headline L.A. Pride

Tik Tok singer leads a stellar line up that also includes Fifth Harmony
No thumbnail available

Sam Smith: Some popstars are 'just awful'

Grindr loather claims people like Chaka Khan are better because they are 'humble and kind'
No thumbnail available

Matthew Shepard’s parents: Why we didn’t push for the death penalty for our son’s killers

Today (12 October) marks the 16th anniversary of the death of Wyoming student, Matthew Shepard. His parents have spoken out about homophobia, hate, their son's death and the work of the Matthew Shepard Foundation
No thumbnail available

Pinal County Sheriff Paul Babeu fends off three challengers in reelection primary

Babeu came out publicly after ex-boyfriend alleged he threatened to have him deported
No thumbnail available

6 reasons to hop on a Harley and drive the dazzling Blue Ridge Parkway

Grab your leather jacket and riding gloves for a trip down ‘America’s favorite drive’ for a mountain vacation that is everything but boring