- The country still criminalizes gay sex.
The first openly gay election candidate in Myanmar, Myo Min Tun, has vowed to fight police abuse of LGBT+ people if he wins.
The 39-year-old entered politics after transgender friends told him the abuse they suffered. In one incident, officers forced them to take off their bras and kneel before touching them inappropriately.
Myo Min Tun told AFP: ‘This was a violation of their rights. And I realised there’s no one in parliament to talk about this.
‘I’m doing this to be a pioneer for all LGBT people so they know we can be anyone we want.’
Indeed, LGBT+ people have long complained of police abuse, including wrongful arrests and beatings in his township of Aung Myae Tharzan.
So he is running for a seat in the regional assembly which governs the city of Mandalay, the Asian country’s second biggest city.
He told Myanmar now:
‘Only LGBT people know about the lack of LGBT rights, the problems with the police, and how the police have unlawfully arrested those from the LGBT community. I understand LGBT people because I’m one of them.’
‘I will be criticized more than the others’
Myo Min Tun, 39, has previously been a florist, noodle soup chef and HIV prevention worker.
He knew he was gay when he fell in love with a fellow student while in grade nine at school. And while his father disapproved, he thinks ‘my mother loved me even more for it’.
Moreover, he says: ‘I have always been actively involved in my community, so they recognise me for who I am.’
However, LGBT+ people in Myanmar face significant discrimination and criminalization.
In particular, the country retains its British colonial era law against gay sex – Section 377.
Aung San Suu Kyi’s ruling National League for Democracy (NLD) says it stands against discrimination based on sexual orientation. However, rights groups says it’s failed to act in its first term.
The NLD is now likely to win the regional and national elections on 8 November.
However Myo Min Tun is standing for the People’s Pioneer Party. The PPP, he says, has an ‘anti-discriminatory stance and because they favour young people’.
PPP leader Thet Thet Khine thinks it’s a basic human right to legalize gay sex. However, she fears it is ‘not the time’ to argue for it as it would create a ‘backlash’.
Despite this, Myo Min Tun hopes to change hearts and minds and tackle the daily acts of discrimination the community faces.
He said: ‘People are bound to criticize and make bad comments when an LGBT person runs in the election… I will be criticized more than the others.
But he added: ‘I didn’t want to lie to get votes. I believe if I’m fair and truthful, people will support me.’