Hundreds of people on Wednesday (26 June) attended the funeral of a gay librarian who died by suicide in Myanmar’s commercial hub, Yangon.
LGBT activists, friends, and family heralded Kyaw Zin Win as a ‘hero’ and a ‘martyr’.
The 26-year-old librarian at the Myanmar Imperial University shared details of homophobic bullying from colleagues in a Facebook post before taking his own life on Sunday.
Kyaw Zin Win wrote that Myanmar was ‘a country which mocks the existence and identity of an individual being’.
Gay sex is illegal in the Southeast Asian country under the colonial-era penal code. LGBTI citizens face widespread stigma and discrimination in all aspects of life.
Kyaw Zin Win asked his family to ‘understand why I made this choice’. He told his friends that he loves them.
Funeral for a hero
Local LGBTI rights activist Min Nyein Chan told Gay Star News more than 600 people attended the funeral on Wednesday.
Attendees included Kyaw Zin Win’s family and the founders of MIU, he said.
‘We recognized him as a hero of the LGBT community’ he said.
LGBT activist Aunty Min, meanwhile, said at the funeral ‘LGBT people throughout the country wanted to come here to show our solidarity.’
‘We pray for you not to have this kind of experience in your next life’ they said.
Aunty Min also said the Kyaw Zin Win had committed no crime, but those who bullied him had.
It was the first time a rainbow flag had been draped over a coffin at a Myanmar funeral, local media reported.
‘Terrified of the people’
In his Facebook post, Kyaw Zin Win detailed how senior staff members forced him to reveal his sexuality, even though he had not told his immediate family.
He said he was ‘terrified of the people’.
The young librarian also shared details of a homophobic comment from a student passed on to him by a colleague.
Finally, he included screenshots of group chats with his colleagues in which they mocked him.
‘We should send him to the army like you said’ one colleague wrote.
Another message said ‘don’t become an imbecile like [Kyaw Zin Win]’.
Kyaw Zin Win wrote ‘I bear it patiently, wishing it would end soon’ below one of the screenshots of abuse.
Photos and an interview of Kyaw Zin Win’s grandmother mourning her grandson were widely shared in Myanmar on Wednesday.
‘Sorry cannot bring a person’s life back’
Myanmar Imperial University on Monday said that the university’s founders were ‘very sorry about the tragic event’.
In a Facebook post, the university said it was assisting Kyaw Zin Win’s family. It also promised an investigation into the incident and the staff members involved.
Myanmar Imperial University is one of the country’s most expensive private education institutions.
They offer programs in Business, Media, and IT. It offers courses from the University of Northampton as part of a franchise arrangement.
But, as one Facebook user wrote, ’sorry cannot bring a person’s life back’. ’Saying sorry and telling vaguely that you will take action are not enough’ they wrote.
‘You don’t care about the bullying/corruption in the entire case,’ another user wrote. ‘You have zero standards and self-respect to that person’.
‘If you truly care about him, start taking action to your staffs who have wronged him in more than one way!’
On Tuesday, many Facebook users in Myanmar had changed their profile pictures to a black circle with a rainbow edge.
Facebook user Kendrick Georyan Owen described Kyaw Zin Win as ‘an accomplished, honest, down-to-earth and hard-working, young man’ in a post.
‘We just lost an innocent soul; an invaluable human resource for the community, and for the country today.’
Hla Myat Tun, Deputy Director of equality organization Colors Rainbow, said bullying in the workplace was ‘very common’.
But, he said, this was the first prominent case of suicide.
He urged the university to take action against those responsible.
He told Gay Star News Section 377 was the ‘root cause’ of this kind of incident.
‘It allows individuals, people, and institutions to discriminate’. He urged lawmakers to push for decriminalization.
He also said companies had a duty to protect their staff from discrimination and create a safe working environment.
If you or someone you know needs mental health support, please click on this link of global resources.
Additional reporting by Myanmar-based reporter Cape Diamond.