At least two recent arrests of LGBTI Myanmar citizens using the country’s anti-gay law has shaken the community.
Police have reportedly charged a local restaurant owner and a make-up artist, who both reportedly identify as gay, in the last few months.
LGBTI community members in Myanmar, formerly called Burma, told Gay Star News they were concerned as the law has not been recently enforced.
Section 377 of Myanmar’s penal code criminalizes ‘carnal intercourse against the order of nature’. The British introduced it in 1860 and those found guilty face up to 10 years in jail.
‘It is clearly a provision that could imprison the LGBT community at any time’ LGBTI advocate Yaya Aye Myat told Gay Star News. But, they said, authorities rarely enforced it.
Myanmar’s LGBTI community face widespread stigma discrimination. Many people, therefore, live in the closet.
What has happened?
Police charged restaurant owner and outspoken LGBTI advocate, Addy Chen, under 377. A judge denied him bail as the trial continues, according to local activists.
One of Chen’s employees accused him of sexual assault.
An online video shows Chen’s accuser detailing how Chen forced them to engage in oral and anal sex.
Mainstream media and social media users widely shared the video.
Chen is HIV positive. His access to antiretroviral drugs has been limited while he is in jail, his family members told the Washington Blade.
In a separate case, a make-up artist known as Paw Paw was charged under 377 for allegedly having sex with an underage boy, according to Yaya Aye Myat.
Paw Paw’s trial is also ongoing.
What is the impact on LGBTI Burmese?
LGBTI advocates say Myanmar authorities rarely use Section 377.
‘I have hardly heard of arrests under Section 377 in Myanmar these years’, said Yaya Aye Myat.
But, the advocate said, wider society ‘has not understood the negative impacts towards us with the criminalization of homosexual relationships’.
Nay Oo Lwin from advocacy group Equality Myanmar said the law had been used as a ‘money making machine by police in the past’.
‘They threaten to our community and asked money’, he said. But, police rarely charged individuals.
Worryingly, he said, ‘the trend is a bit changed’ with recent arrests.
The LGBTI community has also criticized local media for widely publishing Chen’s accusers’ account of events before the trial concludes.
Reports have been one-sided and biased against Chen due to his sexuality and his HIV status, they say.
Yaya Aye Myat said they supported freedom of expression, but that this reporting may come ‘at the cost of the dignity of the [LGBTI] community’.
‘Many of the local media were illustrating these cases as LGBT community were disgusting’ said Nay Oo Lwin.
‘I feel that many people still need to understand about rule of law and LGBT rights’ he said.