Cambodia Pride starts on Saturday, and 2012 is a bumper year because the kingdom hosting ASEAN (Association of South East Asian Nations). So Pride organisers RoCK (Rainbow Community Kampuchea) are joining forces with LGBT groups in Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand, Burma, Laos and Vietnam for workshops and events.
The first week-long Pride in Cambodia was in 2009 but there have been Pride parties in the Kingdom since 2004. Events have already got started with a bicycle ride across Angkor Wat distributing LGBT rights information on 3 May. A week of workshops, films, art exhibitions and parties run from 12 to 19 May, but there won’t be a Pride parade.
‘In Cambodia we don’t have these types of parade yet,’ Srorn Srun from RoCK told Gay Star News. ‘We are not strong enough. We just started in 2009. Also, we understand the government. They will not allow us a parade. Not only about LGBT rights, but anything else. We don’t want a parade or demonstration. We just want our parents, our friends and our community to start understanding our issue.’
Cambodia ASEAN Pride Week film screenings include a version of the Chinese film Queer China, Comrade China with Khmer (Cambodian language) subtitles, that Srun says has ‘resonance’ for Cambodia.
Workshops will include a session about family acceptance with PFLAG Vietnam and a workshop for the media to learn how to report LGBT issues more responsibly. ‘Some media are not supportive in Cambodia,’ said Srun. ‘Sometimes they publish very negatively: "it’s unnatural, it’s abnormal it’s not in our culture" they say.’
Because Cambodia is a Buddhist country, LGBT rights don’t meet opposition from religious leaders like they do in, for example, Muslim-majority Malaysia and Indonesia. Buddhist monks even take part in Pride, performing a blessing ceremony.
‘The Buddha is very open compared to other religions,’ said Srun. ‘Last year we invited two monks to Pride to do a blessing. The monks advised us that you are only a bad person if you don’t follow the five principles – don’t steel, don’t kill, don’t lie, don’t drink alcohol, etc. And then the monk said Buddha does not discriminate against anyone unless they abuse the five principles.’
Cambodia’s king Norodom Sihanouk even spoke out in favour of same-sex marriage in 2004 before he retired. ‘Gays and lesbians would not exist if God did not create them,’ he said. ‘As a Buddhist I must have compassion for human beings who are not like me but who torture nobody, kill nobody.’
RoCK are not campaigning for same-sex marriage in Cambodia yet though. ‘For now we’re not thinking about changing the law,’ Srun said. ‘We just want our parents and community to start to talk about our rights.’