The situation for LGBTIQ people in Southeast Asia has deteriorated, despite some small victories in the region.
Rising influential conservative social forces had led to the increasing criminalization and pathologization of LGBTIQ people in the region.
A first of its kind report looked at the human rights conditions for people in Southeast Asia. It found the community had achieved some ‘small steps sideways, big steps back’.
The ASEAN SOGIE Caucus released report called: The Rainbow in Context: An Overview of the Situation of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Intersex, and Queer (LGBTIQ) Persons in Southeast Asia.
ASEAN is Association of Southeast Asian Nations, while SOGIE stands for sexual orientation, gender identity and expression.
It discusses both the gains and challenges faced by LGBTIQ human rights defenders and their allies. The report looks at their work which is done in a an increasingly fragile political environment.
‘We recognize some advances: new policies that address discrimination against LGBTIQ persons were adopted in Cambodia, Philippines, and Thailand, for example,’ said Ryan Silverio, regional coordinator, ASEAN SOGIE Caucus.
‘However, we need to recognize that beyond these gains are gloomy political context where serious human rights violations take place. We cannot just take LGBTIQ rights in isolation.’
The report investigates the increasing threats against human rights defenders working on SOGIE issues. It also found persistent discrimination in accessing social services and protection was a major issue.
Advocates face the dilemma of working for human rights which can make them the target of governments with questionable human rights records.
LGBTIQ groups ‘have created a fertile ground to build LGBTIQ rights advocacy, yet it also led some governments to view them as a threat’, the report reads.
‘Overall, the situation is alarming,’ sayid Thilaga Sulathireh, co-founder of Justice for Sisters, a Malaysia-based trans advocacy organization.
‘In Indonesia, you have records of direct attacks by non-state actors and government forces against LGBTIQ activists. And in Malaysia, the government is funding and sponsoring harmful programmes and myths regarding LGBTIQ persons, adopting a soft approach to convert LGBTIQ persons into socially accepted identities.’
The report said human rights defenders must ‘pave the way for the recognition of LGBTIQ rights as a regional norm, as integral to rather than counter to ASEAN values’.
‘Our issues as LGBTIQ persons are cross-cutting and intersectional. If we want LGBTIQ advocacy to move forward, we have to move together with other social movements,’ said Jean Chong, co-founder of Sayoni, an queer women’s issues organization in Singapore.
‘LGBTIQ people need to work with women, children, migrant workers, persons with disabilities – everyone.’