The Southeast Asian nation of Myanmar made the news this month. It was revealed that two LGBTI individuals had been arrested under the colonial-era Section 377 of the penal code.
Myanmar 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 the same law India’s Supreme Court recently ruled was unconstitutional.
In Myanmar, LGBTI individuals face widespread discrimination in schools, the media, at work, and in their families.
Despite the recent arrests, Myanmar’s LGBTI community has seen signs of progress. This year, the country celebrated its first public LGBTI pride event in its largest city, Yangon.
Gay Star News spoke to Myanmar LGBTI advocate Hla Myat Tun about life in Myanmar for LGBTI people.
Hla Myat Tun is Deputy Director of equality organization Colors Rainbow. He’s been working hard to foster understanding of Myanmar’s LGBTI community.
He hopes, through education and awareness, wider society can accept the community.
Has the recent decriminalization of gay sex in India given hope to Myanmar’s LGBTI community?
India’s decriminalization gives a big hope to the LGBT community. Also, lawyers representing the community here are given hope by how India had much social pressure on this issue. Life in Myanmar every day for LGBT individuals is getting better these days. The community is more visible on social media as well as mainstream media. There is more tolerance and we will continue to raise awareness on equality from different perspectives such as law, employment, education, and social protections. These are basic human rights. Trans people are OK to be who they are in Myanmar as long as they are in a beauty salon or in the sphere of spirit house or working for an NGO. This means they are accepted within a box only. There is an LGBTI FAB party every last Saturday of the month in Myanmar’s largest city, Yangon. Plus there are some bars owned by LGBT individuals. However, LGBT are everywhere nowadays and they always rock the party!
Where does the community face problems?
Every teacher in every school experiences LGBT students. Some of them may protect the students but they rarely know how to empower and make a positive change. So, I would say LGBT students are being seen as weak individuals. Teachers believe they have the right to correct them and turn them into traditional male or female roles. Teachers do not have any clue on how to prove that being LGBT is normal and OK. Teachers who have become sensitized to LGBT students are asking for wider education among teachers which we are now working on with the Ministry of Education.
People use (I would say abuse) religion to justify their mistreatment against LGBT (and also other minorities). People do not really know what religions say. We are working with some religious leaders to tackle this. (I can talk more in person)
What has been your personal experience?
I experienced bullying by some of my classmates and seniors. Teachers were not protecting me from those incidents but they put all the blame on me for being a soft boy. People around me did not consider it as bullying, which they think of only as a physical attack. I never needed to come out to my family because they found out what I am doing and they realize I am doing the right thing. When I was young, my mom used to say that she would commit suicide if I become gay/trans but she is a proud mom now. Parents do not want their kids to be LGBT because they do not want us to be bullied or harassed or mistreated. If we can prove that we are strong and confident, most importantly, we are absolutely FABULOUS, they are OK (in Asian society at least).
What are you doing to promote LGBTI rights in Myanmar?
Until 2014-1015, there were no news, articles, or films which empower LGBT individuals to come out and be who they are. All the media coverage was related to HIV and sex only. So, not a lot of people dare to come out and be proud. So, we started thinking about producing films which helps LGBT people to be proud. We established &PROUD in 2014 and we do an annual film festival.