Prejudice and progress: a snapshot of LGBT rights in Myanmar

On June 1, 2017 Mayanmar Times reported:

“We are rejected.”

That’s how 21-year-old transgender woman Sue Sha Shinn Thant summed up being LGBT in Myanmar – a sentiment that many people across this country are all too familiar with.

This scars us emotionally,” she told Weekend.

Sue Sha Shinn Thant and other LGBT friends in Mandalay recently took part in probably the closest thing to a public LGBT rights rally in Myanmar – they dressed in costume and picked up litter around their city.“

LGBT people are the black sheep of the family. So we wanted [to] promote public acceptance of the LGBT community. I felt like a pioneer,” she said.

Small steps like this can have a big impact in a country with such a fraught record of LGBT rights.

Laws of the land

Myanmar is one of many countries where same sex relationships are currently illegal. Section 377 of the colonial-era Penal Code outlaws same sex activities.

And although the law is not strictly enforced, it is punishable with a lengthy stint in prison.

U Aung Myo Min from LGBT rights group Equality Myanmar told Weekend that Section 377 is one of the biggest roadblocks to LGBT equality in Myanmar.

“If homosexual people have sex together here, it’s a crime. So it’s seen as unnatural,” he said.Additionally, LGBT people – especially transgender people – can be targeted under Section 35c of the Police Act, which allows authorities to stop those with their “faces covered or otherwise disguised, who are unable to give a satisfactory account of himself”.

Mandalay transgender woman Daung Daung said police occasionally harass the LGBT community there after dark using Section 35c as the main pretence.

“Sometimes they make arrests,” she said, adding that people are released after they are made to “remove their dress”.

Sue Sha Shinn Thant added that: “Policemen also use these laws to blackmail us for money”.

Legal adviser of Legal Clinic Myanmar Daw Hla Hla Yee said these laws were at best anachronistic, and at worst, harmful.

“Is it a crime if two people have the same desire? Is this fair?”

“We need to treat LGBT people with dignity. Mistreating LGBT people based on their identity is against the principles of human rights and basic justice,” she said.

‘Bullied and beaten’

These laws appear to influence how the general population in Myanmar views same sex relationships.“Society looks down on the LGBT community. People mock me and embarrass me in public just because I love a man,” said U Aung Myo Min.

Read more at: Prejudice and progress: a snapshot of LGBT rights in Myanmar

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