Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Facing Double Discrimination: Cambodian Lesbians Are Breaking the Silence

“Feelings, oh feelings, please accept this. I have not wronged - even in law. We wish to have a place in this world and to love one another freely.” -Noy Sitha, 58, Women’s Network for Unity

Lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people exist in all countries yet in many places they remain largely invisible and subject to discrimination and human rights violations. In more than 80 countries homosexuality is punishable by law and in several of those countries the punishment for same-sex love may be death. Even in “progressive” countries like England or the United States, lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) people are still fighting for equal rights including the right to employment, to marry, and to have a family.

Since I came to Cambodia in 2008, I have been part of the formation of a small group of local and international LGBT volunteers who organized Cambodia Pride 2009 and 2010 – two week-long Pride events in Cambodia emphasizing love, diversity, and acceptance. These events included workshops on lesbian sexual health and family acceptance as well as a community day, an art exhibition, and a film festival. The group, Rainbow Community Kampuchea, is still young but very active. Furthermore, my work at the Khmer HIV/AIDS Alliance is an advocacy role focusing on raising awareness about gender and sexuality in the response to HIV and AIDS in Cambodia. Through this work, I am friends with many Cambodian LGBT and we are working closely together to change the way LGBT are viewed in society. In Cambodia, lesbians are subject to double discrimination – they fight first for their rights as women and then for their rights as lesbians.

As a result of Pride, a local human rights NGO recently initiated a three-year project focusing specifically on LGBT rights. The LGBT community is strengthening organically and for the first time in Cambodia it is inclusive of lesbians, who until now have remained largely invisible. Lesbians are breaking free of the shackles of shame that have kept them silent for so long and are speaking out against the misconception that only heterosexual relationships are valid or natural.

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