Myanmar LGBTQ people plea for help
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Myanmar LGBTQ people plea for help

Those who protest the junta government face severe human rights violations


While Pride Month is around the corner in Thailand, Burmese LGBTQ people live under the Tatmadaw's shadow, waiting for help from their Thai counterparts.

"Even if Thailand and Myanmar are close neighbours, LGBTQ lives are totally different," said Saw Zin Maung Soe, founder of the Civil Authorize Negotiate Organisation (Can-Myanmar) and chair of the Consultants Board.

There has been low tolerance for LGBTQ people in Myanmar, he said. The group is vulnerable to discrimination, and the situation grew worse after the coup on Feb 1, 2021, he said, adding LGBTQ people are targeted for abuse.

A report from the Ministry of Women Youths and Children Affairs, under Myanmar's shadow National Unity Government, which opposes the junta, said LGBTQ people participated in the protests against Tatmadaw, and many faced severe human rights violations.

According to the report, 62% of LGBTQ activists were arrested or abducted, 24% in hiding, 5% were seriously injured and 9% reported dead.

Another report called "Rainbow Amid the Storm: Exposing the Harsh Realities of LGBTQIAs in Post-Coup Myanmar" by the Myanmar LGBTQIAs Human Rights Watch Forum found discrimination against Burmese LGBTQ people has escalated since the coup.

The group conducted its research among 210 LGBTQ people from 14 townships in four regions in Myanmar from February 2021 to February last year.

It found that discrimination was mainly found in the family sector (53%), followed by the economic sector (37%), the healthcare sector (36%), the administrative sector (33.7%), the social sector (33%), the public sector (31%) and the education (14%).

It also reported that 32% of them faced serious violations of human rights, such as arbitrary arrests, torture, rape, sexual harassment, illegal taxation and extrajudicial killings.

It also found that those serious cases occurred more in the conflict-affected areas, such as the Sagaing and Magway regions.

Voice from Sagaing

Gus, 32, an LGBTQ activist who helps those affected by the unrest in Myanmar's Sagaing region, told the Bangkok Post that many of her LGBTQ friends were arrested and punished by being stripped naked and having their naked photos posted on social media.

Some were even paraded naked on the street to humiliate them, she said.

She said the military sometimes would shave transwomen's heads and force them to wear men's clothes if they were seen on the street.

"One of my transwoman friends was tortured by an electric iron pressed against her breast implant wound. Some of my gay friends were tortured with a bottle inserted in the bottom part after being arrested," she added.

She said many transgenders joined the resistance forces against the Tatmadaw. Yet they faced another problem as those rebels live in the jungle, and those transgenders require hormonal therapy to maintain their sexual health.

She explained that it is difficult for them to access hormonal support when they are not in a city.

She said LGBTQ people living in rural areas like Sagaing still lack access to humanitarian aid as the aid is mostly located along the Thailand-Myanmar border, such as Thailand's Mae Sot or Chiang Mai, and it barely reaches those in need in Sagaing, which is about 800km away from Chiang Mai.

Asked how Thailand could help Myanmar's LGBTQ people, she said Thai LGBTQ people should support them according to their needs.

"We are envious of Thai LGBTQ as they can enjoy their lives freely. I want to say do not forget us in Myanmar. For the Thai government, please do not work with the Tatmadaw," she said.

Shrinking democratic space

Saw Zin Maung Soe said most of Myanmar's LGBTQ people rely on NGOs for medical help. However, many NGOs have been closed due to the political unrest after the coup, he said, adding some have relocated to other countries, including his organisation, which is now located in Thailand.

Lacking NGO support has jeopardised the lives of Myanmar LGBTQ groups, especially those who require medical support, such as HIV patients and transgenders who need hormonal support, he said.

Some of them stay on the outskirts, where transport to cities is poor, he added.

"Many businesses closed down and many [LGBTQ people] turned to sex work, which may cause widespread HIV infection," he said.

"Besides, many trans [people] in our country do not know how to take hormones properly," he added. "So, by allowing them to buy [hormones] themselves, their lives will be at risk."

Although many of them managed to flee to Thailand via legal and illegal channels, many of them had experienced traumatic events from the war, including himself, he said.

He said he no longer wants to hear fireworks that resemble gunfire. He said he is also afraid of the Thai police and those in military uniform as it reminds him of the Myanmar military.

"Even if I enter Thailand legally and I am equipped with every required document... I am still afraid of Thai police because it reminds me of the Myanmar military," he said.

He added that many of the LGBTQ people who fled from Myanmar to Thailand did not bring legal documents with them, which makes it difficult for them to access welfare in Thailand, including retroviral medicines for HIV patients or hormonal support.

The lack of documents may also limit access to employment.

"Another barrier is language. Even if they have all the required documents, they do not know where to seek help through the complicated process to get a job," he added.

Restore the Rainbow

Saw Zin Maung Soe said Thailand has been at the forefront in securing LGBTQ rights in Asean, especially after parliament passed the Marriage Equality Bill at its first reading. Thailand has been taking a leading role in LGBTQ healthcare, especially in terms of national Pre-Exposure Prophylaxis and Post-Exposure Prophylaxis support, systematic hormonal support and anti-HIV medication, he added.

Therefore, while restoring peace in Myanmar, Thai LGBTQ civil society organisations, the Thai government and Myanmar LGBTQ CSOs should collaborate to supply medical products to those in need in Myanmar, he said.

At the same time, he said Thai officials should make the legal procedure less complicated as it will help LGBTQ people access welfare programmes for migrants.

Adisara Darakulratsamee, Project Manager of Mae Sot Pride, said her group has been working with Burmese LGBTQ people in Mae Sot for a long time and the current situation makes it difficult for them to survive.

"We have received reports that some transwomen were forced to shave hair, wear male soldier clothes and join the military. Even if some of them escape to Thailand, they are still traumatised by the incident," she said.

She said her group has launched a cosmetics donation campaign for Myanmar LGBTQ people during wartime as shops are closed and many face financial problems.

The campaign will run until the end of July and the donated cosmetics will gradually be distributed to Myanmar LGBTQ people living in Mae Sot refugee camp and across the border.

Although it is a simple gesture, having cosmetics is important to their soul, she said. Cosmetics will help them express their creativity through beauty, and it may help comfort them during the rough time, she said.

"Gender should be taken into account when delivering humanitarian assistance. Small items like cosmetics can serve as humanitarian support to help comfort people during this difficult time," she added.

Saw Zin Maung Soe

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