Gay pioneer stands in Myanmar election

Gay pioneer stands in Myanmar election

Myanmar's first openly gay candidate Myo Min Tun (R) campaigns in a Mandalay market ahead of the Nov 8 elections.
Myanmar's first openly gay candidate Myo Min Tun (R) campaigns in a Mandalay market ahead of the Nov 8 elections.

YANGON: Outraged over ongoing discrimination in Myanmar, Myo Min Tun decided to stand as the first openly gay election candidate in a country where same-sex relations are illegal.

His decision to enter the political fray came after transgender friends told him how they had suffered police harassment.

The officers allegedly forced them to remove their bras and kneel in humiliating positions before touching them inappropriately, Myo Min Tun told AFP.

"This was a violation of their rights," he said. "And I realised there's no one in parliament to talk about this."

So he decided to run for a seat in the regional assembly in his home city of Mandalay.

"I'm doing this to be a pioneer for all LGBT people so they know we can be anyone we want."

From florist and noodle soup chef to HIV prevention worker, the 39-year-old says he has been lucky not to suffer discrimination in his varied career in Myanmar's second city.

But a British colonial era law means same-sex relations are still illegal -- even if space is opening up for the LGBT+ community in the conservative country.

Rangoon's Pride party in February attracted more than 10,000 people, with many painting their little fingers pink to campaign to decriminalise same-sex relations ahead of November's election.

But Myo Min Tun thinks it is too soon to fight that battle.

Instead, he vows to tackle the daily acts of discrimination the community faces, an issue thrust into the spotlight with the prominent suicide of a gay man last year.

Workplace bullying was widely blamed after the man's final Facebook post displayed mocking comments and photos from colleagues.

An official probe concluded, however, the employer was not responsible, saying the man had simply been "mentally weak".

"We still have a long way to go," Myo Min Tun said, sighing.

- 'Not the time'? -

Myo Min Tun knew he was gay when he fell in love with a fellow student while in grade 9 at school.

His father disapproved until his death although "never physically beat" him.

"But I think my mother loved me even more for it," he said with a smile, adding neighbours and family friends even encouraged him to stand in the election.

"I have always been actively involved in my community, so they recognise me for who I am."

Aung San Suu Kyi's ruling National League for Democracy (NLD) is widely expected to be returned to power in the November 8 national and regional vote.

The NLD's manifesto states it stands against discrimination based on sexual orientation but has done nothing to address the issue in its first term, say rights groups.

Myo Min Tun instead chose to run for the People's Pioneer Party because of its "anti-discriminatory stance and because they favour young people".

But leader Thet Thet Khine, who set up the party last year after being kicked out of the NLD, told AFP it was "not the time" to try to decriminalise same-sex relations, even if she admitted this was a basic human right.

"People will not care. There could even be a lot of backlash if we advocate for this."

Myo Min Tun admits he did not mention he was gay in his interview with the party -- but says it was important for him to come out publicly.

"I didn't want to lie to get votes," he said.

"I believe if I'm fair and truthful, people will support me."

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