Source: The Irrawaddy
Anti-homophobia activists from Burma who attended an event in Chiang Mai, Thailand, 17 May said that gays and transsexuals in the country are subjected to systematic abuse and ill-treatment in their country.
The event, held to mark International Day Against Homophobia, attracted about 40 gay rights activists from Burma.
One of the attendees, Aunty Sein, told The Irrawaddy that the Burmese authorities openly discrimination against people based upon their sexual orientation.
“They extort money from us, bar us from public service, and even in hospitals, we are are badly discriminated against,” said the Rangoon-based makeup artist.The International Day Against Homophobia and Transphobia commemorates the World Health Organization's decision on May 17, 1997, to stop listing homosexuality as a mental illness or abnormality.
“Even though International Day Against Homophobia and Transphobia is being celebrated in over 140 countries around the world, we aren’t allowed to join with others in Burma. I therefore came to Chiang Mai for this event,” Sein said.
Aung Myo Min, the director of the Human Rights Education Institute of Burma (HREIB), noted that movies and videos in Burma do not show any respect toward homosexuals, but portray them as jokes and people of low social status. He said he would combat that attitude together with Burmese artists until it has been completely eliminated.
“If a homosexual person is cast in a movie, he or she just plays the role of a clown who is finally forced to return to his or her original sex. No one shows them any respect. We have to make this all change,” said Aung Myo Min.He also said that homosexuals who gather from across the country to attend the Taung Pyone spirit festival and the Yadanar Cave festival in Mattaya Township, Mandalay Division, are often humiliated by the local authorities.
“Some homosexual revelers are forced to strip off their clothes and are verbally abused during the Taung Pyone festival,” he said.Homosexuals are not only victims of discrimination and abuses in the community but also in their own families. Training and awareness-raising have been going on to empower them, said Naw Naw, a coordinator of HREIB.
Naw Naw said that “if a gay person goes out in female clothes, he will get yelled at and humiliated.”The Burmese authorities reportedly use two laws to repress gays - one banning “suspicious behavior” and Act 377, which bars homosexual intercourse. If a gay person is stopped by the police late at night, they could be charged under either law, resulting in extortion and abuse.
“We advocate revoking Act 377, which is the main legal tool for oppression of the homosexual community,” said Naw Naw.A case that occurred last year highlighted the need to change the legal status of homosexuals in Burma, said Naw Naw. It involved a young gay man who sold betel nut near Sule Pagoda in downtown Rangoon. The 18-year-old man was gang-raped by a group of policemen after he was detained for failing to pay money that the police demanded.
“He was raped by nine policemen through the whole night, but no legal action was ever taken against the perpetrators,” said Naw Naw.The ceremony in Chiang Mai was attended by people from Rangoon, Mandalay, Moulmein, Meiktila and other parts of Burma, as well as people from Thailand, the Philippines, the US and Europe.
Although gays are still looked down on by many in Burma, more homosexual couples can be seen in public these days, said attendees from Rangoon.