Gay Love on Sweethearts Day
Russia’s anti-gay laws have received global criticism in the run up to the Winter Olympics in Sochi. There have been worldwide demonstrations about laws such as Russia’s ban on ‘non-traditional’ sexuality: which has been viewed as an attack on gay rights. As a result of this law it is now illegal to provide information about homosexuality to under 18 year olds.
Gay marriage has also been making global headlines in 2014. There has been a high profile case of a Hong Kong billionaire refusing to accept that his daughter is a lesbian – and that she’s married to a woman. Cecil Chao Sze-Tsung is currently offering £80 million to any man who can “turn his daughter”. He isn’t the first high profile man to refuse to accept that his daughter has married another woman. In 2007 Hun Sen, the Cambodian Prime Minister publically disinherited his adopted daughter for being a lesbian and marrying a woman. So perhaps it’s not surprising that Cambodia currently has no legislation regarding gay rights.
Valentine’s Day has grown in popularity over the last decade in Cambodia. It is known locally as Sweethearts Day. The streets of Cambodia’s capital, Phnom Penh will be lined with venders selling roses to loved-up teenagers. For gay teenagers, celebrating Sweethearts Day will be slightly more problematic. Whilst homosexuality is not illegal and Buddhism promotes some degree of tolerance, discrimination and outright harassment remain problematic.
In Cambodia, young people are under immense pressure to marry somebody of the opposite sex and raise a family. A family is viewed as a social safety net and there’s a great stigma attached to rejecting this norm. When young people come out to their families they are often disowned, and turned out of their homes. This makes young gay people incredibly vulnerable, especially lesbians who are at particular risk of rape. In order to improve the situation for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transsexual (LGBT) people, it’s essential to challenge conventional perceptions of the family.
Juliette Rousselot from A4ID’s partner organisation Cambodian Center for Human Right Centre (CCHR) says, ‘The situation is still very difficult for LGBT people, especially those outside of the main town centres. It is still very difficult for LGBT people to come out, and many families continue to feel that being LGBT goes against Cambodian culture’.
CCHR emphasises the importance of civil society and works to create a strong network of people speaking out regarding LGBT issues. They also advocate for changes in government law and policy, as there’s currently no legislation to protect the rights of LGBT people.
A4ID have arranged for CCHR to receive pro bono legal advice. A4ID’s Chief Executive Yasmin Batliwala says, ‘A4ID were pleased to be able to support CCHR with their important work. We believe in equality and that people should not face discrimination and harassment because of their sexuality’. As part of A4ID’s broker service we connected CCHR with legal experts from a number of law firms, including Linklaters LLP and Reed Smith LLP. The experts carried out research and analysis regarding LGBT legislation in neighbouring countries. The full report Rainbow Khmer: from Prejudice to Peace, is available on CCHR’s website.
The report found that the LGBT community to face discrimination from a variety of sectors, including the police. Current polices, such as the Village Commune Safety Policy have been misused by the police, to justify harassing gay people. CCHR’s report found there to be a need to work with Cambodian law enforcement regarding the correct use of current legislation. The report made other recommendations (both legislative and non-legislative) for the government.
Juliette Rousselot from CCHR says, ‘we hope that through offering these concrete recommendations – and lobbying on their basis – the government will start thinking about this issue more seriously’.