LGBT rights: making equality a reality

Lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (“LGBT”) Cambodians are still far from enjoying the same rights as others and living a peaceful life – something that is highlighted in two different reports released this month. One is CCHR’s new Briefing Note –  Discrimination against LGBT people in the Cambodian legal framework released today, and the second is the Cambodia country report of the Being LGBT in Asia regional program of UNDP and USAID, which was launched at a press conference on August 7th.

Two LGBT Cambodians celebrate Gay Pride in 2010. (c) CCHR

Two LGBT Cambodians celebrate Gay Pride. (c) CCHR

The level of discrimination LGBT people face is still unbearably high and affects many aspects of their daily life. Surveys show that discrimination, rejection or violence happen in the family, in the community, at school, at the workplace and in the health sector, to name but a few of the problems regularly faced by LGBT Cambodians. It has major consequences on their ability to fully integrate in the society and on their mental health.

But why is discrimination against LGBT people so pervasive in the country? Although there are no legal prohibitions against being LGBT, as in several other countries around the world, there are also no substantive legal protections for LGBT people. While discrimination is prohibited under the law for a number of grounds – such as sex, ethnicity, religion, etc – no similar explicit protection is provided to LGBT people. Moreover, the law itself is sometimes discriminatory as it limits some rights LGBT people are entitled to, such as the right to marry. This low legal status results in low social acceptance and encourages lack of respect, harassment and violence.

There are key steps Cambodia has to take to make equality a reality on its soil and both reports suggest some concrete ways to do this: develop anti-hate crime legislation, add an explicit reference to sexual orientation and gender identity (SOGI) in Cambodia’s constitutional and labor law references to non-discrimination, authorize same-sex marriage and officially entitle LGBT people to adopt children, to name a few. Great benefits could also result from the inclusion of SOGI-related topics in the school curriculum, organize awareness raising activities targeting families and local authorities and work on giving a less cliché image of LGBT people on TV.

Potential agents of change are many: the government, the local authorities, the relatives, the schoolteachers, the media… It is now time for political leaders, but also for every Cambodian, to act decisively to stop impunity around the social violence LGBT people suffer from.

 Valentine Gavard, CCHR International Intern, contributed to this blog post

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