Proud Kingdom Celebrates Diversity

(cc) CCHR 18 May 2015

(cc) CCHR 18 May 2015

This year’s Gay Pride festival hit the Kingdom of Cambodia on 11 May and has proved to be the biggest and best yet. The event has been growing in scope and popularity since it became an annual event in Cambodia in 2009. This year, with events ranging from film screenings, dance parties and a tuk tuk and cyclo race, there really was something for everyone, regardless of whether they were straight, lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender (“LGBT”).

Cambodia’s Gay Pride Week was timed to coincide with the International Day Against Homophobia, Transphobia and Biphobia (“IDAHOT”), on 17 May. The day commemorates the date in 1990 when the World Health Organization officially declassified homosexuality as a mental disorder.

IDAHOT is celebrated in over 180 countries, including several where homosexuality is illegal. This year to mark the occasion, the United Nations Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights Office released a video on supporting LGBT rights, which it projected on a building in New York’s famous Times Square two days ahead of the global celebrations.

In Cambodia the theme of Gay Pride 2015 was ‘LGBT Youth’ and many of those involved were students and young activists. Cambodia is in many ways a country of the younger generation; over half of the population is under 25 years old. Thus the theme for IDAHOT 2015 was highly appropriate in Cambodia, focusing on the potential for young people to affect real change.

Throughout history LGBT voices have been silenced either by repression or stigma. In Cambodia, traditional social pressure from friends and family to conform can still be very strong. IDAHOT and the broader Gay Pride festival give us all a chance to discuss issues frankly and openly, to hopefully bring about real change in the lives of LGBT people.

As overseas, the business community in Cambodia also had a strong presence in celebrations this year, driving activities under the inspiring ‘I Am What I Am’ slogan. Bars and resorts hosted events and parties celebrating the diversity of the LGBT community.

Awareness of the complex social and political issues facing the LGBT community is constantly expanding, and to reflect that there was a change to the title this year. The term ‘biphobia’, meaning discrimination against a person for being bisexual, was added to the title to raise awareness about the particular struggles facing bisexual people.

Bisexuality is often misunderstood as a form of confusion or indecision about sexual orientation, which has lead many people to keep their bisexual identity to themselves. Even within the LGBT community, bisexuals are often sidelined or excluded, making this year’s IDAHOT a particularly important occasion to recognize the variety of sexual orientations and gender identities that exist.

In addition to fun and festivity, there was also a serious public awareness and health focus to Gay Pride this year. The Cambodian Center for Human Rights’ (“CCHR”) Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity (“SOGI”) Project joined other LGBT organizations in organizing a full program of events, including free and confidential finger-prick HIV testing, a street parade, and a number of workshops held on topics ranging from accessing legal support to addressing bullying against LGBT students in schools.

Nuon Sidara, CCHR’s SOGI Project Coordinator stated that “It is great that this year all sectors in Cambodia joined to celebrate Gay Pride and IDAHOT. Many people took part in events, had fun, and raised key issues for consideration by policy makers as they develop plans to protect LGBT rights. Strong support from the European Union, Swedish and British Embassies, the UN and Civil Society has been most welcome, and sets a positive tone for the future.”

As previously blogged, 2015 looks to be a big year for same-sex marriage legalization around the world. As this year’s Gay Pride celebrations draw to a close around Cambodia, all that is left is to look forward to next year’s celebration in the hope that the LGBT community will have even more milestones to celebrate by then.