Burma marks its first ever event celebrating lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) culture on Thursday as part of a global initiative called International Day Against Homophobia and Transphobia (IDAHO).
“We invited about 300 people,” said Myat Noe, one of the organizers of the celebration in Rangoon. “Some members of parliament, staffers from UNAID, academics, HIV/ AIDS health workers, and members of Médecins Sans Frontières.”
The celebration will be held at the Excel Tower in Rangoon from 6 pm to 10 pm, she said.
The event will include a speech by well-known fashion designer Ko Mar, as well as performances, entertainment, education videos and a short play about gay discrimination.
The International Day Against Homophobia and Transphobia commemorates the decision on May 17, 1990, by the World Health Organization to remove homosexuality from its list of mental diseases.
“We are very excited to be able to celebrate it [gay pride], even though we cannot yet go out on the streets and march like in other countries,” said Aung Myo Min from Thailand-based advocacy group Human Rights Education Institute of Burma.
A second Burmese event will be held in Mandalay on Friday, he said.
LGBT activists say people and the law still discriminate strongly against homosexual activity in Burma —a majority Buddhist country with a population of 54 million people.
“More and more people are opening up, but we cannot say that we are not discriminated against,” Aung Myo Min said. “Especially in rural communities where people lack education, discrimination is still rife.”
Burma’s 19th-century penal code 377 states that criminal “intercourse against the order of nature” is punishable by up to 10 years in prison.
This law should be abolished, said Aung Myo Min. Even restricted countries like India have abolished such archaic laws, he said.
“Certain people view today’s ceremony in a negative way,” said organizer Myat Noe. “They seem to believe we all have HIV/ AIDS and that we are looking for an opportunity to bring it to the public’s attention. This is simply not the case.”
Josh, a gay Burmese man in Chiang Mai, northern Thailand, said, “There are still people in our community who consider gays to be abnormal or insane.”
However, most members of the LGBT community who spoke to The Irrawaddy agreed that the movement is gaining ground and that LGBT activists are more confident of speaking out now that a program of political reform has taken root in Burma.
Last year, the first ever LGBT-targeted programme appeared in Burmese—“Colours Rainbow TV,” which airs once a month online in Thailand and focuses on LGBT news, interviews and like-minded features from the rest of the world.
“If we can all learn to respect each other, we can build trust and develop a better community for the future,” said Josh.