LGBT Network Calls for Tolerance, End to Harassment

By Zarni Mann 18 September 2015

MANDALAY — Burma’s Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender (LGBT) Rights Network on Friday called on lawmakers to stop targeting and harassing the LGBT community, urging authorities to instead set their sights on strengthening the rule of law.

Speaking to reporters in Burma’s second largest city, representatives of the network said they were alarmed by recent discussions in the Mandalay Division parliament suggesting that police should do more to combat “crimes” committed by the LGBT community.

In August, state lawmakers tabled a discussion about action being taken against gay and transgender people “acting inappropriately,” prompting the division’s Minister of Border and Security Affairs, Myint Kyu, to call on police to arrest and “educate” gay people.

“Parliamentarians must immediately stop their special program of ‘detaining and educating’ LGBT people,” read a statement published by the LGBT Rights Network. “Instead they should push government officials to work effectively to protect the rule of law in the city.”

Members of the network said the minister’s remarks were “unrealistic” and could create misunderstanding of the LGBT, potentially leading to rights abuses.

“The [implicit] decision to arrest gay and transgender people to educate them is like giving free license to arrest them. This will only worsen the situation of harassment, rights abuses and arbitrary arrests,” said Shin Thant, program officer for the LGBT rights group Colors Rainbow, which is a member of the network.

“We desperately need lawmakers to stand strong for us and support our equal rights,” Shin Thant continued, herself a transgender woman with lived experience of discriminatory practices. “We LGBTs are still facing rights abuses and harassment. It is very important to represent our interests in the parliament and in government.”

The network announced plans to facilitate capacity building, awareness and professional skills training for the LGBT community, many of whom find themselves in the informal workforce as sex workers or pickpockets after growing up in hostile environments.

“Since many LGBT people face discrimination, we are kept away from the community, some are not encouraged to be literate. [These conditions] push some of us to commit crimes for a living,” Shin Thant continued.

“We will need to cooperate with the authorities to raise awareness [of these factors] so they can determine who is really committing crimes and take legal action against them.”

Friday’s conference added to a recent chorus of complaints about what critics view as a discriminatory policy that assumes criminality of the LGBT community, particularly in Mandalay. In early September, Human Rights Watch penned an open letter to the division’s Chief Minster Ye Myint, pointing out the “misinformed, discriminatory, and potentially inflammatory statements” made by lawmakers.

“The Burmese government should immediately condemn the statements made by a member of the regional parliament and a regional minister, and should pledge publicly to protect the fundamental rights of all people regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity,” Graeme Reid, director of Human Rights Watch’s LGBT program, wrote to Ye Myint.