Myanmar’s LGBTIQ Festival is Back With a New Campaign: ‘Love Is Not a Crime’

By Lwin Mar Htun 23 January 2020

The 6th edition of Myanmar’s LGBTIQ festival of love and pride is back with a bigger celebration than in years past, across three weekends and in 10 locations around Yangon. This year the festival is declaring that “Love Is Not a Crime” through a new national campaign calling for solidarity with the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, intersex and queer (LGBTIQ) community.

The festival is organized by &PROUD with support from the Embassy of the Netherlands, the UK Embassy and Heinrich Böll Stiftung Foundation.

The celebration began at Botahtaung Jetty last weekend with Asia’s only LGBTIQ Boat Parade, drawing nearly 800 participants on three boats for a rainbow-colored sunset cruise.

Along with the event, the organization launched its “Love Is Not a Crime” campaign, which has gone viral on social media along with calls for LGBTIQ people to be treated equally both by society and under the law.

“Acceptance is an important part of the campaign. We are asking everyone to turn their little finger pink and to share a picture. By showing your pink pinky, you show that you love and support people no matter what their sexual orientation or gender identity is, and you are helping to raise awareness for the equality of LGBTIQ people,” said Hla Myat Tun, co-director of &PROUD.

They asked everyone in Myanmar to show their support by updating their Facebook photo with the pink pinky logo and all are invited to join Yangon Pride.

“The campaign will be very visible at the festival site, with photo exhibitions, information about Myanmar laws that affect LGBTIQ people, and of course a photobooth where everyone can get their own pink pinky photo taken,” said Willem van Rooij, head of the Yangon Pride festival.

Yangon Pride began as a small film festival six years ago and is now in its sixth iteration. During this time, Myanmar’s LGBTIQ community has become increasingly visible.

“We’re so happy about that. It shows that acceptance of the community is really on the rise, in Yangon but also in the rest of Myanmar,” said Hla Myat Tun.

“The community has become visible and we can celebrate the festival in public but there are still laws that control LGBTIQ people’s love,” he added. “We all have a right to love the person who we want to love but we understand that we can’t change the country’s law in this short period. We just want to request that they consider changing the laws.”

Section 377 of Myanmar’s Penal Code, which dates back to 1861, deals with “unnatural” and same-sex sexual acts and allows for sentences from 10 years to life in prison.

“Currently, the fact that the government has allowed us to celebrate in public is a positive development and a reason to hope for more change in the future,” said Hla Myat Tun.

The festival has grown and is a celebration of the LGBTIQ community enjoyed by Yangon residents, families and friends.

This year, the festival will bring all colors of the rainbow to Thakhin Mya Park on Friday, Jan. 24, with performances by artists Htun Eaindra Bo, Ni Ni Khin Zaw and Phyu Phyu Kyaw Thein. There will be a drag queens performance as well as with films, dance and photography.

“Pride is very much a celebration of our colorful community. We will do our best to make this a weekend where everyone can be free to be themselves and we’ll pack three full days with performances by the LGBTIQ community,” said Willem van Rooij.

On Saturday, Jan. 25, there will be a gala evening and the yearly LGBTIQ hero awards, another highlight of the festival which celebrates an LGBTIQ person.

Swe Zin Htet has already been announced as the winner, as she courageously took the world stage to become the first​ ​openly lesbian contestant in the Miss Universe competition.

“I’m so proud to accept this award. Thank you so much to &PROUD. We all have a right to express ourselves freely. I respect myself for who I am and respect other people too. We can’t judge other people by their sexual orientation,” said Swe Zin Htet.

The last weekend of this year’s Pride will start on Jan. 31 at the French Institute with films, debates, theater and performances by Ar-T and Thailand’s top drag queens, Annee Maywong and Dearis Doll. All events schedules are posted on the “and PROUD” Facebook page.

All events are free of charge and no tickets are needed.

&PROUD is a non-profit organization founded in Yangon in 2014 to create greater understanding and awareness of LGBTIQ identities and rights and to create stronger linkages within the community and with Myanmar society.