Organizers of Yangon's 5th LGBTIQ Festival Promise Biggest Bash Yet

By Lwin Mar Htun 22 January 2019

YANGON — Myanmar’s LGBTIQ Festival, put on by the non-profit &Proud initiative, will take place over two weekends, from Friday to Sunday and Feb.1 to 3. The many activities will include Yangon Drag Night and the first ever LGBTIQ river boat parade in Asia.

This is the 5th year running for the festival, though &PROUD has renamed it Yangon Pride to anchor it in the global Pride movement, which celebrates LGBTIQ people by fighting against the stigma they experience in many parts of the world.

“As we mark our 5th year anniversary, we believe it’s high time we align more closely with the international Pride movement and have our very own Pride event here in Yangon,” said Hla Myat Tun, co-director of &PROUD and deputy director at Colors Rainbow, Myanmar’s main LGBT rights network.

“It’s also a fitting name transition at this point in time when &PROUD is evolving and Myanmar’s LGBTIQ community is growing, yet stigma, harassment and discrimination are still very much with us,” he added.

In Myanmar, Yangon Pride aims to build an LGBTIQ-friendly community that will last and grow beyond the festival.

“We’ve started being a public festival since last year, 2018. Before that, &Proud celebrated the Myanmar LGBTIQ Festival with photos and film exhibitions, competitions at galleries and the French Institute,” Hla Myat Tun said.

Many people are getting to know more about LGBTIQ people and becoming more accepting of their identities. Some people have also been encouraged to come out, and many small LGBT campaigns have been started at local universities. Hla Myat Tun attributes much of that to the festival.

This year’s festival features an exciting lineup of award-winning films, live performances, talks, a drag night and much more.

Yangon Drag Night, a new addition to the festival, will bring together nine of Yangon’s finest drag queens for the opening on Friday evening from 7 to 10 at Thakin Mya Park, along with a performance by Russell and music by DJ Mike.

The highlight of the festival will be Asia’s first ever LGBTIQ river boat parade, Yangon River Pride, on Saturday starting at 1:30 p.m.

Other additions to this year’s festival are an awards ceremony, the Hero Awards, aimed at shining a light on people helping to foster a positive understanding of LGBTIQ identities in Myanmar.

“Okka Min Maung will be honored for his coming-out video because many people recognize Myanmar’s LGBTIQ community from his video, and he has encouraged many other LGBTIQ people with his words,” Hla Myat Tun said of the popular actor. “The other Hero Award winners will be a surprise.”

This weekend’s events will take place at Thakin Mya Park and also include free concerts by local stars May Khalar, Sophia, Jewel and Project K as well as exhibitions and games such as the “Drag Olympics.”

The events on Feb. 1 to 3 will be at the French Institute and feature a series of film screenings and talks on issues ranging from transgender health to legal reform.

“Every year we aim to make our festival as fabulous as ever, and this year is going to be the one to beat. We invite everyone to join us on Saturday for our very first Yangon River Pride. It’s going to be spectacular as we set sail in a flotilla full of rainbow flags on the Yangon River. Lots of fun, music and surprises,” said Jan Willem van Rooij, co-director of &PROUD and co-director and production head of Yangon Pride.

All events are free of charge, and no tickets are required except for the boat parade. Tickets for the boat parade are 3,000 kyats to 8,000 kyats, and space is limited.

&PROUD is a non-profit initiative founded in Yangon in 2014. It organizes arts and culture events in Myanmar for the LGBTIQ community that aim to create greater understanding and awareness of LGBT identities, to foster a conversation on LGBT rights, and to create stronger linkages within the community and with Myanmar society.