RANGOON — Burma’s first ever film festival devoted to lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) issues will take place in Rangoon next month.
The “&Proud LGBT Film Festival” will be held Nov. 14-16 at the French Institute in Rangoon’s Sanchaung Township, featuring about 30 films, discussions with filmmakers and a related art exhibition. Program details are still pending, but all screenings will be free of charge.
The event organizers, which include Colors Rainbow, YG Event, Equality Myanmar and several other gender-oriented organizations, said that the main purpose of the event is to increase awareness and tolerance of sexual identity issues through more public exposure.
“We hope that festival will help the public to change their views about the LGBT community, or at least give them ideas that those views can be changed,” said Hla Myat Tun of Colors Rainbow, speaking to The Irrawaddy last week.
One of the difficulties for Burma’s LGBT community, he said, is negative representation in popular culture. Alternative gender and sexual identities are often portrayed insensitively in movies, magazines and other popular media, worsening public perceptions of an already alienated group.
“We want to make a point that members of the LGBT community should be proud, and we wish to correct wrong messages that are being spread throughout the community by popular media,” he added.
While the full program of events is not yet locked in, organizers told The Irrawaddy that they have selected a diverse line-up of films, mostly produced in Asean countries including Cambodia, Malaysia and Thailand. At least five of the showcased films are from Burma.
A program of three short films made by 10 young members of Burma’s LGBT community will also premier at the festival, showcasing work made during an intensive training course held in the lead-up to the event.
Hla Myat Tun expects that the festival will not be embraced by everyone, but that now is as good a time as any to begin bringing gender identity into public discourse.
“Some people will say that this is a bad idea, but it’s better than not saying anything about LGBT rights,” he said.
While gender equality movements have been on the rise in Burma since political reforms initiated in 2011 ushered in unprecedented freedoms of expression, the LGBT community still suffers discrimination. Even at the level of the family unit, Hla Myat Tun said, those with unconventional gender- or sexual orientation are often made fun of, ostracized or otherwise tormented. This discrimination often extends into classrooms, social circles and workplaces.
“In the past, we couldn’t talk about LGBT issues. Since 2012, however, political reforms have made us more confident and able to speak out for the LGBT community,” said Hla Myat Tun.
While mainstream society is slowly becoming more tolerant, much of the population remains unexposed and apprehensive about the gay and transgendered community. Making matters more difficult, Burma’s penal code outlaws same-sex relations and sodomy, carrying fines and even possible prison sentences of up to 10 years. In recent years, there have been several instances of authorities singling out members of the LGBT community and subjecting them to humiliation and sometimes arbitrary detention.
Burma hosted its first ever public celebration of LGBT identity as part of a global initiative—International Day Against Homophobia and Transphobia—in May 2012.