Sorrow, Demand for Change After LGBT Suicide

By Nyein Nyein 25 June 2019

YANGON— The case of a Myanmar librarian who committed suicide on Sunday after being harassed and bullied by coworkers for his sexual orientation has sounded alarms about Myanmar society’s need to address discrimination based on gender and sexual orientation.

Kyaw Zin Win, 25, had worked as a librarian at Yangon’s Myanmar Imperial University (MIU) since September 2017. He died Monday afternoon, after ingesting a large amount of pills the day prior.

Before taking his own life, Kyaw Zin Min posted a final statement on Facebook saying he was terrified by his colleagues’ tormenting.

In a two-part Facebook post addressed to his family and his friends, he spelled out his reasons.

“I tried but could no longer bear the bullying. I love you, grandma and aunt. I was afraid to do this, but I am afraid of people more. Forgive me and remember me,” he wrote to his family.

“I love you guys,” he wrote to his friends.

Kyaw Zin Win also posted screenshots of messages from coworkers bullying him for being gay after a staff meeting where he was forced to admit his sexual orientation. He bore the bullying “patiently, wishing it would end soon,” he wrote.

His final comments revealed the depths of his agony and his alienation from Myanmar society, young and old alike.

“The [people in the] country mock someone’s identity. Myanmar is a two-faced country that favors those in higher positions and bars the truth from being celebrated,” he wrote.

“One day I will leave and never comeback. You won’t hear my laugh or my voice ever again,” he wrote in a previous post on Saturday.

“Kyaw Zin Win has sacrificed his life to show how deep gender and sexual-orientation-based discrimination is at workplaces and schools,” said Hla Myat Tun, an LGBT activist and deputy director of the LGBT rights group Color Rainbow.

Regardless of one’s background, gender or sexual orientation, Hla Myat Tun said, these places especially should be safe environments, but in Myanmar, sadly, these spaces lack preventative and protective policies for people with non-normative sexual identities or gender expressions.

Facebook commenters widely agreed the suicide was the direct result of the bullying, and that such bullying was encouraged by Myanmar’s lack of policies prohibiting such discrimination or protecting its targets.

Myanmar law criminalizes homosexuality under Article 377 of the Penal Code. Efforts to change the law are still pending.

LGBT activists said they’ve weathered verbal and physical harassment—online and in person—and have had to find their own ways of coping. They said members of parliament should pay attention to pending and proposed amendments to Article 377.

Current law “allows state-sponsored discrimination,” Hla Myat Tun said, and encourages the mocking and belittling of LGBT individuals, adding that many people in Myanmar have no understanding of how gender operates beyond the binaries of “male and female.”

“We need interest from our members of parliament as right now their political interest in the protection of LGBT people is zero,” Hla Myat Tun said.

“The government must take responsibility and ensure that schools and workplaces guarantee a safe place for people. If not, such tragic events will not stop,” he said. “People have started becoming aware that discrimination is unacceptable, but we need a set of policies, guidelines and codes of conduct stated in writing.”

Friends and sympathizers online demanded that his MIU library coworkers be held accountable for his tormenting, and MIU for allowing it to occur.

On Tuesday, the university released a statement offering a posthumous apology to the late Kyaw Zin Win and his bereaved family, saying they found out through his Facebook posts that the deceased had been bullied and discriminated against at his workplace.

Three staff members suspected to have been involved have been temporarily suspended while an investigation is now underway, the statement said.

“MIU has a zero-tolerance policy on discrimination and harassment against sexual orientation, and decided to carry out a detailed investigation [into what led to the suicide],” it said.

On Monday, a number of Facebook users changed their profile photos to an image of a circular rainbow over a black background in memory of Kyaw Zin Win.