The call for SOGIESC inclusion in the humanitarian system to upraise weary hope of Burmese butterflies

By December 7, 2022 Advocacy, Regional

(to protect the safety of the contributor)

When sexual violence is used as a weapon of war, LGTBQI+ individuals are among the victims of violence, particularly in the social setting where homophobic and transphobic mentalities prevail. In the wake of wartime authority in Myanmar following the Military coup in February 2021, some glimmers of justice that sparked a few years for LGBTQI+ people in Myanmar hastily dissolved. The coup has further pushed LGBTQI+ activism, which gained traction within the period of democratic transition, back into covert modes of operation. In the current environment, LGBTQI+ advocates and CSOs continue to provide critical support to their communities whilst simultaneously evading the de facto authorities. While being largely displaced and detained amid the conflicts, violence and abuse around LGBTQI+ individuals amplify the urgent need for SOGIESC inclusion in humanitarian settings and elsewhere. 

LGBTQI+ Realities in Myanmar 

Stigma and discrimination against LGBTQI+ people in Myanmar are codified in the law, but also deeply entrenched in society and culture.  A lack of understanding of LGBTQI+ people from their family, friends, and society results in harmful stereotypes and abuse directed at LGBTQI+ individuals. Over and above, same-sex relations are criminalized in the country and numerous laws license law-enforcement officers to arrest and harass LGBTQI+ individuals.   

Before 2014, it was not even possible for Myanmar’s LGBTQI+ community to dream of public expression of their sexuality and gender through Pride, the LGBT Film festival, and different courses. Despite continued discrimination and violence against Myanmar’s sexual and gender minorities, the network of LGBTQI+ CSOs and activists could advocate LGBTQI+ people’s rights between 2015 to 2020, making LGBTQI+ friendly events and spaces listed in Yangon’s social calendar possible, along with other remarkable progress.  

However, no one expected the storm—in the shape of the February 2021 coup—to fall so suddenly and hit so fiercely; wiping away the hopes of the LGBTQI+ community and human rights defenders across the country.    

Disclosing risks of LGBTQI+ individuals, advocates, and CSOs since Military Takeover 

In opposition to the Military coup, LGBTQI+ individuals took part in the Civil Disobedience Movement (CDM) and the protests in the LGBTQI+ community parade. Their visibility in the parade wearing rainbows colours and their expression of gender and sexual identity received surprisingly heartfelt support from large swathes of the general public. Yet, continued involvement in LGBTQI+ advocacy entails many risks for LGBTQI+ individuals, advocates and CSOs.

When homophobic and transphobic mentalities and sexual violence as a weapon of war merge, the safety and dignity of people do not exist for LGBTQI+ community as well. A young LGBTQI+ protester shared how he underwent verbal and sexual abuse when he was arrested and detained like many other protesters. The police officers, after going through his phone and discovering he was gay, yelled at him, ‘ What do the LGBT have to do with politics? Mind your own business. You should just stick to your ridiculous make-up and dancing! ‘ He was then forced to masturbate the soldiers and beaten on his thighs until he bled and lost the ability to walk.

This young LGTBQI+ protester is not alone in going through this terrible experience. Similar or more harmful abuses go to many LGBTQI+ people. The NRM’s brief analysis Rainbow resilience: LGBTQI+ lives and Civil Society in Myanmar’s coup mentioned that personal reports from LGBTQI+ people indicate that the focus of tortures and abuses center on their sexual orientation or gender identity, such as gay men being anally raped, trans women having their breasts and genitals tortured and ridiculed. 

According to the brief analysis, LGTBQI+ people’s risks are often not higher than the rest of the population in Myanmar.  However, it should not imply overlooking or ignoring that their identities expose them to unique risks and harm. Unique risks could be at any time when the LGTBQI+ person is displaced and when the person is detained. With the culture of ridicule or hostility around LGBTQI+ people, LGBTQI+ individuals need supportive social networks from whom they could seek initial assistance and find accommodation. They will be in a situation where they may be forced to reveal their identity or relationships if they are in a non-LGBTQI+ sensitized social setting. In addition, when they are detained, trans women and gay men could be forced to change their appearance and placed at a facility with a different gender identity- for example, trans women have their heads forcibly shaved and put up at a men’s facility.

SOGIESC inclusion in the humanitarian setting is urgent 

In the current turmoil, sexual abuse and violence will continue against LGBTQI+ communities in Myanmar regardless of the tireless efforts of LGBTQI+ advocates and CSOs. Taken into account the voices of LGBTQI+ people, meaningful SOGIESC inclusion in the humanitarian system and elsewhere will enable LGBTQI+ individuals to openly seek and receive humanitarian support. As specified by the Rainbow resilience: LGBTQI+ lives and Civil Society in Myanmar’s coup, SOGIESC inclusion should not just be limited to explicitly targeted LGBTQI+ program approaches, but should also be mainstreamed in the offices and programming of all humanitarian actors and networks including the programming of embassies and other support sectors. If only actors in the humanitarian and development sector realized the depth of the issues LGBTQI+ people face and the judiciousness of SOGIESC inclusion in their work, humanity and harmonized society could be facilitated favourably. 

This article is written by the Linq Foundation Thailand, based on the Brief Analysis produced by NRM in September 2022- “Rainbow Resilience: LGBTQI+ lives and civil society in Myanmar’s coup”. 

Source of Reference:
NRM. Rainbow resilience: LGBTQI+ lives and Civil Society in Myanmar’s coup. NRM Conflict and Research Facility, Sept 2022.

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