In Laos as in many parts of the world, lesbian, gay men, bisexual and transgender people or LGBT people continue to be marginalized populations. In Laos, the Government does not officially recognize the existence of LGBT people. There is very little to no data on the number and problems that LGBT people are experiencing which can be used to inform national policy makers. Although, same-sex practices or homosexuality is not illegal in Laos but there is no law that specifically protects the rights of LGBT people or protects them from discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity.
LGBT people are living in a society which is tolerant where they can express explicitly of who they are as long as they continue to behave as good citizens as any other marginalized populations. However, some of the social, cultural and religious beliefs may put them to think that they are not equal with others and do not deserve equal rights and wellbeing as any other free citizens of Laos. These lead to self-stigmatization, depression and as also seen in other parts of the world, suicidal acts. Hate crimes against LGBT people is not yet major problems in the Lao society but there are reports on the deaths of transgender women once in a while and subtle discrimination against LGBT people is commonly discussed and seen.
There are certain rights that LGBT people deserve from births and should not be demanded such as rights to express who they are, the rights to education without being bullied, the rights to learn about gender diversity, the rights to employment without being discriminated and the rights to equitable access to healthcare and social services including employment.
The challenges of limited data on LGBT, social, cultural and religious beliefs affect LGBT people’s enjoyment of rights to expression, education, employment, healthcare, among others, in Laos.
LaoPHA was attended the Finance Inc. Inception meeting in Bali during 10-12 October 2018. During this meeting LaoPHA had opportunity to share the current situation and the issues being faced by the LGBT community in Laos. These included their economic situations and challenges to related to the employment for LGBT people. At the inception meeting, LaoPHA also had the opportunity to learn from different country partners on LGBT issues which were very helpful for LaoPHA to design the pilot project concept and activities based on our local context and experiences.
The pilot project under Finance Inc. aims to contribute to increase awareness about SOGIE and LGBT rights, particularly lesbian, MSM/TG towards achieving a life free from stigma and violence. The movement and empowerment of lesbian women community in Laos is not yet as active unlike in other countries. Specifically, the proposed pilot project will seek to improve knowledge about SOGIE and policy advocacy of LGBT leaders. We will be adapting a Community Engagement Model for SOGI, currently being piloted by the APCOM and LaoPHA and we plan to implement this with LGBT communities in Vientiane and Champasak
This will also be an opportunity to sensitizing the Lao society about SOGIE in a context-appropriate approach, towards influencing community itself, and contributing to policy and societal changes.
Presently, LaoPHA is working predominantly on health, including HIV prevention, care and support for men who have with men and transgender women in several provinces of Lao PDR. This proposed project is innovative as this is our first milestone to ensure improved life quality of lesbians, MSM/TG in Laos. We perceive that obstacles that impede access to equitable healthcare and social services for Lesbian, MSM/TG and sex worker are the stigma and discrimination based on SOGIE resulting in self-stigmatization.
Through awareness raising, skills enhancement for LGBT people to develop strategic information from their community and establishment of connections with gatekeepers, stakeholders and policy makers, this pilot project will contribute to our vision for Laos to be an equal and equitable society for all genders. This will contribute to our aspiration of an improved and enabling environment for LGBT people in the coming generations.