Myanmar: An LGBT rights organization founded in nearby Thailand by gay rights activists from Myanmar fearing arrest in their homeland have returned to their communities to share knowledge and resources.
Colours Rainbow was founded in 2007 and from 2008 to 2012 flew members of the Myanmar LGBT community to Chiang Mai, Thailand, for basic human rights training.
Since opening the Yangon office last year, it now has representatives in 23 locations across Myanmar, reports mizzima.com and is preparing to mark International Day Against Homophobia and Transphobia on May 17.
“In the past we monitored rights abuses from outside the country but we couldn’t talk with people on the ground,” program officer Hla Myat told mizzima.com.
“Some locations will celebrate with their small community, and in places like Myitkyina organizers will invite religious leaders in an effort to build relationships,” he said.
This year Colours Rainbow will celebrate in Yangon by bringing together Myanmar and foreign lawyers, health professionals, rights activists, media and LGBT community members for a panel discussion on the country’s “Section 377” colonial-era law that criminalizes consensual same-sex relations.
Hla Myat recounted how Section 377 creates constant fear of arrest among LGBT people and contributes to discrimination against the community.
He said Myanmar lawyers were unaware that such similar laws are active in other countries, such as Malaysia, Singapore, India. “We need to educate them,” he said.
In fact same-sex relations is illegal and punishable with jail time in 41 out of 53 countries that were part of the former British Empire and who chose to retain the colonial-era law even after independence.
Section 377 law also forces LGBT people to lie to their family and friends about their identities, said Hla Myat.
However, he pointed out that it was abuse by the police in Myanmar rather than Section 377 that was used to justify most arrests of LGBT people.
The Myanmar Police Act enables police to detain any person found “lurking” after dark disguised or without an acceptable reason. Transgender people apprehended after dark are regarded as being “in disguise” and detained, Hla Myat told mizzima.com.
As part of raising awareness about LGBT issues, Colours Rainbow will hold informal meetings with MPs.
“They do not realize that raising the LGBT issue is progressive and politically smart,” said Hla Myat. Some are really interested and want to raise the issue, but they need more information, he added.
Some Myanmar people do not accept that being LGBT is an identity because they do not have proper information. “We need to educate them,” said Hla Myat
Colours Rainbow is sponsored by various foreign missions as well as the United Nations. Among its first projects was a bi-monthly LGBT rights and culture magazine distributed throughout Myanmar.