1532130_805427086136060_6711037304687175663_nPhnom Penh: The LGBT community in Cambodia is still struggling for acceptance and social equality even though same-sex relations are legal and the kingdom celebrates Pride week.

Activists speaking during Pride week that began May 16 say there is still significant social pressure to conform to “traditional” male and female gender roles through means such as forced “curing,” reports phnompenhpost.com.

They cite the case of Meas Sophanuth who was born a female but identifies as a male and whose parents forced him to receive a treatment to be “cured.”

Sophanuth recalled how traumatic it was when he confided to his parents about his sexual identity.

He was sequestered in a room lit with candles and incense and was doused with water while being chanted over.  He had to undergo the ritual three times that had no effect whatsoever, he said.

“After that, I did not feel warm to my parents anymore,” he said. “They frightened me. I felt like they’re not my family anymore.”

He was nonetheless comparatively lucky. Others have their heads and palms burnt in the belief that this will drive away evil spirits. Sometimes they use a bamboo cane to hit LGBT people to achieve a “cure.”

Rainbow Community Kampuchea’s Collette O’Regan, one of the organizers of this week’s Pride activities, said “traditional” family structures were extremely important in Cambodian culture and those who did not conform were considered “unnatural.”

They take them to the monks at a pagoda to get them rid of the bad spirits that are causing the “problem,” she said.

Others noted how families try to isolate gays, lesbians and transgender men and women by confining them to their homes, not letting them go to school and taking away their money and mobile phones.

More education about gender diversity was the solution to homophobia, O’Regan said adding, “That’s one of the things we are trying to do during Pride.”

About 100 people turned out to march in the capital Phnom Penh at the start of Pride Week that includes an LGBT film festival, workshops on the LGBT movement and family acceptance, as well as a fashion show and party.

Cambodia is relatively accepting of gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people as several openly LGBT bars operate freely in Phnom Penh, reports phnompenhpost.com. Same-sex relations are also legal.

The country’s dominant religion, Buddhism, does not teach that same-sex relations is wrong but the Buddhist cultural tolerance of LGBT people has yet to advance among the population.

Venerable Thorn Vandong of Buddhism for Social Development Action said Buddhism did not discriminate against LGBT people and monks conducting rituals to change people’s sexuality were not acting according to Buddhist teaching.

However, Cambodia’s cultural focus on family means there is intense pressure for sons and daughters to marry and have children.

Source: phnompenhpost.com