This week people all over the world are marking the International Day Against Homophobia and Transphobia (IDAHOT). This is the day when the human rights of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Intersex, and Queer (LGBTIQ) persons are highlighted and diversity is celebrated. Here in Cambodia, IDAHOT is at the centre of a week of celebration and awareness-raising for LGBTIQ Pride 2017 under the theme “I Am What I Am”.
Globally, “Families” are the focus for IDAHOT 2017. The family is at the heart of all our lives. It is the place where we form our values and construct our identity and it should be our place of safety and security. However, as the IDAHOT theme highlights, young people who are growing up with a sexual orientation or gender identity that does not fit with the norms of their society can’t always take the safety and security of the family environment for granted.
Here in Cambodia, as in other parts of the world, some young LGBTIQ people experience just the opposite in their families and communities: rejection, discrimination and even violence. Young LGBTIQ persons report being thrown out of their homes, parents calling the police to intervene in their same-sex relationships, or forced to undergo all manner of “cures”. Pride Week offers an opportunity to raise public awareness of such experiences and to counter discrimination within families and communities. This visibility is important because we know that discrimination and the fear it engenders leave almost three out of 10 LGBTIQ Cambodians unable to come out even to close family and friends.
Policymakers in Cambodia have increasingly been engaged in discussion on how government policies can support LGBTIQ people’s rights. Indeed, policy dialogue is one of the activities that will take place during this week as part of Pride 2017. Several important policies already recognise the particular issues faced by LGBTIQ people.
The Second National Action Plan to Prevent Violence Against Women, for example, acknowledges the heightened risks of violence. This is a very important and positive step but at the same time we know that violence against LGBTIQ people remains a serious concern.
Measures against hate crimes have been identified by LGBTIQ people as a priority. So it is also important to move forward in implementation so that LGBTIQ people who face violence whether in the family or community can access services and justice.
IDAHOT’s focus on the theme of families also highlights the issues LGBTIQ people around the world face in forming families with equal legal protection. The right to form a family and to have social and legal recognition and protection is one that most people take for granted. IDAHOT reminds us this fundamental human aspiration to commit to those we love and to be protected in doing so is denied to a significant minority.
Research in Cambodia shows that LGBTIQ people themselves have identified equal rights as the most-important priority to improve their situation. In particular, they articulated concerns about the right to adopt, the right to same-sex marriage and legal documents that reflect diverse gender identities. These concerns constitute a call for equal enjoyment of basic human rights.
In this Pride Week it is important to recognise and celebrate the progress that LGBTIQ communities and organisations have made in finding creative solutions to the issue of legal recognition. CSOs have supported community and media activities that make visible and celebrate the existence and achievements of LGBTIQ families in Cambodian society. At the same time CSOs and lawyers have worked with local authorities to help families to make contracts which give them some legal protection.
The success of such measures, even on a small scale, reflects an openness that should be a source of hope, pride and inspiration to keep advancing until the full protection of all human rights for the LGBTIQ community as well as for all the Cambodian people is achieved.
Love, identity and security are among the most basic human aspirations that we all share and seek to find in our families and communities. This Pride Week and IDAHOT we must all commit to keep working towards the vision of a diverse society where everyone is respected and protected inside their own family as well as in the human family that we all belong to.
Saleem Muhammad is the officer in charge of UNAIDS. Debora Comini is Cambodia’s country representative for Unicef. Wan-Hea Lee is the country representative for UNOHCHR. Janet Wong is the country representative for UN Women