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Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Bar fight stirs fears of homophobia

Bar fight stirs fears of homophobia

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Kye Poirrier (left) and his staff lean at his bar in Phnom Penh last week for a photograph that accompanied a story about new LGBT business owners. Kye was injured in an attack last weekend.

A party celebrating gay pride was set to go ahead last night at the capital’s Rainbow Bar despite an attack on one of its owners over the weekend that has raised fears of homophobia in the area.

Kye Poirrier, who opened Rainbow Bar in February with co-owner Peter Van on Street 172 in Daun Penh district’s Chey Chumneah commune, told The Post yesterday that he had been beaten by two men outside the establishment late Saturday night.

Poirrier said he had a “lump the size of a tennis ball” on the back of his head, bruised ribs, cuts and abrasions from the fight, and plans to bring a complaint to local police today.

The bar was winding down after hosting a drag competition that night – which boasted about 30 participants – when Poirrier said he “heard a ruckus” at about 12:30am and was called outside.

A young patron had apparently been hit on the head by one of two intoxicated neighbours who said he had parked on their property, Poirrier said.

After he came out to sort out the argument, Poirrier said he was hit by one of the men in the back of the head. After two more strikes, he said he hit back.

“Kye is fairly tolerant, but after the third time, he had had enough and a fight broke out in the middle of the road,” Van said. “They were kicking him on the ground in the rib cage.”

Poirrier and Van said the two assailants used homophobic slurs throughout the scuffle. Poirrier said the men had used the word “poofta” – a derogatory term for homosexuals.

“They made all sorts of very bad remarks – they said we gay people, we should be burned, we should never come back,” said Van, who speaks Khmer but was raised in Australia.

“We shouldn’t have to put up with this violence in this day and age,” Poirrier said.

After the fight was broken up, the co-owners returned to the bar with the remaining patrons, but one of the men involved in the fight threw a potted plant into the pub, shattering a glass table, the owners said. Van said police later refused to intervene, “hinting that we should give them money”.

“At the end, we called the police that we knew and it cost about US$500 in bribery money for him to come and keep the peace so that we could all leave and lock the shop,” Van said.

After the incident, Van said he thought about closing the bar for good. “I was feeling very down. I felt that I was putting the staff, the customers’ lives at risk,” he said. “I felt like I should just close the shop.”

Support from neighbours, customers and staff, however, kept their spirits up.

“Our boys that give the [drag] shows, they said ‘Please don’t give in, and we’ll be with you all the way,’” Van said, adding that staff showed the same support when asked if the owners should shut down the bar.

Both men said they were nervous ahead of the party last night, which fell on an international day against homophobia and transphobia (fear of trans-gendered persons), but would go ahead with the event nonetheless.

“My staff was second to none, and I’m really proud of these people. That’s why I’m going to go back tonight,” Poirrier said.

Sok Chhon, police chief of Chey Chumneah commune, said police had intervened following the incident Saturday. “We have finished this case completely,” he said, declining to comment further.

A report released in December by the Cambodian Centre for Human Rights found that discrimination based on sexual identity was widespread in the Kingdom.

ADDITIONAL REPORTING BY SEN DAVID

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