Quiet, shy Noy Sitha, 61, had been certain since she was nine years old that she was attracted to other females.
Her family and neighbours, however, took longer to come around.
“They always looked on me as a strange person. They looked at me not as a human being,” Noy Sitha says.
Regardless, she married her girlfriend in a small Buddhist ceremony and adopted three children.
Recently, the attitudes of those closest to her began to improve.
But most people still treat her as an outcast – a picture lesbians, gays, bisexuals and transgenders in Cambodia painted time and again yesterday at a forum promoting Cambodia ASEAN Pride Week, which runs until May 20.
Many LGBT people face “a lack of protection by authorities” and “arrest and detention under the commune safety policy” a release issued by the organising NGO Rainbow Community Kampuchea (RoCK) says.
RoCK volunteer Collette O’Regan said LGBTs, especially transgenders, faced harassment and intimidation because of their different appearance and the commune safety policy’s vague mandate.
“The policy, it’s kind of broad; it says [to address] anybody who is a threat to the security or morality of the community. So it’s quite a personal, subjective judgment,” O’Regan said.
“If I’m a policeman . . . I can look at a man and [think]: ‘Is that a man? Why is he wearing earrings and wearing a dress? Oh my goodness, what kind of morality is this?’
“It’s broad and gives a lot of power to individuals.”
It was an experience Prost-auch, 24, was able to relate to. She told the forum she and her girlfriend had been forcibly separated by family members and local authorities.
“They separated us by filing a complaint with the police and local authorities, and they accused us, saying same-sex lovers were illegal,” she said.
“They also forced us to say we did not love each other, but it was because we used drugs that led us to love each other.”
Ou Virak, executive director of the Cambodian Center for Human Rights, said no laws banned homosexuality.
The King had also said gays should be accepted by everyone, Ou Virak said, referring to a statement King Norodom Sihanouk made in 2004 endorsing same-sex marriages.
More safeguards were needed to ensure the commune safety policy was properly implemented and LGBTs were properly treated under it.
“LGBTs tend to be targeted by the community and authorities . . . because these people don’t understand. They feel better by harassing and looking down on [LGBTs],” he said.
Kampong Chhnang province’s Popel commune chief Chea Samun, meanwhile, said the commune safety policy was clear in not prohibiting same-sex relations or transgender behaviour.
“We do not prohibit them to love each other or change their sex, because it is their right to choose that way,” Chea Samun said.
But LGBTs would be prosecuted the same as others if they broke the law, he said.
To contact the reporters on this story: Mom Kunthear and Cassandra Yeap at [email protected]