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Members of the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community watch performances at last year’s Pride Week in Phnom Penh’s Tuol Kork district. Charlotte Pert

Loans to fight LGBT poverty

LGBT Cambodians driven into poverty by discrimination, and sometimes forced to sell sex to survive, may soon enjoy the benefits of a new online campaign designed to raise money to help them rebuild their lives.

Micro Rainbow International, a non-profit organisation aimed at lifting LGBT Cambodians out of poverty, unveiled a new crowd-sourcing platform on Saturday that will allow donors from all over the globe to directly support individuals in the form of interest-free loans.

The organisation targets vulnerable LGBT people in Cambodia by running workshops at events such as Gay Pride in Phnom Penh, which allows it to connect with members of the community who have come to the capital from the provinces.

Phally, 27, originally from Kandal, said in an interview yesterday how he had found himself homeless and jobless on the streets of the capital after his family threw him out because he was gay.

“I didn’t want to leave home, but I had no choice, because my family members didn’t help me anymore or love me when they found out about me,” said Phally, who only wished to be identified by his given name. “I miss home so much and want to have all my family around me.”

Phally struggled to find work once he had to fend for himself, and claims this was partly because discrimination at school caused him to stop education early.

“The teachers treated me differently than the other children, and I felt they looked down on me because I was gay,” he said. “It made me not want to study,”

The predicament Phally found himself in is all too common according to Kong Yara, executive director of CamASEAN, the anti-discrimination NGO that coordinates Micro Rainbow’s operation in Cambodia.

“When parents find out their son or daughter is LGBT, they often simply kick them out of the family home,” he said. “But it is just as common for families to lock their LGBT children in a room in the house, like prisoners, and take away their phone and other means of communicating, because they are afraid they will make contact with other LGBT people.”

Discrimination is especially bad in rural areas, according to Yara.

“One family in the provinces sent their gay daughter to a Kru Khmer [a traditional healer] who beat her to drive out what he believed to be an evil spirit,” he said.

Thanks to an interest-free loan from Micro Rainbow, Phally has now found a place to live and is making a living selling papayas at a Phnom Penh market.

But the handful of people the micro-finance organisation is helping are just the tip of the iceberg, according to Nuon Sidara, sexual orientation and gender identity coordinator at the Cambodian Centre for Human Rights (CCHR).

“Poverty amongst LGBT people is a significant problem in Cambodia because education and employment is still not open equally to people because of their sexuality and gender identity,” he said. “LGBT people often become homeless as a result, and are forced to sell sex, especially transgender women, because they are poor and have no food.”

Sidara said more progress was needed, but welcomed Micro Rainbow’s initiative as “a first step towards achieving equality”.

Additional reporting by Sen David



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