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Calls to validate LGBT rights

People attend a conference in Phnom Penh yesterday as part of International Day Against Homophobia and Transphobia.
People attend a conference in Phnom Penh yesterday as part of International Day Against Homophobia and Transphobia. Pech Sotheary

Calls to validate LGBT rights

Gay and transgender people yesterday called on the government to legalise same-sex marriage and change identity cards to reflect a person’s true gender during an event to mark International Day against Homophobia and Transphobia.

Although local authorities have been known to sometimes sidestep prohibitive laws on same-sex marriage by simply listing one party as “husband” and the other “wife”, civil society organisations said making those channels official would give legitimacy to lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) people.

For one transgender male, Chhoeung Ratana, who was born female, the issue of equal standing for LGBT Cambodians is not only political, but deeply personal.

He said that he feared that if he was “outed” in his workplace, he would be demoted and harassed by probing personal questions.

“If people at work know that we love someone of the same sex or are transgender . . . sometimes the director asks us to hide our sexual identity. If we show it, we might be relegated from a high position to a low position where we are less visible to the public,” Ratana said.

Choub Sok Chamreun, executive director of the Khmer HIV/AIDS NGO Alliance (KHANA), said that although the government had made strides in anti-discrimination directives aimed at the media and schools, LGBT people still faced high rates of HIV infection, discrimination at the hands of their own families and in the workplace, and sometimes achieved a lower level education after being forced out of school by homophobic bullies.

“Gay people still face many problems, so the whole of society should pay attention to their well-being and comfort,” Sok Chamreun said.

Mao Chandara, director of the general department of identification at the Ministry of Interior, said it was unlikely that transgender people would be able to change the gender on their ID card or passport, citing legal frameworks, but he urged advocates to make a proposal to the government.

“It is difficult . . . If you are a man, you cannot put your sex as ‘female’,” Chandara said. “If they love the same people, it does not matter at all; but . . . if the government has a law to allow people to love people of the same sex, it will not relate to the identity card” only to the marriage certificate, he said.

Tep Borie, commune chief of Kraol Kor in Svay Rieng province, said although authorities could not legally allow same-sex marriage, in the past they had allowed LGBT people to hold traditional weddings.

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