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LGBT advocates seek equality

Members of LGBT advocacy group Rainbow Community Kampuchea (RoCK) at a Pride event in Phnom Penh
Members of LGBT advocacy group Rainbow Community Kampuchea (RoCK) at a Pride event in Phnom Penh last May. Phnom Penh hosted the first Cambodia National LGBT community dialogue yesterday. Scott Howes

LGBT advocates seek equality

The government must amend legislation to stamp out hate crimes and discrimination against Cambodia’s gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender citizens, rights activists said during a forum in the capital yesterday.

“We are ordinary people too,” said Nay Sitha, from advocacy group the Rainbow Community Kampuchea (RoCK). “Ordinary people that need access to jobs, education and healthcare; why should we be discriminated against for how we dress or who we love?”

During the second day of the first community dialogue dedicated to the advancement and discussion of Cambodia’s lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) population, activists, civil society groups and United Nations agencies made it clear that LGBT Cambodians aren’t alone in their fight against discrimination.

Reliable statistics and documentation of police discrimination or gender-based brutality are limited, especially because LGBT individuals – fearing further abuse and stigma – rarely report such incidents. But civil society groups such as the Cambodian Center for Human Rights (CCHR) are working to fill the void.

“Part of our plan for this year is to allocate some of our budget to conducting more research on violence being committed against LGBT [Cambodians] by local authorities and stigmatisation being perpetrated in schools,” said Nuon Sidara, director of CCHR’s sexual orientation and gender-identity program.

According to Srorn Srun, an activist moderating discussions and presentations during the conference, discrimination remains commonplace.

“Last year, when the Ministry of [Women’s] Affairs was rolling out plans for the national action plan to stop gender-based violence for 2014-2017, they agreed to include lesbians, bisexual women and [self-identifying] transgender women,” Srun said, adding that while this was positive, more inclusive institutional protection was needed.

Yesterday Sivan Botum, a secretary of state at the Ministry of Women’s Affairs, declined to comment on the ministry’s involvement in advocating for such rights.

Some of those present at yesterday’s forum called for changes to the legal definition of marriage and the delivery of equal rights in education, health and employment that would prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender.

But Chou Bun Eng, secretary of state at the Ministry of Interior, disagreed that discrimination against LGBT Cambodians was rampant.

“I do not agree that more LGBT Cambodians are still discriminated against when we allow them equal access to jobs and schools. Our constitution already protects them, they don’t need more,” she said.

But anecdotal testimony given by more than 50 LGBT community members during Monday’s session showed that discrimination remains widespread, said Marie-Dominique Parent, deputy representative for the Cambodia office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights.

“The Universal Declaration of Human Rights proclaims that ‘all human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights’. This means all human beings, not some, not most, but all – regardless of who we are and whom we love,” she said.

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