The rights of LGBT people took centrestage at an event to celebrate Human Rights Day at the FCC mansion in Phnom Penh yesterday.
Organised by NGO CamAsean, which advocates on behalf of marginalised people, the morning conference included a rap performance by lesbian and transgender teenagers, and an exhibition of photos and films featuring the lives and struggles of LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender) people.
“Today is all about marginalised people,” said CamAsean facilitator Kong Yara. “We have representatives here from LGBT communities, sex workers, drug users and people living with HIV.”
Yara added that CamAsean was using the day to call on the government to make ID cards more widely available to those on the edge of society.
“Many LGBTI [intersex] and other marginalised people don’t have an ID card, which makes it very hard for them to access medical and other government services,” he said.
According to Chhoeurng Rachana of Micro Rainbow International, LGBT people face discrimination in the workplace.
“We want to see government policies which encourage the private sector to give LGBT people equal opportunities when they apply for jobs,” she said. “Gay and lesbian friends of mine have been rejected at interviews because of how they look or come across. If a woman is wearing boyish clothes for instance, employers sometimes won’t offer her the job.”
According to CamAsean project manager and lesbian Saophorn Phoeng, more needs to be done to help the LGBT community stay in school.
“Because they face prejudice from staff and other pupils, many LGBTI people drop out of school early, destroying their life chances,” she said.
“We want the government to make sure that at a provincial and district level, LGBTI people don’t experience discrimination from teachers and other public servants.”
A 26-year-old jewellery shop supervisor, who preferred not to be named, said that life for a gay Cambodian can be hard.
“I don’t have any gay friends, and when I told my best friend at school I was gay when I was 15, she told me she hated gays and never spoke to me again,” he said. “Some people can have an open life as a gay man in Cambodia, but I don’t feel strong enough.”
Nonetheless, he was upbeat about the future.
“I think the level of homophobia is coming down a little bit now,” he said. “And I hope I might be ready to come out in two or three years’ time.”