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For many LGBTs, a secret life

Members of the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community dance in a circle during a Pride Week event last year in Phnom Penh’s Tuol Kork district.
Members of the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community dance in a circle during a Pride Week event last year in Phnom Penh’s Tuol Kork district. Charlotte Pert

For many LGBTs, a secret life

LGBT Cambodians face a formidable level of prejudice and discrimination, which for many means a life lived in secrecy and isolation, a major new study of attitudes has revealed.

The survey of almost 1,600 people, straight and LGBT, across seven provinces, published yesterday, found that a third of the 478 LGBT people questioned had not come out to a single person. Of those who took the risk, the vast majority confided only to close friends and family.

“We discovered that the situation for LGBT people is not as bad as it was in the past, but there is still discrimination,” said Da Ny, a representative of Rainbow Community Kampuchea, which commissioned the report.

“We found for instance, that it is still commonplace in Khmer for LGBT people to be referred to as khteuy or PD [a French slang term for a pedophile], which are hurtful pejorative terms.”

A fifth of LGBT Cambodians questioned said they wished they were straight, the report says. In addition, only 20 per cent of gay men and just over a third of lesbians who have chosen to tell someone about their sexuality have come out to their current partner or lover, indicating a significant number were trapped in straight relationships.

Among the 1,085 straight people questioned, 45 per cent described themselves as supportive of LGBT people, 43 per cent opposed and 12 per cent neutral. But negative attitudes are seemingly amplified when the question theoretically involved respondents’ children.

Close to half of those opposed said they would reject their child if the youngster revealed they were LGBT, while close to a fifth of straight respondents who were parents said they would force their LGBT children to date the opposite sex. Those respondents also said they would consider obliging an LGBT child to marry, even though forced marriage is illegal in Cambodia.

Somewhat incongruously, when asked what came into their mind when they heard the term “LGBT people”, a majority said “it’s in their nature” or “they are born that way”.

The report’s authors called on the government to allow same sex couples to marry, to make them eligible for family books and to grant them adoption rights. It also recommended transgender people be allowed to change their travel and other identification documents to reflect their chosen gender.

Council of Ministers spokesman Phay Siphan declined to comment on the government’s official stance yesterday, but said, on a personal level, he was sympathetic to most of the recommendations, and suggested campaigners seek to establish a legal challenge to secure marriage rights for LGBT couples.

“LGBT people go to work and pay taxes like everyone else, so have the right to participate fully in society,” he said. “If a gay couple ... wants a marriage certificate, they should apply for one, and if it’s refused, take their case to court.”

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