Today marks the International Transgender Day of Visibility, an event civil society organisations say is much needed in Cambodia, where transgender men and women face daily discrimination.
Say Seaklay, an advocacy officer at LGBT-rights NGO Rainbow Community Kampuchea (RoCK) and himself a transgender man, said acceptance was low in Cambodia and discrimination occurred in everyday life: in schools, at the workplace, in local communities.
One of the most prominent examples of discrimination, he recounted, was when he got fired from his internship at a local NGO working in the development sector about three years ago because they found out that he was transgender.
“They just stopped me from working there,” he said. “They said they used to have experience in working with transgenders, and they think transgenders cannot work for that organisation.”
Meanwhile, he said his neighbours “think the LGBT [people] decrease the population ... They always say ‘you should marry a man and have a child’.”
While he was “very grateful” that the government had been “very supportive of the transgender community” and transgender visibility had increased over the past year in media and the public, he said the government could still do more.
He argued the government should offer services such as hormone treatment to accommodate the needs of some transgender people. Em Chan Makara, a Ministry of Social Affairs spokesman, said his ministry should write guidelines to combat discrimination, but that research was needed first.
He acknowledged, however, that his ministry so far had no plans to conduct such research. He explained that he believed transgenderism was either caused by karma or by food.
“Today, the food can have a lot of chemicals … When pregnant mothers have a baby, they can eat something [that causes it],” he said.
He added that one of his relatives, Em Tit, was also a transgender man. Tit yesterday said that his family was not happy when he told them that he was transgender, but that he kept trying to explain what he felt.
“For now, my mum, she opened [her] heart with me,” he said, but added that his family’s friends often looked down on him. But, he said, “I don’t care.”
“Nowadays I have my own business and I can make my dream come true.”