Groundbreaking report looks at LGBT Cambodians

The Cambodian Center for Human Rights released a groundbreaking report on the 9 December titled “Coming Out in the Kingdom: Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender People in Cambodia.”

Rex Wockner

The Cambodian Center for Human Rights released a groundbreaking report on the 9 December titled “Coming Out in the Kingdom: Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender People in Cambodia.”

It says that LGBT Cambodians face unique challenges, including ostracism from their families and communities that often leads to economic hardship as well as discrimination by employers and authorities.

The report argues that the concept of homosexuality as understood in “the West” may not directly transfer to Cambodia.

“The Cambodian understanding of sexuality is derived from concepts of gender, character and personality,” it says. “The focus on these character traits and outwardly visible characteristics instead of sexual orientation means that many Cambodians who are homosexual do not identify themselves as such.”

Buddhism, the report says, generally tolerates homosexuality.

“Homosexuality, whilst seen as an oddity, does not attract the kind of aggressive reaction as can be seen in Christian or Muslim cultures,” it states. “Buddhism itself places no value on marriage or procreation. Marriage and procreation are considered positive if they bring about love and respect, but may be deemed negative if pain or strife is caused. However, in Cambodia, cultural, social and economic pressures override Buddhist teachings on marriage — family values are incredibly important and pressure is strong for sons and daughters to marry and have children.”

“Sexual behavior amongst male youths may be seen as harmless experimentation, since women are expected to remain ‘pure’ until marriage,” the report continues. “Youthful indiscretions may be forgotten or may continue unnoticed. However, eventually men are expected to marry and father children. Given traditional gender roles, women have less ability to pursue same-sex relationships than homosexual males, either privately or publicly.”

“The risk of ostracism from a close family network and economic difficulties posed by living outside the family network may mean that LGBT persons do not live the lives they wish to or have to conduct homosexual relationships in secret,” the researchers conclude.

Nonetheless, an LGBT community is emerging in the nation. A pride celebration, which includes workshops, movies, art exhibits and social gatherings, launched in 2003. Four hundred people attended the culmination of the events in 2009.

Pride organisers have formed an organisation called RoCK to support LGBT people and raise awareness among non-gay Cambodians.

A gay “scene” has developed in Phnom Penh and Siem Reap.

And “the Internet has allowed gay Cambodian people to connect to other gay people, thus raising awareness of a wider, global LGBT community and the possibilities of participating in this,” the report said.

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