Have you ever felt excluded from the society and from your own family? Have you ever been discriminated by your classmates based on your gender? If you haven’t, you’re fortunate. But at least try to put yourself in the shoes of those who have, or maybe offer a listening ear.
This is what the participants of “Our Lives, Our Rights” came for at The Mansion Heritage last Sunday.
It was a hot day, but the members and supporters of the LGBT community of Cambodia who come from different provinces all gathered to celebrate and share their personal stories and the challenges that they have encountered living in a gender-biased world.
“Our Lives, Our Rights”, organised by the Rainbow Community Kampuchea-Rock, was the community’s way to manifest its commitment to unite members of the LGBT and let them be recognised for who they are and not for what the society tells them to be.
Rainbow flags hung vibrantly in every corner of The Mansion Heritage, as photographs depicting Cambodia’s LGBT were artistically lined-up on one side and a henna drawing table on the other. There were several same-sex couples who were very open with their affection, seemingly unabashed by other people’s opinion. After all, that day was their day.
The main event bagan with traditional and contemporary performances by the Medha Drum group.
Keo Remy, chairman of Cambodia Human Rights Committee, said in his opening speech that the performances, photo exhibit and all other activities the organisers had prepared for the special day were all aimed at giving the LGBT people a platform to enjoy and be themselves.
“I understood very clearly the purpose of the game set for today. I could feel what you have been through all this time. So far, I have observed that your group is doing well. I am proud of your strength and for not doing anything negative for our society,” said Mr Remy.
He added, “So keep it up and continue to improve! Unleash your potentials to make yourself be more fruitful for this country!”
H.E. Remy also encouraged all the parents in Cambodia to recorgnise the rights of their children as well as everyone in the community.
“Aside from four basic needs in life, people are in need of romance and relationship. Though the government has strongly supported same-sex relationships, this country will only flourish if everyone accepts the rights of every person.”
Chhum Ratha, shared that Rainbow Community Kampuchea-Rock was initiated in 2009 by some same-sex couples. At present, the community has at least 2000 members who are actively supporting each other and all the projects for the LGBT community.
But even with all the visible improvements, Rainbow Community acknowledges that Cambodia still has a long way go in terms of full acceptance and recognition of the members of the LGBT.
“We have main challenges such as getting married, getting our identity and adopting children legally. Aside from these, we are still discriminated by our family, school, workplace and the community as whole. I think people are not yet aware about our rights; that is the reason we try to cultivate some knowledge through videos and workshops centered on sexual orientation and gender identity,” emphasised Ratha.
Bom Sokvin, a new member of the Rainbow Community Kampuchea-Rock, shared that she was badly isolated from family and friends after she came out to them. But after joining the community, she now feels more accepted and loved. Being part of the group, she said, made her discover her real self.
“I grew up with a tomboy character and my mother really hated me because of that. When I came to study in Phnom Penh few years ago, she stopped me from going into the university and dragged me to marry a guy as I started to cut my hair short when I moved here. I always wondered why I should be hated when I have not done bad things like taking drugs?”
She added, “I left home and their love towards me was shattered. I couldn’t just do what they want me to do; I know in myself that I am attracted to girls. It’s not my choice. People always judge me on how I show my love. I believe that no matter what your gender is, love and responsibility are the biggest things we should have.”
Though she has been trying to overcome social barriers for seven years now, she still thinks positively that one day LGBT group will be treated equally. To attain this, she urges all LGBT people to do good things. She also persuades parents to not discriminate their own children if they choose to follow their hearts; because whatever group they choose to be in, they are still worthy of love and respect.
The event went on for a full day. Chapei performances, 1960s songs and pop songs reverberated throughout the venue and everyone had a good time.
The Rainbow Community Kampuchea-Rock, which is currently marking its 10th anniversary, hopes to open more opportunities for the LGBT community to exercise their rights and be recognised as a worthy citizen of Cambodia.