In a conservative society like Cambodia, sexual orientations remain a debatable topic. Some agree to the emergence of the term “LGBT” – lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender – while some remain hesitant to recognise that there are sexual preferences beyond man and woman.
This issue has been frequently covered by the media, and the public has significantly argued about it. There have been persistent calls for equality, awareness and end to discrimination. However, the LGBT community in the kingdom still faces backlash from the traditionalists, still feeling excluded and underserved of their basic rights.
LGBT, which represents a mixed community, have existed in the Kingdom longer than most people thought, but through the introduction of Facebook in Cambodia, the members of the LGBT community finally became visible in the society.
Most young LGBT are open about their sexuality, especially among the transgender and tomboy community. But, there are consequences to being courageous in coming out. LGBT activist Srun Srorn said when they show their true colours, they risk getting discriminated, bullied, or physically abused.
“Old-aged LGBT face mental problems because they cannot express themselves openly. They have to keep it in. But, LGBT youngsters are more confident in telling the world who they are, so they often face physical abuse,” said Srorn.
Seang Sokchann, executive of Cambodian Federation of Employers and Business Associations (CAMFEBA) and an English teacher, said that she hasn’t come out to her family yet. She only came out to a circle of friends as discrimination always comes as a price for coming out.
“I came out to my friends but not to my family, but I will surely come out to them once I feel like I am financially stable and when I am sure that my current partner is sure about us too,” she said. “I faced a lot of bullying when I was young. When I told them I love people from the same sex, they said that I was crazy and they always made fun of me. However, I just let them be. I don’t really care much.”
Nevertheless, she believes that coming out is necessary in getting her voice be heard by the society. To fight for the LGBT rights, the LGBT should be open about their own sexuality. It is a common misconception that gay people are not capable because the truth is that the LGBT people are not any different from or are less able than the heterosexuals. There are LGBT who are outstanding students, long-term couples, artists, soldiers, TV or radio presenters.
Sokchann, 23, further expressed that she never felt like she’s weird or different. She believed that people just don’t understand her well enough and that they still don’t understand that love has many forms.
In some cases, young LGBT are accepted by their family when coming out. Soth Peosamnang, 21, is an openly gay man who has come out to his family and peers. Samnang, soon-to-be-senior at the Royal University of Fine Arts, said that what motivated him to come out to the public as well as to his family was his belief that there’s nothing wrong with his sexual preference.
“After joining a short course called “WHO AM I”, I realised that there is nothing wrong when we know who we are and what we want,” said the archeology student. “I came out the public when I was a freshman and I did not face any big challenge when I came out because my family accepted me for who I am.”
In Cambodia, there are no laws against or for the LGBT community. Cambodia has seen some pride parades over the years since the 2009 Gay Pride. Even though the laws in Cambodia do not recognise same-sex marriage, it does not stop the LGBT people from traditionally marrying.
Samnang feels that Cambodian LGBT is more fortunate than the LGBT in the neighbouring countries since there has been great improvement in the relationship between the LGBT community and the rest of the Cambodian society.