Shinn Thant, the programme officer of Colors Rainbow. (Photo: Ei Cherry Aung/Myanmar Now)
‘LGBT people are passed over for employment opportunities’
Shin Thant is an activist working with Colors Rainbow, discusses advocating for the rights of Myanmar’s Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender (LGBT) community.
By Ei Cherry Aung
YANGON (Myanmar Now) - Shin Thant is an activist working with Colors Rainbow, an NGO advocating for the rights of Myanmar’s Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender (LGBT) community.
Colors Rainbow is a network organization among NGOs and was formed in 2007. It has 16 full-time staffers and offices in Yangon and Dawei. Each year it organises community events, such as on World AIDS Day and International Day Against Homophobia, to raise awareness of LGBT rights in Myanmar.
Shin Thant, who is the network’s programme officer, spoke to Myanmar Now in a personal capacity about the challenges for these groups, where they face discrimination because of Myanmar’s traditional, conservative society.
Question: What sort of activities does Colors Rainbow do to promote LGBT rights?
Answer: We publish magazines, calendars and pamphlets to raise public awareness, while we share relevant knowledge on LGBT rights with men, women or LGBTs. We also arrange provide training courses on advocacy, capacity building, networking, access to justice and media communication if any organisation invites us. We have communication networks with groups representing women, the disabled, youths and students. We have a branch offices in Hlaing Tharyar Township in Yangon and in Pyay Township in Bago Region. We also provide legal assistance in case of prosecution of LGBT members.
Q: Do Myanmar’s laws discriminate against LGBT members?
A: The existing laws neither discriminate, nor support LGBT rights. But we feel social discrimination, such as in education and employment opportunities. Although an LGBT person might be brilliant, they are passed over for employment opportunities or job promotions. Many LGBTs are discriminated in either their job, or by their family members.
Q: How would you like laws to better protect LGBTs?
A: Hate speech on such issues may lead to serious conflicts. New anti-discrimination laws should cover LGBTs. Smile Education, a civil society group, is leading efforts to draft such an ‘anti-discrimination bill’ and we are also invited in this process.
Q: What sort of provisions should be included in this bill?
A: We would like to suggest that LGBTs have their own rights to dress up their bodies, and they can freely decide to choose their lovers. Now, they face disturbances, especially in schools, in the form of teasing such as taking off pants and punching. Such annoyances are threatening their confidence and learning in society.
LGBTs do not receive fair healthcare services. Some performances and characters in entertainment programmes destroy the dignity of LGBTs and give a misleading image of us. The audience could take up this wrong image. The new law should include prevention of such wrong messages by the media.
Q: What do LGBTs expect from the National League for Democracy government?
A: The new government has invited the contribution of LGBTs and the disabled in drafting a youth policy. I expect the continuation of such opportunities for us as this is a genuine, elected civilian government. After the government has implemented its political priorities, they need to understand our concerns. We also expect to meet with senior government officials.
Q: Why has Myanmar society difficulty to accept LGBT people?
A: Some persons have good attitude towards LGBTs, while some young people have impolite manners when greeting LGBTs. A discriminating attitude is not directly concerned with education level, but it is related with their environment. Loving kindness and sympathy will help them understand us. Some persons felt hatred when they see any LGBT…. Such persons should change their mindset and accept diversity of views and rights.
Q: Do you face any problems when dealing with authorities because of your identity?
A: Previously, I wore male clothes when I applied for a passport. But when I went to the office for an extension of passport in 2016, I dressed in female clothes. But it was OK! Although my photo in the passport shows me like a woman, my gender is indicated with “Mr.”
Q: What is your personal ambition as a LGBT activist?
A: I would like to speak out for the rights of sex workers, HIV/Aids sufferers, youth and women, in addition to promoting LGBT rights. I want to implement these tasks as a parliamentarian if I were elected. My expectation is to be more than just a make-up artist or fashion designer. I want to run for parliament in the 2025 General Election. This will be a major challenge for me. Will our society accept this socially or legally? Will people vote for me? How should I dress in the parliament - male or female dress? Will this culture block my expectations?
Similarly, other LGBTs will have their own expectations to become military officers or diplomats. But will it be accepted by law? Will any political party accept an LGBT? Will any party field me as candidate for the elections? I have many questions to political parties regarding their stance on LGBT.
Q: It seems Myanmar’s public is more tolerant of LGBT celebrities than ordinary gay people. What do you think of that?
A: Sister San (a gay singer) performs in a music video. This can work as a type of media campaign for the rights of LGBT. Celebrities are more influential among the public than ordinary persons. I welcome LGBT celebrities, they can take a role on educating public about LGBT rights.