Many communities in the United States have embraced the lifestyles of gays and lesbians.
The Long Beach Lesbian & Gay Pride Festival & Parade has become the third largest in the US, attracting more than 75,000 participants over the two-day celebration in California.
Maine, Maryland and Washington legalised gay marriage in last week’s election, becoming the first US states to do so through popular vote rather than court or legislative action.
Gay marriage is now legal in nine states and the District of Columbia.
A rapid shift in public opinion is supporting their cause as more people grow used to the idea of gay marriage, but this is still a contested issue, as evangelical Christians and the Roman Catholic Church have vowed to fight against gay marriage.
A gay man or a lesbian woman is someone whose primary sexual preference is for a member of his or her own sex.
Much of the discrimination towards gay people is based on the myths people believe about them. For example: AIDS is a gay disease. AIDS is caused by a virus and viruses infect all kinds of people, regardless of their sexual orientation.
Another example: gays and lesbians are mentally ill.
In 1973, the American Psychiatric Association stated that homosexuality was not a mental disorder, and in 1990, the World Health Organization declassified homosexuality as a mental disorder.
Cambodian law states that lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people are entitled to all of the same rights as other individuals. Gay marriage is prohibited. The human rights law is tolerant of male homosexual behaviour provided it does not affect the traditional family structure.
There is pressure in Cambodian society to marry and have children, which adds to the difficulties gay men face in trying to hide their sexuality.
In Phnom Penh, the Lesbian Gay Bisexual and Transgender (LGBT) community has been more open and visible. Since 2003, the LGBT Pride Parade is a yearly event that celebrates gay pride.
Popular gay bars like Blue Chilli and Rainbow have attracted the LGBT community to engage socially and publicly. Another avenue is online, like Facebook, where the initial communication starts. But those from rural areas are often discriminated against, threatened and have their human rights violated.
A Cambodian Center for Human Rights’ Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity (SOGI) project aims to empower LGBT Cambodians by providing information and coordination to allow groups and individuals to network effectively, provide training for documenting instances of abuse occurring, and support in advocating for the recognition of the fact that LGBT people have the same human rights as everyone else.
I had lunch with a young man who told me his story about coming out as a gay Cambodian. He was disowned by his family and was forced to live on the streets and survive on his own.
Drifting away from the people he loved was scarier than the fact he was gay. But he endured, and now is educating others through his experience, and believes that the best way to eliminate homophobia is to dispel ignorance on sexuality.
We should look for the good in everyone we meet and respect their journey, as well as their sexual preference.
For more information, contact The Cambodian Center for Human Rights’ website.
The Social Agenda with Soma Norodom
The views expressed above are solely the author’s and do not reflect any positions taken by The Phnom Penh Post.