(filed by Ng Yi-Sheng)
Most important, I think, was the fact that these activists are all working together, as part of the ASEAN SOGI Caucus. Formed in Jakarta in 2011, this group has been trying, over and over again, to get the ASEAN Intergovernmental Commission on Human Rights (AICHR) to recognize LGBT rights. Their efforts have been rejected by politicians (specifically Malaysia, Singapore and Brunei, boohoo), but they know that they’ve just gotta keep turning up at meetings, or else sexual orientation and gender identity are gonna be conveniently left out of the drafts of human rights demands. They also made the video below:
The presentations also covered individual nations’ work, though. And oh man – as a Singaporean, I’m flabbergasted at the amazing things some of our neighbours have accomplished. In Cambodia, for instance, they’ve only had LGBT Pride Weeks since 2009, but since then they’ve organized ASEAN Pride Week, forged alliances with farmers, ethnic minorities, religious minorities (Muslims included!), all rallying in a parade at the National Assembly when blocked from the steps of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. And they always have monks blessing their events! As Srom Srun says, “If the monks support us, that means the Buddha supports us.”
Everyone’s amazing – in Indonesia Vien incorporates SOGI talks into Woman Peasant Leader training, and forges allies with Catholics over common opposition to extremist Muslim violence. And Thailand has 80-fucking-% approval for gay marriage! Can you believe it?
Also thoughts about religion: the issue of whether we’re going to be able to convince the religious of our cause by quoting scripture; whether politicians who use religion as a tool are religious themselves or just maintaining the status quo; how ASEAN itself is split into chill-relatively-homo-friendly-Buddhist-mainland Southeast Asia and the more fundie-Muslim/Christian insular Southeast Asia; and what the hell are we gonna do about that?
Oh, but terribly informative. Here’s some of the activists’ quotable quotes!
1) Hla Myatt Ton from Colours Rainbow, Burma
As an LGBT network we are like a 14 year-old girl: very new, very pretty, very innocent…
We want people to talk about us. We don’t care if they want to kill us or they want to stop us. Or else we are not activists, right?
3) Vien Tanjung from Herlounge, Indonesia
Don’t do press conference once day before meeting. One day after, can!
4) Anna Arifin from Arus Pelangi, Indonesia
Indonesia is really diverse. Everybody’s really different. But we are a democratic country. We were born that way.
4) Thilaga Sulathireh from Sisters for Justice, Malaysia
The general idea in Malaysia is we are all oppressed. We’re all in the same boat, if we’re gonna sink, let’s sink together.
We [Filipinos] like to sign HR instruments. Really, we love signing. But implementing it is another story.
6) Jean Chong from Sayoni, Singapore
If you want to kill us [over our AICHR recommendations], make sure it’s public and worth it.
In education, textbooks still present LGBTs as a joke.
8) Panisara from Rainbow Sky, Thailand
If Bangkok wants to be capital of ASEAN, we need to set the standard for human rights.
9) Nguyen Hai Yen from ICS, Vietnam
[Hmm, I don’t have anything pithy from her. Sorry.]
As Miss Universe said, “You may say I’m a dreamer but I’m not the only one.” It’s a song?
After this three-day conference, these folks are going to stick around another two days for a specifically ASEAN SOGI discussion. Join us if you like.
Contact ‘em here!