What’s going on?
All Photos/Video Courtesy: ASEAN SOGI Caucus
Institutionalized discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity (SOGI) remains pervasive throughout Southeast Asia. LGBTI (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender and Intersex) persons are the targets of discrimination by both state and non-state actors, including members of their own communities, the police, military, and militant religious groups. Local laws criminalize acts that are deemed “unnatural,” and law enforcement agencies often target and harass LGBTI activists who advocate for their rights. The discrimination occurs at homes, schools, workplaces, and other private and public spaces, and constitutes a serious threat to the personal security and fundamental human rights of LGBTI individuals throughout Southeast Asia.
In Southeast Asia today, more and more national LGBTI rights groups are coming out publicly to push back against the tide of intolerance, although they often lack the capacity and resources to conduct effective advocacy.
Freedom House’s Southeast Asia programming is designed to build the capacity of national LGBTI rights organizations that lack the technical and financial resources to effectively advocate for LGBTI rights in the region. Freedom House has provided grants to several local LGBTI organizations to support core regional programming activities and targeted advocacy initiatives in Burma and Thailand. These advocacy projects have the potential to influence public opinion and ultimately help shape important legislation that impacts the LGBTI community in Burma, Thailand, and the broader Southeast Asian region.
During the initial phase of this project, Freedom House conducted assessment missions to the region to gather data and met with LGBTI rights activists from Burma, Cambodia, Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand, and Vietnam. We identified some of the specific challenges and opportunities that local organizations faced in their respective countries as well as emerging national and regional trends related to LGBTI issues. The information gleaned from these assessment missions informed the design for our eventual LGBTI program in Southeast Asia.
As part of this initiative, Freedom House also sponsored and facilitated the participation of three LGBTI/SOGI rights activists from Malaysia, Singapore, and Thailand at the ASEAN Grassroots People’s Assembly (AGPA), a regional civic initiative during the ASEAN Summit in Phnom Penh, Cambodia. The activists and their counterparts produced an LGBTI rights advocacy video entitled, “We are ASEAN,” and their participation in AGPA’s advocacy initiatives were covered by various regional media outlets.
Freedom House’s local partners are currently opening new offices in Rangoon and Bangkok, and have begun organizing community fora, legal consultations, and meetings with parliamentarians and national human rights commissioners to discuss laws that affect the LGBTI community in Burma and Thailand. One organization successfully organized peaceful public assemblies in Burma on May 17 to commemorate the International Day against Homophobia (IDAHO), and is planning a public campaign against a discriminatory bill and law.
In close consultation with local groups, Freedom House’s Southeast Asia program is preparing a series of training workshops on core capacity building for representatives of other LGBTI/SOGI rights organizations across the region.
The Southeast Asia program will consult local LGBTI rights organizations as we finalize the curriculum for the training workshops and monitor and evaluate activities that have been implemented by our partners to date. We are also actively seeking additional opportunities to conduct advocacy in support of LGBTI and SOGI rights in Southeast Asia and to widen the existing space for activists to more openly discuss these issues in the region.