ACSC/APF Participants Came Out as One ASEAN Community Clamoring for Human Rights!

Instead of a protective indoor location, the closing ceremony of the civil society conference of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) took place on one of Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia’s busiest streets on Friday, April 24, providing activists from the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) community a very public setting to raise their voices.

LGBT marchers joined more than 1,000 civil society representatives along Ampang Avenue to symbolize one community, unified and in solidarity with one another to protest the continuing negligence of the 10 Southeast Asian governments in protecting human rights.

Parading with a giant rainbow flag, the LGBT contingent shouted, “What do we want? LGBT rights! When do we want it? Now?” in their own symbolic display of the need to integrate human rights based on sexual orientation, gender identity and gender expression, within civil society as a whole. LGBT participants were joined by different sectors shouting in solidarity with each other’s calls for human rights.

LGBT rights is recognized by civil society activists in the ASEAN region as one of the regional priorities. Over the past five years, there has been increasing cooperation and solidarity with LGBT groups as partners for human rights, and recognizing discrimination and inequality based on sexual orientation or gender identity to be among the central human rights concerns.

One striking example this time was the Malaysian national organizing committee providing security to LGBT participants to protect against any possible protests from groups opposing their inclusion in the conference.

LGBT individuals face multiple and intersecting forms of discrimination. One participant, Kong Yara of CamASEAN from Cambodia, said, “LGBTIQ people live in poverty due to limited employment opportunities because of the discrimination they face and this is aggravated by the lack of education and familial support while growing up.”

“Where is SOGIE (sexual orientation and gender identity/expression) in the ASEAN economic blueprint? How can ASEAN maximize the potential of LGBTIQ people to contribute to the economic stability of the country and region when employment is denied to people because of their SOGIE?” asked Vien Tanjung, of Indonesia, a member of the ASEAN SOGIE (Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity/Expression) Caucus.

Ryan Sylverio, ASC regional coordinator recommends, “LGBTIQ people should work in solidarity with other sectors in pushing for human rights by educating CSOs about SOGIE issues and letting them recognize our presence in all sectors since there are gay migrant workers, lesbian farmers, transgender children, lesbian indigenous person, gay youth because we are ASEAN too.”