Claiming LGBT Rights in the ASEAN Community

Alongside 11 country flags of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) activists waved a rainbow flag Wednesday at the opening of the region’s Civil Society Conference and People’s Forum (ACSC/APF) in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.

LGBT activists waving rainbow flags during the opening ceremony of the 2015 ACSC/APF. Photo courtesy Ryan Villaruel, ASEAN SOGIE Caucus.

Under the conference theme “Reclaiming the ASEAN Community for the People.” the International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission (IGLHRC) and the ASEAN SOGIE Caucus are jointly presenting two workshops and the caucus has set up a booth for LGBT human rights education. An Indonesian LGBT organization, Arus Pelangi will screen a short film on LGBT human rights defenders.

The bold and brave affirmation of LGBT activists is taking place amidst the opposition on LGBT issues of religious extremist groups in Malaysia. A blog post questioned the inclusion of LGBT issues and participants in the people’s forum while a group of people filed a complaint with the office of former Malaysian Prime Minister Abdullah Badawi who was scheduled to give the opening speech at the 10th anniversary event. The people's forum began in 2005 in Malaysia under his premiership.

Two days before the event, Badawi withdrew citing being unwell.

Indonesian flag bearers don a rainbow garment during the opening ceremony.

At the ASEAN SOGIE Caucus Booth visitors get prizes for answering questions about LGBT rights.

Since 2011, LGBT activists in the region have slowly increased their presence in the biggest regional gathering of civil society organizations. We have increased support for LGBT rights by helping other members of the ASEAN community understand that LGBT issues are of equal importance as other human rights and civil society concerns in the region.

Efforts by religious extremists to exclude LGBT activists will be a test for conference organizers and participants.

Will LGBT people be silenced and banished? Will they be able to claim this civil society gathering as equals?