Being LGBT In Southeast Asia: Stories Of Abuse, Survival And Tremendous Courage

LGBT groups in Southeast Asia are working double-time to bring about change.

This is a 10-part series on LGBT rights in Southeast Asia, which uncovers the challenges facing the LGBT community in the region and highlights the courageous work of activists there. For the next nine days, we’ll be telling the stories of each country in the region. There will be a new one each day. Scroll to read them.
Singapore – “No one cares about Southeast Asia,” LGBT activist Jean Chong says, her eyes downcast as she lets out a small mirthless laugh. “The western world — they find it hard to comprehend how backward we are when it comes to LGBT and human rights. They don’t understand the sophistication of oppression here.”

Chong is based in Singapore, one of four Southeast Asian nations where it is illegal to be gay. One of the four Asian Tigers, Singapore — with its towering skyscrapers and affluent, well-educated population — may be one of the richest countries in the world, but when it comes to LGBT rights, it has an appalling record. Chong says it’s become a “leader” in limiting, rather than protecting, the rights of its people.

“Singapore is a case study of what happens when you have economic success without human rights,” Chong, who is a co-founder of the LGBT rights organization Sayoni, says. “And what’s disturbing is how a lot of countries, like China and Laos and Russia, now want to copy Singapore’s model.”

Sayoni has been documenting cases of abuse and discrimination against Singapore’s LGBT community over the last few years. It’s the first time that such a project has been undertaken here, and Chong says she’s been “shocked” by what they’ve uncovered.

“It’s been quite emotional,” she says.

Dressed in black on a sticky September afternoon, Chong has an easy, open demeanor. Her eyes smile behind her silver-rimmed spectacles. She speaks evenly, and without anger, about the challenging work she does — lobbying lawmakers and trying to change unwilling hearts. At the end of our meeting at a downtown cafe, she envelops me in a warm embrace.
Yet, when asked to share stories from the people she met during the project, her shoulders stiffen and her voice quavers.

“There’s so much abuse that’s being underreported, especially within the family,” she says. “There are cases of so-called ‘corrective’ rape, or kids becoming homeless after being kicked out. One girl told me she was raped by her brother’s friend but when she told her parents, they said she had ‘deserved it’ because she was a lesbian. There have been all kinds of horror stories. Violence has just become so normalized.”

“I look tomboyish and there’s a lot of gender-policing,” she says. “I have people who will just walk up to me and tell me I should get beaten up. Non-conformity disturbs people.”

Stories like these, Chong says, are unfortunately not unique to Singapore. The rejection of the LGBT community is endemic across Southeast Asia (defined for the purposes of this article as the 10 member states of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, or ASEAN). The countries may be vastly different in their politics, economy, culture and history — from communist Vietnam to Sharia-ruled Brunei to Myanmar, which is struggling to open itself to the world after years of oppressive rule — but they all share at least one problematic trait.

“If you look at Brunei, Singapore, Malaysia, Myanmar, and also Laos, it’s very backward when it comes to LGBT rights … but even in the other, more ‘progressive’ countries, there are problems. Butch women are being killed in rural areas in Thailand, trans women are being targeted in the Philippines,” Chong says.

by Dominique Mosbergen, Senior Writer, The Huffington Post
Source – The Huffington Post