Mon 31 Mar 2014
Filed under: Human Rights,Inside Burma,News
Earlier this month, Burmese newspapers and journals ran wild with the news that Burma had seen its first gay wedding.
The ceremony was reported by AFP, and soon other international news publications such as The Wall Street Journal and The Huffington Post picked up the story.
However, Myo Min Htet and Tin Ko Ko, who held the celebration, said the story was exaggerated.
“It is distressing, the story was published without permission. And there were many errors,” said Tin Ko Ko. “We were celebrating our tenth anniversary – not a wedding.”
Nonetheless, the celebration marked the first time a gay couple has declared their relationship publicly in Burma. It stirred considerable public debate.
In Burma, homosexuality is not illegal, although sodomy is. Section 377 of the county’s penal code states: “Whoever voluntarily has carnal intercourse against the order of nature with any man, woman or animal,” is punishable by ten years to life imprisonment. The wording of the law means some heterosexual acts are also illegal. However these days prosecutions are rare.
At a lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) rights conference in Yangon, Aung Myo Min, LBGT and human rights activist, said the law is flawed.
“The law itself has flaws. It also talks about acts against women but it is threatening to us. There is no actual law against homosexuality,” he said.
After Tin Ko Ko and Myo Min Htets’s celebration, rumours spread that the police were investigating them, a claim that Tin Ko Ko said was also untrue.
“Actually, they didn’t interview us and the police didn’t take any action against us. They got their information from Facebook. The deputy station officer from the western district police station had already stated that the police had not brought us in for questioning,” said Tin Ko Ko.
“When we finished the anniversary celebration, we both just left and went to work. There was no problem,” he said.
Tin Ko Ko is a member of LGBT rights group Kings N Queens. And Myo Min Htet works as a project manager for an organisation that assists LGBT people with healthcare.
Despite their work with the community they said their tenth anniversary celebration was not an event to get international attention advocating LGBT rights.
“We care for each other and we often ask each other for help. We are like a family and we enjoy it. That is all,” Tin Ko Ko said.
There is no legal protection for LGBT people in Burma and they face widespread social discrimination and police persecution.
Tin Ko Ko’s friend Ngel Ngel is a well-known beautician in Rangoon. He has suffered years of bullying from his former colleagues for wearing make-up and women’s clothes.
He left home because he couldn’t stand his father’s disapproval.
“In school they said a boy must be like a boy and a girl must be like a girl. They believe that we are unnatural. I wanted to live in my own style, so I had to fight against all of them,” he said.
However Ngel Ngel believes that attitudes towards the LGBT community are slowly changing.
“In the past, everybody criticised us. Now people are becoming more aware and it is encouraging for people like me,” he said.
After their big celebration and the following press interest, Tin Ko Ko and Myo Min Htet looked forward to getting back to normal.
“Like the past ten years, we will try to understand each other. We will build understanding between us. But I’m worried there may be repercussions for what we did,” said Tin Ko Ko.
“We won’t change,” Myo Min Htet said with a smile. “We are still the same as we were ten years ago.”