Former armed revolutionary and current human rights activist Aung Myo Min establshed Equality Myanmar 20 years ago last month. But even after inroads, equality for the LGBTQ+ community in the staunchly conservative country remains a distant reality
GBT people are everywhere at every point in history,” said Aung Myo Min, executive director of Equality Myanmar and prominent LGBT and human rights activist.
A student leader during the 1988 democracy movement in Myanmar before being exiled to Thailand for 24 years, Aung Myo Min was one of the first openly gay men among the revolutionaries. “But, society in 1980s Burma made it incredibly difficult for people to open up about their sexuality and sexual orientation,” he told the Globe.
20-years ago last month, in July 2000, Aung Myo Min set up the Human Rights Education Institute of Burma (HREIB) – what would later become known as Equality Myanmar – to not only work to improve the rights of the LGBTQ+ community, but human rights across the country.
Two decades on, the work of Equality Myanmar and other civil society activists means that progress has been made to reform attitudes towards the community in the staunchly conservative country, with some LGBT candidates even contesting this November’s General Election.
But with homosexuality still criminalised, a military-drafted constitution in place ready to stifle reform on that front, not to mention gross human rights violations continuing to impact communities across the country, there remains a long way to go to cement civil liberties for Myanmar’s LGBT community.
If a year is a long time in politics, 32 years is an age – yet it seems in Myanmar attitudes towards the LGBT community, while loosened in some circles, remain little changed in others since Aung Myo Min’s participation in the 8888 democracy movement.
“The Buddhist religion is like most religions – it’s not really tolerant or friendly towards LGBT people,” said Aung Myo Min. “In Myanmar, there is a deep-rooted conservative culture within society and at the time, back in 1988, the space for LGBT people was very limited.”
As recently as May, a new school textbook provoked outrage as it featured a fictional same-sex couple, pushing boundaries and bucking tradition. The military-backed opposition Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP), Buddhist monks and conservative parents called the book immoral and a threat to Burmese culture, demanding the Ministry of Education revise the book or throw it out completely.
“It would not be okay if same-sex case studies are in the textbook as it hasn’t been culturally accepted in our country,” Maung Thynn, a USDP MP, told German news agency DW in July.