Report Brings to Focus Rights of LGBTIQ Persons in Southeast Asia

ASEAN SOGIE Caucus launched its latest report, “The Rainbow in Context: An Overview of the Situation of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Intersex, and Queer (LGBTIQ) Persons in Southeast Asia”. The report is the first in Southeast Asia and provides a summary of various human rights issues facing LGBTIQ people in the region.

The report highlighted key human rights trends, such as the increasing criminalization and pathologization of LGBTIQ people amidst the rising influence of conservative social forces. The report likewise discusses the increasing threats to human rights defenders working on sexual orientation, gender identity and expression, and sex characteristics (SOGIESC). Moreover, persistent discrimination in accessing social services and protection is also brought to light.

“We recognize some advances: new policies that address discrimination against LGBTIQ persons were adopted in Cambodia, Philippines, and Thailand, for example,” Ryan Silverio, the Regional Coordinator of ASEAN SOGIE Caucus, stated. “However, we need to recognize that beyond these gains are gloomy political context where serious human rights violations take place. We cannot just take LGBTIQ rights in isolation.”

The report situates both the gains and challenges faced by LGBTIQ human rights defenders and their allies within an increasingly fragile political environment. It also notes that progress made in various countries in Southeast Asia, noting the dilemmas of such initiatives being pursued by governments with questionable human rights records. The report further cautions about the use of LGBTIQ advocacy to scapegoat harsh political realities in some countries.

“Overall, the situation is alarming,” says Thilaga Sulathireh, co-founder of Justice for Sisters, a Malaysia-based grassroots organization working for the rights of transgender women communities (locally known as mak nyah). “In Indonesia, you have records of direct attacks by non-state actors and government forces against LGBTIQ activists. And in Malaysia, the government is funding and sponsoring harmful programmes and myths regarding LGBTIQ persons, adopting a soft approach to convert LGBTIQ persons into socially accepted identities.”
The report writes that the growing activity of LGBTIQ groups “have created a fertile ground to build LGBTIQ rights advocacy, yet it also led some governments to view them as a threat.” It reiterated the need for human rights defenders to “pave the way for the recognition of LGBTIQ
rights as a regional norm, as integral to rather than counter to ASEAN values.”

“Our issues as LGBTIQ persons are cross-cutting and intersectional. If we want LGBTIQ advocacy to move forward, we have to move together with other social movements,” emphasized Jean Chong, co-founder of Sayoni, an organization focused on the advancement of queer women’s issues in Singapore. “LGBTIQ people need to work with women, children, migrant workers, persons with disabilities – everyone.”

The publication is officially launched as part of a series of events organized during the ASEAN
Civil Society Conference / ASEAN People’s Forum (ACSC/APF) held in the Philippines on 10-14
November 2017.