British colonial rule continues to do harm across South and Southeast Asia, particularly regarding the LGBT community. Myanmar, known as Burma until 1989, is still haunted by Section 377 of the British Penal Code, which criminalizes same-sex sexual relations. This is a code that activists in India, Singapore, and Myanmar are all attempting to overturn.
This is not something that sits on the record but authorities ignore. Rather, this outdated law continues to cause harm to the LGBT community in these countries because it is used to uphold discriminatory behaviors and hate crimes. In a recent regional parliamentary session in Mandalay, Myanmar this past August, Dr. Myint Kyu, Minister of Border and Security Affairs, called on the police to “have the gays detained at police stations, educate them, then hand them back to their parents.” These statements came after a 2013 case in which police did in fact arrest a group of gay men and transgender women without charges. It was there that the group was abused in detention.
By calling upon the police to perpetuate brutality against the LGBT community, Kyu is creating a system of justification for the community. For government officials and agency heads to call upon police to detain people for their sexuality builds a system of legalized discrimination.
The perpetuation of prejudice that is rooted in colonialism and continues today across South and South East Asia has had a lasting impact on the regions LGBT community. The Human Rights Watch has been prompted to push for Myanmar’s government to “publicly condemn grossly discriminatory remarks” made by officials. While this would be a step in the right direction for the country, ultimately, this would barely scratch the surface of the needs of the LGBT community. Systematic marginalization takes small steps to undo, but in the meantime, it is the community that suffers.
Sources: Human Rights Watch
Mehek Naresh is an Indian American lesbian, living and working in Florida after recently graduating with a Bachelors in Political Science. Her hobbies seeking out small talk with cashiers, reading, and spending more time staring at tumblr than she’d care to admit.