Cambodia: A reality of poverty for LGBTI people. An interview with LGBTI activist Srorn Srun

Srorn speaking about LGBTI rights on the radio
Srorn speaking about LGBTI rights on the radio

1)    In your experience, what are the main issues that LGBTI people living in poverty face in Cambodia?

Srorn-picIn my activism in Cambodia, I have noticed the following challenges that many LGBTI people face because of their sexual orientation, gender identity, or the way their bodies look:

(a) An issue that most LGBTI Cambodians face is rejection by their families which forces many LGBTI people to leave home, to give up school at a very young age and to live in poverty.  Families with LGBTI children feel ashamed and are pressurised by neighbours and relatives to reject them;

(b) The police often discriminate against gay and transgender women including by arresting them in public places.  Also many lesbian and transgender men have been forced to marry men by their families who receive the support of the local mayor and the police despite the fact that there are no laws that criminalise LGBTI people in Cambodia;

(c) Another important issue faced by the LGBTI community is the lack of access to health services including sexual and reproductive health, which contributes to deepening their situation of poverty.   For example, many transgender men and transgender women are taking hormones to make their bodies look different.  However they can only access such medicines in the black market and, as we have reported, many die as a result while others become severely ill.  It is also very common for MSM and gay men to contract HIV and other sexually transmitted infections (STIs), which contributes to them becoming poorer.

2)  How do you think LGBTI people could overcome such challenges?

Srorn-Rainbow-CAT
Srorn-Rainbow-CAT

Unfortunately, because of the widespread discrimination and hostile environment that LGBTI people face, it is very difficult for them to overcome the above challenges.  I think gay men and transgender women tend to be more independent as they were born male, which makes it easier in our society to be brave and to leave the family home with more confidence yet they still end up facing the above problems. Once LGBTI people are rejected by their families they become homeless and often the only support they receive is from close friends who might offer a temporary place to sleep.  In an attempt to earn an income, many LGBTI people become sex workers, including many lesbians who have been rejected by their families.  They often work in the entertainment industry and sell sex as well as using drugs.  The little support they can receive from the government is only related to HIV/AIDS prevention between MSM rather than related to their conditions of poverty and they are rarely inclusive of LGBTI human rights especially in relation  to lesbians and transgender men.

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