A Gay Laotian Man Talks About Life in Luang Prabang, Laos
Laos is not as popular with LGBT travellers as their neighbours Thailand, Cambodia and even Vietnam but it is worth considering visiting, particularly beautiful Luang Prabang.
This article was written by Stefan and Sebastien and first appeared on their Nomadic Boys gay travel blog.
Laos has a mixed attitude toward gay people.
It appears to be another Asian country struggling hard to accept and protect its LGBT population. There are no anti discrimination laws in place and marriage equality is nowhere near being implemented.
Yet, there are no laws criminalizing homosexuality and haven’t really ever been since independence. We felt completely at ease traveling as a gay couple in Laos: locals just didn’t bat an eyelid when they worked out we are not really brothers.
We also noticed a very accepting attitude towards ladyboys (just like in Thailand), more so than in the West.
We met a local gay man named Somphorn, who gave us some insight into what it’s like growing up gay in Laos.
Sabaidi Somphorn! Where are you from and what do you do?
Bonjour Les Nomadic Boys. My name is Somphorn Boupha. I am 28 years old and I am from Luang Prabang in North Laos. I own and manage Lao Lao Garden in Luang Prabang, which is a gay-friendly bar and restaurant.
Are you out to your friends and family?
Yes, all my family and friends know I’m gay. I came out to my family when I was around 20 years old. My mother said she always suspected I was different and was very accepting, as were all my siblings. I lost my father from a young age so I never really knew him.
What’s it like growing up as a gay boy in Laos?
I was really lucky to have a very accepting family and group of friends, which made it easy. However, there were no gay places so it was hard to meet other guys. Now the social media apps have made this a lot easier.
It can be problematic though for some to gain employment in government or other high status sectors if they are openly gay as there are no anti discrimination laws.
Discretion is therefore important. Everyone around me knows I’m gay, but as long as I don’t shout out loud about it, then everything is fine.
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Laos Lao: officially the Lao People’s Democratic Republic (LPDR) (French: République démocratique populaire lao), is a landlocked country in Southeast Asia, bordered by Burma and the People’s Republic of China to the northwest, Vietnam to the east, Cambodia to the south, and Thailand to the west. Since 1975, it has been ruled by a Marxist and communist government. Its population was estimated to be around 6.8 million in July 2014.
Laos traces its history to the kingdom of Lan Xang, which existed from the 14th to the 18th century when it split into three kingdoms. In 1893, it became a French protectorate, with the three kingdoms — Luang Phrabang, Vientiane and Champasak — uniting to form what is now known as Laos. It briefly gained independence in 1945 after Japanese occupation, but returned to French rule until it was granted autonomy in 1949. Laos became independent in 1953, with a constitutional monarchy under Sisavang Vong. Shortly after independence, a long civil war ended the monarchy, when the Communist Pathet Lao movement came to power in 1975.
Laos is a single-party socialist republic. It espouses Marxism and is governed by a single party communist politburo dominated by military generals. The Socialist Republic of Vietnam and the Vietnam People’s Army continue to have significant influence in Laos. The capital city is Vientiane. Other large cities include Luang Prabang, Savannakhet, and Pakse. The official language is Lao. Laos is a multi-ethnic country with the politically and culturally dominant Lao people making up approximately 60% of the population, mostly in the lowlands. Mon-Khmer groups, the Hmong, and other indigenous hill tribes, accounting for 40% of the population, live in the foothills and mountains.
Laos’ strategy for development is based on generating electricity from its rivers and selling the power to its neighbours, namely Thailand, China, and Vietnam. Its economy is accelerating rapidly with the demands for its metals.
It is a member of the Asia-Pacific Trade Agreement (APTA), Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), East Asia Summit and La Francophonie. Laos applied for membership of the World Trade Organization (WTO) in 1997; on 2 February 2013, it was granted full membership.
According to the anti-corruption non-governmental organization Transparency International, Laos remains one of the most corrupt countries in the world. This has deterred foreign investment and created major problems with the rule of law, including the nation’s ability to enforce contract and business regulation. This has contributed to a third of the population of Laos currently living below the international poverty line (living on less than US$1.25 per day). Laos has a low-income economy, with one of the lowest annual incomes in the world. In 2013, Laos ranked in 138th place (tied with Cambodia) on the Human Development Index (HDI), indicating that Laos has lower medium to low development. According to the Global Hunger Index (2013), Laos ranks as the 25th hungriest nation in the world out of the list of the 56 nations with the worst hunger situation(s). Laos has had a poor human rights record.
While homosexuality is legal in Laos, it is very difficult to assess the current state of acceptance and violence that lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) citizens face, because the government does not allow those who are not associated with the government to conduct polls on human rights. Numerous claims have suggested that Laos is one of the most tolerant communist states at the current time, with a growing acceptance of homosexuality. However, numerous reports have claimed that gay men are far likelier to be tolerated in the country than lesbians; an attitude that has been apparent throughout Lao history. Despite such progress, discrimination still exists.
Trip plan suggestion for South East Asia – Round trip covering Thailand, Cambodia, Vietnam and Laos. Length of the trip – four weeks. I will come back with more details in one of my next posts.