Last Thursday, while in Phnom Penh, we met with the employee of an NGO that works on the prevention and cure of HIV AIDS in Cambodia. I’ve learned a little bit about the AIDs epidemic in the USA but I assumed that it was no longer an issue worldwide. Unfortunately, in Cambodia, it is still a big issue but the population isn’t educated on how to prevent it. Since two of the main groups of people who contract AIDs are gay men and transgender women, the government doesn’t care enough to make a big effort in education and awareness. Ratana, the man we spoke with, works in prevention and awareness. He helps people make appointments with doctors and consultants but most people don’t want to talk face to face with him because of the remaining stigma around the illness. So, Ratana has been working on a website for the NGO so that patients can make appointments and ask questions without feeling embarrassed. He is also working on an instagram campaign by asking those with lots of followers to spread thee word.
He also spoke to what it is like to be a member of the LGBTQ+ community in Cambodia. The community has been trying for years to get a pride parade in Phnom Penh but the government keeps vetoing it on the basis that the parade might turn political, but the community has been able to start an annual tuk-tuk race where people come dressed in the colors of the rainbow. Another big issue is the amount of representation in the government. There are no members of government who are out as LGBTQ+ and very few allies so there have been no anti-discrimination laws that directly protects the community. Also, marriage between same-sex couples is illegal in Cambodia, though since marriage isn’t as important here as elsewhere, this isn’t a very big deal.
Many people in Cambodia are kicked out of their families but things often improve after you become financially stable because it shows parents that their identity won’t ruin their careers. Since Buddhism in Cambodia is very community based, getting the support of your family determines whether or not the rest of your community will support you. Some members of our group shared what life is like for members of the LGBTQ+ community in the USA and he seemed surprised by how young some community members are when they come out. He said that he can’t imagine coming out as a teenager, still under their parents roof.
Ratana and his NGO are doing such great work, helping people protect themselves from AIDs or get help for it. It is so sad that members of the LGBTQ+ community can’t show their pride and I hope that will change soon and that maybe one day, the community will be able to hold parades and show their love without fear.