Thumb sm
LGBT Community in Myanmar Says 'Enoug...
burma
By Pablo L. Orosa
09 Mar 2015

At sundown, only the golden dome of the Shwedagon Pagoda shines in the Yangon's sky. Now the bustle of the afternoon has disappeared and the People's Park, one of the most crowded places in the city, remains in silence. In the west corner, at least fifty candles cry out against tortures, harassment, police abuses and discrimination. Hidden for 50 years, Burma's LGTB community is now clamoring for their rights. 

“Some weeks ago, a friend of mine was walking in the lane, here in Yangon, when a group of men started to insult him because of his sexuality. Right after, they attacked and beat him”. Incidents like this, reported by Zae Ya, a spokesperson of activist group Colors Rainbow, are quite frequent in Burma. Despite the improvement achieved since the dissolution of the Military Junta in 2011, lesbian, gay, transgender and bisexual people are still facing bullying and violence in their daily life. “Sexual orientation and gender identity (SOGI) minorities do suffer from social prejudices and discrimination”, says Lynette Chua, an expert on LGTB issues and professor of Law at the National University of Singapore.

In Burma, homosexuality is not illegal, although it is de facto outlawed under Section 377 of the Penal Code 1860, which defines the ‘unnatural offence’ of carnal intercourse against the order of nature with any man, woman or animal and punishes it by imprisonment for up to ten years. In theory, this offense could be applied to all genders, but in fact it is interpreted by the police as criminalizing male consensual homosexual conduct as well as other “unnatural” sex forms.

This law was inherited from the British colonial era and is based on the Indian Penal Code. In roughly 80 countries, at least half of which were British colonies, this repressive law is still in force. Unlike other Southeast Asia countries, such as Cambodia or Laos, where the age of consent sex for both heterosexual and homosexual sex is 15, in Burma same sex behavior is criminalized. Even if homosexual relations cannot be proved, LGTB people may be sued for public nuisance (Section 268 of the Penal Code), negligently spreading sexual disease (Section 269) and detained under local Acts for suspicious activities. On December 29, about 30 transgender people were arrested in Kandawgyi area. “There are a lot of people in prison due to their sexuality”, declares Hla Myat, program officer at Colors Rainbow. “They can punish LGTB community using the legal system”, adds Zae Ya.

Police abuses: torture and arbitrary arrests 

On 7 July 2013, a gathering of around 20 men, some of them Police officers, “assaulted” a group of gay and transgender people in the area of Sedona Hotel, in Mandalay, “pushing, hitting, handcuffing and pulling off their garments in public”. Once in custody, “police continued to abuse the group of 11 detainees, hitting and kicking them constantly, stripping them naked in the public areas of the Mandalay Regional Police headquarters, photographing them, forcing them to hop like frogs, forcing them to clean shoes and tables, to walk up and down as if on a catwalk, uttering obscenities at them, and otherwise physically and psychologically demeaning them”, the Asian Human Rights Commission reported.

Cases of alleged arbitrary arrest, detention and torture of people on the grounds of sexual orientation have become chronic in Burma, particularly in the Mandalay area. “Big cities, especially Yangon, are more open-minded, but in rural areas the situation for LGTB people is more difficult”, explains Zae Ya.

In a 2014 statement, the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) warned that “police reportedly use the law to intimidate and extort bribes” from transgender and homosexual people: “inside police detention and prison, there are reports of humiliating treatment such as MSM (men who have sex with men) and transgender persons being forced to strip naked and dance, beaten with a rod (Nan-Bat-Dote), ridiculed while they are naked, pressured to have sex and burnt with cigarettes”. Paying bribes is often the best way to escape from this.

Lifetime social stigma

There are at least fifty people this night in the People´s Park, most of them under 30´s. They chat in a lively way. Tin Cu Chu, who wears a pink shirt from which hang sunglasses, appears with a candle. Then everybody falls silent. After two minutes, two voices begin to speak. It´s Burmese language, but the message is clear: it´s high time to claim our rights. The candles are to shed light on these hidden people.

Behind all abuses and discrimination faced by LGTB community there are social reasons. Although most people have no problem with them, - “there is no problem if there is no public announcement about relationship”, says Hla Myat-, some society groups are becoming more and more intolerant regarding sexual orientations. Religion is playing a big role in that. Theravada Buddhism, the main religious branch in Burma, enhances gender roles. In Mandalay, for example, religious authorities advised that homosexual men are not authorised on the upper level of the place of worship, where only men are allowed. “There is a populist belief in Buddhism in Myanmar that one is reborn a SOGI minority and thus has to endure suffering in this lifetime, because one has committed sexual transgressions, for example adultery, in one's past life”, illustrates Chua.

These theological assumptions have imbued Burmese culture, inciting social disturbances. At home, some fathers believe that bringing up a homosexual child hurts the family´s dignity and force his marriage. Intolerance starts at school too. “LGTB students usually suffer discrimination from their colleagues, even from their teachers who say to them ‘you are not natural, you are not normal. You have to change your behavior because it is not in accordance with our culture’”, notes Zae Ya. Due to bullying and mistreatment, the majority of these children quit the school before graduating, which puts them in a weak position to earn a living. “Most of them don´t have a chance to get a good job”, adds the Burmese activist. 

In its study, UNDP reports that many transgender and gay men have limited work opportunities  “because of stigma and discrimination and stereotyping”. In many cases there are constraints on expressing their sexual orientation and gender identity in workplaces. For many of them, above all among transgender people, sex work is the only way-out. However, working in the streets leads to more problems with the Police -it has been reported that some policemen extort money from them and some require sex to be provided under threat of arrest- and the high risk of contract HIV.

According to official data, HIV prevalence among MSM in Burma was 29.3 percent as of 2008, 42 times higher than the national adult prevalence rate. Since then, as a result of a successful national health program, HIV prevalence has fallen to 7.8% in 2011. In 2013, the rate grows to 10.4%. Social disturbances and law enforcement are discouraging programme beneficiaries from accessing basic HIV services, UNDP recognizes in its report. 

2015, the year of the change

When last November a same-sex couple celebrated their tenth anniversary publicly, a controversial debate shook the Burmese society. It was the first time that a gay couple did this in the country. Moreover, in 2014 the first LGTB film festival took place in Yangon, and some nightclubs in the city organized special parties for lesbians and gays. “Some years ago things like these would have been impossible”, says Zae Ya.

The democratic winds will be verified in 2015, with the elections. “We can change positively our country. We can get more rights”, insists the Colors Rainbow spokesperson. However, it is not clear what is going to happen. Perhaps, the candles will blow out. Perhaps, more must be lit. 

Thumb sm
Myanmar's Child Soldiers 20
Yangon, Myanmar
By Spike Johnson
25 Nov 2014

Arkar Min and his colleagues leave their job hauling fish from trawlers to trucks, and walk towards a boat that will take them an hour up the Yangon River to their village. Their boss is a Chelsea fan, and requests that they wear the football strip as a uniform at work. Anyone missing the kit is fined 2000 kyat, the equivalent of $2, the same as they're average daily wage.

Thumb sm
Myanmar's Child Soldiers 21
Yangon, Myanmar
By Spike Johnson
25 Nov 2014

Snake Pagoda south of Yangon. Boys in rural areas, often praying or hanging around public areas make easy targets for military recruiters. Many families are too poor to send their young to school past second or third grade, preferring them to contribute to the family income when work is available. Myanmar Army brokers prey on this desire for work, using fake jobs as drivers or mechanics to lure the boys towards nearby army bases.

Thumb sm
Myanmar's Child Soldiers 22
Yangon, Myanmar
By Spike Johnson
25 Nov 2014

Thein Myint works as an intermediary between villagers, and the International Labour Organization. She helps families find evidence of kidnapped children in the Army's training camps of Myanmar. Often she bribes her way into the 12 training facilities around the country, using meat or fish to pass the malnourished guards. When she's sure of a child's location, she directs the family to the ILO with their case.

"€œWhen we want a child soldier released, we have to work together with the village authorities and the International Labour Organization,"€ she says.€œ"We cannot do it alone."

Thumb sm
Myanmar's Child Soldiers 23
Yangon, Myanmar
By Spike Johnson
25 Nov 2014

One of the two jetties that Arkar Min and his group work at together. When there is no work at one jetty, they make their way to the other. Usually they hope to earn around 2000 kyat, the equivalent of $2 per day.

Thumb sm
Myanmar's Child Soldiers 24
Yangon, Myanmar
By Spike Johnson
25 Nov 2014

Thein Myint works from her small house in DIne Su. She lives with her husband, but they often give shelter to those in need, children with nowhere to go, or returning soldiers, feeding everyone that comes through her door.

Thumb sm
Myanmar's Child Soldiers 25
Yangon, Myanmar
By Spike Johnson
25 Nov 2014

Thein Myint works as an intermediary between villagers, and the International Labour Organization. She helps families find evidence of kidnapped children in the Army's training camps of Myanmar. Often she bribes her way into the 12 training facilities around the country, using meat or fish to pass the malnourished guards. When she's sure of a child's location, she directs the family to the ILO with their case.

Thumb sm
Myanmar's Child Soldiers 12
Yangon, Myanmar
By Spike Johnson
17 Nov 2014

The ferry port of Botahtaung Pagoda. The Myanmar Army and it's civilian brokers use the city's dark bus stations, train stations, and ferry ports as recruiting grounds for young conscripts. Boys who are traveling home late at night, are approached by the army on false charges, and offered an ultimatum – a long prison term, or recruitment.

Thumb sm
Myanmar's Child Soldiers 08
Yangon, Myanmar
By Spike Johnson
15 Nov 2014

At fifteen years old Arkar Win was lured away from his village by a man offering him driving lessons. He was drugged and awoke in an army base.

"€œI was told I'€™d been sold to the Myanmar Army for $80,"€ he said.

Now twenty one, he'€™s free, and working in a fish yard on the River Yangon. He earns $2 per day, and commutes an hour up the river to his village, Dine Su.

Thumb sm
Myanmar's Child Soldiers 13
Yangon, Myanmar
By Spike Johnson
15 Nov 2014

Arkar Min and his colleagues leave their job hauling fish from trawlers to trucks, and walk towards a boat that will take them an hour up the Yangon River to their village. Their boss is a Chelsea fan, and requests that they wear the football strip as a uniform at work. Anyone missing the kit is fined 2000 kyat, the equivalent of $2, the same as they're average daily wage.

Frame 0004
Myanmar: A Yangon River Ferry's Last Day
Yangon
By Raw Music International
12 Nov 2014

As Myanmar begins seeing sanctions against it lifted, foreign firms, including a Japanese company whose ferryboats will replace the old boats that until recently criss-crossed the Yangon River, have begun vying to open markets in the country, bringing with them the changes to everyday life that come with the influx of new goods and services.

Traffic sits static in the swelteringly damp heat of Yangon’s streets, filling the air with fumes. Noodle stalls, tea stalls, clothes stalls, nick-nack stalls and finally, pedestrians pack sidewalks to the edge, the pavements stained red from the constant spitting of Betel-nut juice. Sprays of blood-red saliva spurt from taxi windows and the mouth of every other Betel chewer on the street. The soundtrack is a constant ring of shouts, calls, coughs, engines and around dawn and dusk, the cawing of crows. However, despite the chaos, the investment and development brought to the city in recent years is obvious. Encouraged by apparent moves towards democracy, foreign companies have begun to see Myanmar as viable and potentially lucrative option. Yangon feels like a place where things are changing.

Not far outside of Yangon things don’t move so fast. The ferry crossing the river between the city and the semi-rural township of Dala is packed all day with commuters, traders and labourers who rely on the crossing to access work in Yangon. Like tens of thousands of other Burmese they leave underdeveloped townships and head to the former capital each day to make their living.

This video, filmed on the last days the two decrepit ferries would operate before being replaced by newer boats, puts forward small aspects of Burmese daily life that speak to wider changes occurring in the country.

Thumb sm
Myanmar's Child Soldiers 10
Yangon, Myanmar
By Spike Johnson
11 Nov 2014

At fifteen years old Arkar Min was lured away from his village by a man offering him driving lessons. His food was drugged and he awoke in an abandoned building inside Shwedagon Pagoda Army base. He had no bed, but slept on the concrete, using his longyi as a pillow.

'€œThere were six of us there. Mostly they were 15, 17 at the most. None of them knew they were in the army,"€ said Arkan Min. 'I wasn't there in the first place because I was interested. I was forced."

Thumb sm
Myanmar's Child Soldiers 15
Yangon, Myanmar
By Spike Johnson
08 Nov 2014

As Buddhist lent ends and the slim window of winter approaches, couples are keen to marry before the heat returns. Today in Dine Su, a village too small to feature on the map, residents are busy enjoying four separate weddings.

Thumb sm
Myanmar's Child Soldiers 16
Yangon, Myanmar
By Spike Johnson
08 Nov 2014

Boys spend their days climbing trees and playing in the street in Dine Su, one of Yangon's countless shanty towns. Many families are too poor to send their young to school past second or third grade, preferring them to contribute to the family income when work is available. Myanmar Army brokers prey on this desire for work, using fake jobs as drivers or mechanics to lure the boys towards nearby army bases.

Thumb sm
Myanmar's Child Soldiers 07
Yangon, Myanmar
By Spike Johnson
08 Nov 2014

Win Myint stores his son'€™s few possessions, ready for his return from the Myanmar Army. Like many other boys Aung Than Zaw was forcibly recruited from their village at the age of fifteen, and sent to the Shan State front line. His father has been working with the International Labour Organization to secure his release for two years.

"Sometimes I think he'€™ll never come home, that the army will continue to delay, or that they'€™ll sell him to someone else on the way,"€ he says.

Thumb sm
Myanmar's Child Soldiers 09
Yangon, Myanmar
By Spike Johnson
08 Nov 2014

Alongside the Myanmar Army's partial release of it's child soldiers, and regardless of it's continued forced recruitment of minors, billboards can be seen around Yangon displaying various messages of military innocence.

"After I turn 18 and become a man, I'll get into the military, but now I am still young. The military does not accept people under 18."

Thumb sm
Myanmar's Child Soldiers 11
Yangon, Myanmar
By Spike Johnson
08 Nov 2014

Dine Su balances between an army base, a shipping port, and industrial factories, teetering on the slippery banks of the Yangon River. A shanty town of bamboo, mud, and dusty football pitches. It is typical of countless other communities. Most people come here from out of town, victims of government land grabs for condos or luxury golf courses in the Delta region. As an illegal settlement, Dine Su is susceptible to exploitation by authorities.

Thumb sm
Myanmar's Child Soldiers 14
Yangon, Myanmar
By Spike Johnson
04 Nov 2014

Yangon Train Station as night falls. The Myanmar Army make regular patrols of transport hubs, approaching young boys aged between 11 and 15 who are trying to get home late at night. Officers apply escalating pressure to each in the hope of forcing recruitment.

Thumb sm
Myanmar's Child Soldiers 03
Yangon, Myanmar
By Spike Johnson
04 Nov 2014

Yangon Train Station. The Myanmar Army and it's civilian brokers use the city's dark bus stations, train stations, and ferry ports as recruiting grounds for young conscripts. Boys who are traveling home late at night, are approached by the army and threatened with false charges. They are offered an ultimatum:€“ a long prison term, or recruitment.

"This is human trafficking, it's the same as prostitution," says Win Myint, 52, as he waits for the return of his young son from the military.

Thumb sm
Myanmar's Child Soldiers 17
Yangon, Myanmar
By Spike Johnson
30 Oct 2014

Tun Tun Win remembers playing football at the edge of his village. A patch of dusty ground, squeezed between an army base and a shipping port was used as a pitch, worn flat by dozens of bare feet. Leafy trees provided some shade for spectators, and a fringe of tall bamboo offered a little privacy. It was here that he was lured into the Army by a civilian broker at 14 years old. “If the military released all of the child soldiers, there’d be no one left,” he said.

Thumb sm
Myanmar's Child Soldiers 18
Yangon, Myanmar
By Spike Johnson
30 Oct 2014

Win Myint and his wife, appealed to the International Labour Organization for the release of their son from underage enrollment into the Myanmar Army. Now they're waiting for his official release under the 2012 Joint Action Plan.

Thumb sm
Myanmar's Child Soldiers 05
Yangon, Myanmar
By Spike Johnson
30 Oct 2014

Tun Tun Win shows both his Army ID card, proving that he's been discharged legally. Usually the Army doesn't begin awarding pensions until 60 years old, Tun Tun Win is drawing his now at the age of 30, $27 per month. He served a 14 year stretch with the Myanmar army, beginning when he was 14 years old.

Thumb sm
Myanmar's Child Soldiers 06
Yangon, Myanmar
By Spike Johnson
24 Oct 2014

Kyaw Thura on his fifth day at his new welding job. He's been out of military prison just over one week, after defecting to the enemy, and over the Thai border when he was 17.

Thumb sm
Of the Same Life: Releasing Myanmar's...
Yangon, Myanmar
By Spike Johnson
21 Oct 2014

Thein Myint's bamboo hut is filled with villagers looking for help.Their boys are being kidnapped by the Myanmar Army for active service. In the 20 ft square shack in the shanty town of Dine Su, on edge of the Yangon River, people fill all available space. Mothers, fathers, sons and daughters overlap on the hard floor. The men spit betel juice though the cracks in the worn boards, and the women fan each other to keep cool. Younger children peek in from outside, their fingers clawing through the steel mesh in the glassless window.

“Times have changed. There is international pressure now regarding forced labor, child labor,” says Thien Myint, “they can't keep doing it.”

Since the violent crushing of pro-democracy protests in 1988, the Myanmar Army's need for rapid expansion, has encouraged the forced recruitment of boys as young as 11 to fulfill impossible quotas. Kidnap, beatings, and drugging are tactics that deliver boys to the front lines of Myanmar's far flung civil wars, to sweep for mines, attack and execute villagers, or man live offensives. In December the Myanmar Army released 80 child soldiers from active service, bringing the total freed children to 845 since 2007. There has been steady pressure on the Myanmar Army and non-state armies to fall in line with ASEAN human rights recommendations, and International Labour Organization conventions. The armies are making small acts of compromise in appeasement, and during the final few months of 2014 have been increasing their releases. However although Myanmar is a member of the Convention of the Rights of the Child, the use and recruitment of child soldiers is still commonplace. Slowly though soldiers that were forcibly recruited as children are returning to their villages, to their families who have long thought them dead.

FULL ARTICLE AVAILABLE UPON REQUEST

Thumb sm
Myanmar's Child Soldiers 02
Yangon, Myanmar
By Spike Johnson
21 Oct 2014

Kyaw Thura, aged 15, after finishing his four month training in Mon State, in Eastern Myanmar.

"There were rocks in the soup, and sand in the rice,"€ he said, "€œand I missed home terribly."

Thumb sm
Myanmar's Child Soldiers 04
Yangon, Myanmar
By Spike Johnson
21 Oct 2014

Kyaw Thura is reunited with his four year old son, after spending a year and a half in military prison. He’d been fighting front line battles with the Myanmar Army in the jungles of Karen State for over two years, and eventually defected when he was seventeen, hiding at the Thai border for four years. Now twenty three, he is a free man.

Thumb sm
Sample media
Brick Makers
Yagon
By Andre Malerba
15 May 2014

A father-daughter team works together to stack bricks into a kiln.

Thumb sm
Burma-In Buddhas Honor
Yangon, Burma
By Michael Biach
28 Feb 2014

Burma, also know as Myanmar, is a predominantly Buddhist country. Nearly 90% of the country's inhabitants are Buddhist. A number of tribal peoples also practice forms of Animism. Among the country's most sacred sites are: Shwedagon Pagoda in the former capital Yangon (Rangoon), Golden Rock in the south, the ancient city of Bagan, Mount Popa, the most important nat pilgrimage site in Burma and the Maha Muni Buddha Pagoda in Mandalay. This photo collection documents some of the country's most famous sacred sites and the life of its Buddhist inhabitants.

Thumb sm
The LGBT Community in Myanmar
Yangon, Mandalay Burma
By vincenzo floramo
16 Jul 2013

Photojournalist Vincenzo Floramo worked on a feature about the Burmese LGBT scene with Carlos Sardina Galache, a journalist specialized in Southeast Asia. Carlos made several interviews with members of this community, including gay men, transsexuals and lesbians. In those interviews, they spoke openly of their experiences as LGBT people living in a highly conservative country where homosexuality is considered abnormal and illegal.

Carlos and I followed some of the characters of our story, which gave us the chance to understand better their daily lives and take intimate portraits of them. With this material we are able to offer a complete portrait, with Carlos’ text and my pictures, of the life of LGBT people in Burma with all its challenges and hardships.

Also available upon request, Carlos has a detailed interview with a gay man who was detained by the police in Mandalay, humiliated and tortured, as well as an interview with Aung Myo Min, the founder of Equality Myanmar, an advocacy group strongly focused on the rights of the LGBT community.

Short profiles of those photographed can be viewed here: http://transterramedia.com/media/25883#

Photos by Vincenzo Floramo
Text by Carlos Sardina Galache

Thumb sm
Inside 969 Movement 25
By Ruom
22 Jun 2013

June 16, 2013
Yangon, Burma

Young Buddhist nuns board the ferry crossing the Hlaing river over to downtown Yangon.

Thumb sm
Inside 969 Movement 29
By Ruom
20 Jun 2013

June 17, 2013
Mawlamyine, Burma

Thaddhamma, one of the leaders of the 969 movement, teaches a group of business men, from Yangons biggest whole sale market, about patriotism and Buddhism.

Thumb sm
Inside 969 Movement 24
By Ruom
16 Jun 2013

June 16, 2013
Yangon, Burma

A street shop in Downtown Yangon sells the 969 stickers. They are sold and distributed throughout Myanmar to label shops and business as being Buddhist-owned and run.

Thumb sm
Inside 969 Movement 22
By Ruom
13 Jun 2013

June 14, 2013
Meiktila, Burma

More than 200 Myanmar Buddhist monks gather to discuss how to solve inter-religious conflicts between Buddhists and Muslims. The conference, held in a monastery on the outskirts of Yangon, was dubbed by local and international media, less as a resolution to conflict but more as an opportunity to discuss the inter-faith marriage law that the 969 movement is hoping to present to the government.

Thumb sm
Yangon, Myanmar Lethwei - Let Wei Bu...
Yangon, Myanmar
By Vittore Buzzi
06 Dec 2012

Vittore Buzzi Photography Yangon, Myanmar Lethwei - Let Wei Burma Boxe.
Lone Chaw was 3 times Myanmar National Champion. Lethwei’s real legend.
Gym

Thumb sm
Yangon, Myanmar Lethwei - Let Wei Bu...
Yangon, Myanmar
By Vittore Buzzi
06 Nov 2012

Vittore Buzzi Photography Yangon, Myanmar Lethwei - Let Wei Burma Boxe.
Lone Chaw was 3 times Myanmar National Champion. Lethwei’s real legend.
Gym

Thumb sm
Yangon, Myanmar Lethwei - Let Wei Bu...
Yangon, Myanmar
By Vittore Buzzi
06 Nov 2012

Vittore Buzzi Photography Yangon, Myanmar Lethwei - Let Wei Burma Boxe.
Lone Chaw was 3 times Myanmar National Champion. Lethwei’s real legend.
Gym

Thumb sm
Yangon, Myanmar Lethwei - Let Wei Bu...
Yangon, Myanmar
By Vittore Buzzi
06 Nov 2012

Vittore Buzzi Photography Yangon, Myanmar Lethwei - Let Wei Burma Boxe.
Lone Chaw was 3 times Myanmar National Champion. Lethwei’s real legend.
Gym

Thumb sm
Yangon, Myanmar Lethwei - Let Wei Bu...
Yangon, Myanmar
By Vittore Buzzi
06 Nov 2012

Vittore Buzzi Photography Yangon, Myanmar Lethwei - Let Wei Burma Boxe.
Lone Chaw was 3 times Myanmar National Champion. Lethwei’s real legend.
Gym

Thumb sm
Yangon, Myanmar Lethwei - Let Wei Bu...
Yangon, Myanmar
By Vittore Buzzi
06 Nov 2012

Vittore Buzzi Photography Yangon, Myanmar Lethwei - Let Wei Burma Boxe.
Lone Chaw was 3 times Myanmar National Champion. Lethwei’s real legend.
Gym

Thumb sm
Yangon, Myanmar Lethwei - Let Wei Bu...
Yangon, Myanmar
By Vittore Buzzi
06 Nov 2012

Vittore Buzzi Photography Yangon, Myanmar Lethwei - Let Wei Burma Boxe.
Lone Chaw was 3 times Myanmar National Champion. Lethwei’s real legend.
Gym