I joined a new project team at the Cambodian Center for Human Rights (CCHR) at an exciting time. The SexualOrientation and Gender Identity (SOGI) Project works to help the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) community in Cambodia, particularly those living in rural areas who are misunderstood and mistreated. Part of our work is to collaborate with partners from other countries to share ideas and work together for change.
So, my first few weeks on the project coincided with Cambodia hosting the ASEAN (Association of South East Nations) Conference. This is a fledging regional body of the ten member states with three pillars: economic integration; political security and socio-cultural of the 10 member states. The conferences are also an opportunity for civil society organisations to meet and interface with heads of government. LGBT NGOs from across SE Asia attended a Civil Society Conference called the ASEAN People’s Forum in Phnom Penh.
?There were wider problems at the People’s Forum as authorities interfered to cancel or move workshops on ‘sensitive’ issues including land rights, indigenous people rights and Burma. This disruption seemed to be counter-productive for the paranoid authorities as the resulting outcry from the workshop organisers received wide media coverage because they disrupted the press conference.
CCHR and Rainbow Community Kampuchea (RoCK) – a local LGBT organisation – organised workshops and social events for the visiting friends from across the region. It was a fantastic experience, having the opportunity to meet some inspiring activists, hear about their work and also have a laugh. We organised a dinner for the group where a lot of time was spent with everyone standing up and introducing themselves, what they do, who they are with and who they may be looking for in life. This made for a fun evening and discussions on the attractiveness of the Phnom Penh tuk tuk drivers! I felt honoured being the only non- Asian in the group and shared something from my own life, lucky that I come from a country where I’ve been able to marry a man.