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“Can you become a straight person? Can you stop being a lesbian? Why don’t you get married to the opposite sex? You are not allowed to work here because of your sexual orientation or gender identity.” These are some questions and statements that LGBTIQ people normally hear on a daily basis. What is LGBTIQ? LGBTIQ stands for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Intersex and Queer.
In Cambodia, more and more LGBTIQ people are now beginning to reveal their identity and advocate for their rights, resulting in some positive changes in recent years. Some non-governmental organizations or youth groups are also working on promoting LGBTIQ rights and equality. Ten years ago, the term LGBTIQ might sound weird to many Cambodian people, but it may not be the case anymore.
Despite these, discrimination against LGBTIQ people is still happening in various forms including mental, physical, and sexual abuses. According to a research study conducted by Rainbow Community Kampuchea Organization in 2015 with 1,085 straight people and 478 LGBT people, it was found that 86% of straight and 82% of LGBT respondents acknowledged that discrimination related to sexual orientation and gender identity was the main issue that LGBT people faced.
People discriminate against LGBTIQ people for many reasons. They may believe that this world is originally created for men and women, not LGBTI people. Extreme followers of some religions such as Islam and Christianity strongly indicate that their religion disapproves of the LGBTIQ community because, as they believe, human nature permits only men and women to form an intimate relationship and family. Some people may assume that same-sex couples have no future, no happiness, and no sexual desire as opposite-sex couples. In Cambodia, the social norms and stereotypes embodied in this society may encourage discrimination against LGBTIQ people. For instance, when a family has an LGBTIQ child, a sense of shame may prevail among the family members since their neighbors and people around them are more likely to discriminate against the child and look down on him or her.
Meanwhile, LGBTIQ people may experience unequal employment opportunities as some workplaces tend to discriminate against them on the basis of their sexual orientation and gender identity. Cambodian Center for Human Rights (CCHR) conducted a study with 118 LGBTQ people, and it was found that one in five of 111 respondents reported that they had been refused to work because of their sexual orientation and gender identity. Among those who had been refused to work, over half reported that they had experienced this issue multiple times. 27 out of 109 respondents reported that they had not revealed their sexual orientation and gender identity during a job interview. Moreover, it was found that one in three of 112 respondents had faced harassment or bullying at their current workplace because of their sexual orientation and gender identity.
I recently conducted an interview with one LGBTIQ person, Ms. K. H (her nickname). She said that she had faced various forms of discrimination from people around her since she was young. She had not identified herself in public as a lesbian, but people considered her as masculine by her outside appearance. She used to work in a place where she was discriminated against for a year, and it took her almost two years to heal from her darkest moment. At the time, a group of people believing in patriarchy bullied her as she looked more masculine than feminine.
People often asked her whether she would get married to a man or woman. There was a time they told her that “LGBTIQ people are worse than evil. They don’t deserve to live in this world.” They told her to behave more girly. Besides, they used many sexual jokes, harassment, and bullying which discriminate against her and other LGBTIQ people. She suffered from depression and low self-esteem, causing her to be unproductive, and eventually she resigned from her workplace.
Human Rights Are for Everyone
Everyone, regardless of their gender identity and sexual orientation, is equal under the international human rights law. According to Article 3 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, “Everyone has the right to life, liberty, and security of person.” Also, Article 6 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights states that “every human being has the inherent right to life. This right shall be protected by law. No one shall be arbitrarily deprived of his life.” Meanwhile, Article 32 of the Cambodian constitution states that “Every Khmer citizen shall have the right to life, personal freedom, and security. There shall be no capital punishment.” Based on all these laws, LGBTIQ people in Cambodia deserve fair treatment, not discrimination. Law enforcement applies to everyone. If one abuses another just because of their gender identity, they shall deal with the consequences under the law with no exceptions.
Moreover, Cambodia is a party to the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR). Article 6 of the ICESCR recognizes “right to work”, which includes “the right of everyone to the opportunity to gain his living by work which he freely chooses or accepts and will take appropriate steps to safeguard this right.” Article 7 of the ICESCR recognizes the “right of everyone to the enjoyment of just and favorable conditions of work.” Therefore, LGBTIQ people should not be discriminated against in the workplace. Everyone including LGBTIQ people should get equal work opportunities and conditions, fair wages, and equal value without any kinds of discrimination in the workplace.
The Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights published Standards of Conduct for Business in Tackling Discrimination against Lesbian, Gay, Bi, Trans, & Intersex People in September 2017. There are five standards of conduct, such as respecting human rights, eliminating discrimination, providing support, preventing other human rights violations, and acting in the public sphere. These are the practical guidelines for the private sector to respect and reinforce human rights at all times as well as the LGBTI rights in the workplace, marketplace and community.
Standing up for LGBTIQ Rights
Everyone is born equal under the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. They have the right to choose what they love and don’t. The value of people is not determined by their sexual orientation or gender identity. There are many other factors that come into play, such as education, commitment, ethics, work efficiency, freedom, personal development, self-principles, skills, obedience to the law, and positive contributions to society. People cannot have happiness and peace unless they have the freedom to be who they are and live their own life.
I firmly believe that the quality and outcomes of work do not depend on employees’ sexual orientation or gender identity, but on their knowledge, commitment, and dedication. If employers give space for their employees to freely choose to be who they are, they will be happier and more willing to contribute to the success of their workplace. For LGBTIQ people, despite their sexual orientation, they are important human resources contributing to the country’s socio-economic development.
Overall, LGBTIQ people have faced numerous forms of discrimination based on their sexual orientation and gender identity. They have faced mental, physical, verbal, and sexual abuse. In addition, they have challenges in accessing and advancing their professional and personal development. From my standpoint, no one is superior to others because everyone is born equal under the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. All religions spread love, peace, and harmony, not discrimination or hatred. If any religions teach people to hate and discriminate against one another, it is not a religion anymore. For workplaces in all sectors, they need to tackle and raise awareness of gender equality and give equal opportunities to everyone without discrimination or prejudice against their sexual orientation or gender identity. People have only one life. If straight people can follow their hearts and dreams, LGBTIQ people should be able to do so, too.
Tol Chhourkimheng is a graduate with a Bachelor's degree in Education from The Royal University of Phnom Penh
The article was originally published on Politikoffee