The LGBTIQ+ Community in Cambodia Meet for a “Together Stronger” Event

Participants in the LGBTIQ+ Community event on Sept. 30 pose for a group photo in the theater/big top of the NGO Phare Ponleu Selpak in Battambang Province. Photo: Teng Yalirozy

BATTAMBANG—People from the LGBTIQ+ Community from across Cambodia gathered in Battambang province to take part in the “Together Stronger” event, raise awareness of gender equality and promote LGBTIQ+ rights.

Held on Sept. 30 and Oct. 1 at the NGO Phare Ponleu Selpak in Battambang city, the event was organized by SafeSpaceBTB—a safe space for LGBTIQ+ Community—and attracted people from every province in the country as well as young people come to attend the performances held during the event.

Chhuon Thida, a representative of SafeSpaceBTB, said on Sept. 30 that the event was meant to support the LGBTIQ+ Community and encourage its members to work toward promoting their rights, no matter how big or small a community they are in their areas. Only participation from all people and togetherness can push forward and obtain positive results, she said.

The event included performances of Khmer classical dance, traditional dance and Lakhaon Kaol (Cambodia’s men mask dance) as well as an exhibition of photographs and paintings by artists from the LGBTIQ+ Community.

According to Thida, the dance performances and exhibition were meant to show the talent of people in this community, and that there is a diversity of knowledge, ability and talents among all people. “So, what we are showing is the work of the LGBTIQ+ Community in Battambang and other provinces,” she said.

“One feels pride that the community from all over the provinces in Cambodia came together to attend this event,” Thida said. “The aim is to show that unity is key. Alone, one cannot produce change, but together, we can change the world and have our rights and voice heard worldwide.”

Taking part in the event were representatives of organizations working with the LGBTIQ+ population such as the Rainbow Community Kampuchea (RoCK) and A Place To Be Yourself, Love Diversity, Thida said. The event was also supported by partner organizations both in Cambodia and in foreign countries, she said.

Chhay Matinal, deputy governor of Battambang province, said during the event on Sept. 30 that there is diversity among people, and that gender reflects quality of men and women as well as of the LGBTIQ+ Community. Everybody has the right to love, he said.

“Together is stronger,” the deputy governor said, adding that some people of the LGBTIQ+ Community often prove more capable than others in their work.

Among people attending the event were 65-year-old Horn Chheon and her 74-year-old partner Pov John who had come from Kampong Thom province for the occasion. They are part of the LGBTIQ+ community and have been a couple since 1983. Chheon said she came to support the event as well as share her experience as an LGBT couple who have been together through thick and thin.

Horn Chhoen, left, and Pov John, who were photographed on Sept. 30 during the event in Battambang province, have been together for nearly 40 years. Photo: Teng Yalirozy

Part of the Rainbow Community Kampuchea for more than 10 years, Chheon said that she has seen discrimination against the community being reduced. More and more people as well as the local authorities in her province show support and encouragement, she said.

However, she keeps on working to promote the rights of the LGBTIQ+ community to support the next generations and to raise awareness nationwide. “More importantly, I want to see that there is a law protecting the community because we are all the same human beings,” Chheon said with a smile. “Although we are the LGBTIQ+, we must be protected by the laws. And I want to see the next generation live a decent life as an LGBTIQ+ population.”

Chheon explained that, at the beginning of their relationship in Kampong Thom province, they were mocked and discriminated against. “They said to me that there were many men and asked why I chose to love [a person of] the same sex as mine,” she said. “And I responded that this was my fate. People have different walks of life.”

In September 2021,  civil society groups and LGBTIQ+ advocates urged the Cambodian government to legalize same-sex marriage by amending the Cambodian constitution. The Cambodian government has yet to respond to the request.  However, the Cambodian authorities have let it known that, although same-sex marriage has not been legalized in the country, it is not illegal and that the government would keep supporting the community.

Then in December 2021, the LGBT+ community launched the campaign “I accept” to promote legal marriage and equal rights for same-sex couples in Cambodia.

Among people attending the event was Rin Somaly, a 17-year-old student from Battambang province. Somaly, who is in grade 11 and attends a class at Phare Ponleu Selpak, decided to watch the performances and tour the exhibition.

As she explained, she really enjoyed the event and the fact that the talent of people of the LGBTIQ+ Community was being showcased, giving young people the opportunity to be aware of this community.

Having known of the LGBTIQ+ Community since seventh grade, Somaly said that she keeps providing her support and wants to give people of this community encouragement and motivation to continue showing who they are. “I think there is nothing wrong with love: It’s a love from the heart, we cannot forbid this,” she said while touring the photograph and painting exhibition.

Chhuon Thida of SafeSpaceBTB said on Sept 30 that the “Together Stronger” event was an opportunity for people from the LGBTIQ+ Community to be better known and express their talent. Photo: Teng Yalirozy

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