Dirk has told us that it’s winter in Cambodia ... hmmm, perhaps not today.
Ever the optimists, we dressed early this morning in our best 'tidy blue', today's colour according to traditional Khmer dress. After a bowl of tasty soup for lunch at the Russian Market we are dripping with sweat and less than tidy. We’ve got an hour and half until our meeting with the Cambodian Centre for Human Rights (CCHR). We call our driver and head back to the hotel. A quick swim, back into the tidy blue, and off we go.
CCHR is a non-aligned, independent, non-governmental organization that works to promote and protect democracy and respect for human rights throughout Cambodia, including Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity/Expression rights. We fill CCHR representatives in on our project and who we’ve met. The discussion is wide-ranging. Interestingly, LGBTIQ people in Cambodia face numerous forms of discrimination, partly because of a legal framework which denies them basic equality. In particular, LGBTIQ people in Cambodia face four main forms of legal discrimination, including the lack of legal protection against discrimination and violence against LGBTIQ people; the absence of legal recognition of self-defined gender identity; the absence of marriage equality in Cambodian law; and the denial of full adoption rights to rainbow couples.
CCHR representatives confirm what we knew from our previous trips here and what Srorn has reinforced with us. Family is everything, as is community. Many young LGBTIQ people have felt that they needed to leave their homes because of their gender identity. For this reason, CCHR representatives tell us, Cambodian LGBTIQ people identify marriage equality as their most pressing desire. The institution of marriage is exceptionally highly-valued in Cambodia, and excluding LGBTIQ people from the institution of marriage excludes them from one of the foundations of Cambodian society.
Our telling of Pacific Pride Choir’s foundation story and the history of LGBT choruses around the world is growing more concise. Our mission this time is different to 2017, and yet strangely similar. Different, purely because choirs just aren’t a thing here. Similar, because most people have some kind of family and most of us in the LGBTQI community have experienced discrimination, whether from family, religious institutions, schools or places of work. These are universal themes. In our singing we hope to create a space for others to join and share their stories, to know that they are not alone.
CCHR representatives listen and seem comfortable with our ideas, glad that we’re consulting with different local groups and that we want to collaborate. They help to put us in touch with other players, and mention the recent event 'Our Lives, Our Rights' organized by Rainbow Community Kampuchea (RoCK) to celebrate their 10 year anniversary and the 70th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights at The Mansion (Foreign Correspondents' Club), a venue we’ve arranged to see later that day on Srorn’s suggestion. While we’re grateful to live where we do, it’s clear that we Australians have a lot to learn from LGBT activism in South-east Asia.