The turmoil that enveloped Burma after the February 2021 military coup and the overthrow of the elected government ushered in a period of both increased violence toward lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer and intersex (LGBTQI+) individuals, as well as a surge in initiatives aimed at fostering social harmony and promoting personal growth among LGBTQI+ individuals. With support from USAID under the USAID DEPP-supported Strengthening Elections and Political Transition (SEPT) program, CEPPS has been working with local partners to bring visibility to and advance the rights of members of Burma’s LGBTQI+ community.
Myanmar LGBTQIA Human Rights Watch Forum
Following the coup, a group of courageous individuals came together to form the Myanmar LGBTQIA Human Rights Watch Forum. This forum, comprised of 15 LGBTQI+ organizations and activists, aimed to shed light on the untold struggles faced by their community, to protect and advocate for the rights of LGBTQI+ individuals in post-coup Burma/Myanmar, and to bring justice to those who had been subjected to discrimination and violence. With support from CEPPS/NDI, the Myanmar LGBTQIA Human Rights Watch Forum conducted extensive research, engaging with 210 LGBTQI+ individuals across 14 townships in Burma, and produced a report entitled “Rainbow Amid the Storm: Exposing the harsh realities of LGBTQIAs in Post-coup Myanmar.” The findings of this report, which served as a harrowing testament the conditions facing LGBTQI+ individuals in Burma since the coup, revealed a disturbing pattern of discrimination – from the family sector and healthcare to education and public services – where LGBTQI+ individuals encountered barriers and prejudice at every turn. The report also exposed the violence endured by the LGBTQI+ community, documenting cases of verbal and physical abuse, psychological torture, sexual violence, and economic exploitation.
The Forum presented their findings to pro-democracy policymakers and the UN Human Rights Council. The findings were used by the National Unity Government (NUG) ministries to. The forum worked closely with the National Unity Government (NUG) ministries to sensitize them to the violations faced by LGBTQI+ individuals and to better ensure that future policies and resources are aligned with the needs of the LGBTQI+ community. Recognizing the need for broad-based support, the Forum also developed information booklets to empower LGBTQI+ individuals, equipping them with legal knowledge necessary in facing arbitrary arrests, digital security tips to protect their identities, and awareness of violence they might encounter based on their sexual orientation and/or gender identity. Sharing stories of strength, resilience, and survival shined a spotlight on Burma’s LGBTQIA community, breaking through barriers and forging connections.
Kings N Queens
As part of the same SEPT program and with support from CEPPS/IFES, LGBTQI+ civil society organization Kings N Queens (KNQ) has been strengthening the foundation for a more empowered and resilient civil society by building individual legal literacy, fostering inclusive community conversations, and prioritizing leadership roles for LGBTQI+ young people in Burma.
KNQ supported community leaders and civil society organizations in delivering a series of leadership trainings and discussions across Burma, which served to empower LGBTQI+ youth and individuals from other marginalized communities. During the trainings, participants gained skills on effective communication, increased their knowledge on sexual orientation, gender identity and gender expression (SOGIE), and developed a better understanding of leadership, advocacy and electoral systems. Such information sharing through informal means and one-to-one or small group channels has become critical since the 2021 coup.
The junta’s 2021 amendment of the penal code, allowing the military to detain dissenters more easily, has increasingly become a topic of interest in Burma due to the increase of arbitrary arrests. KNQ has supported paralegals to hold discussion sessions across Burma on SOGIE themes and to raise participants’ awareness of current legal issues. During these sessions, KNQ had observed that participants were aware of the sections of the criminal code in question, but did not fully comprehend the codes. KNQ responded to community needs and provided an overview and analysis of the relevant sections to paralegals to support their work. Through interactive sessions and practical case studies, participants gained insights into critical legal issues, and were equipped with tools necessary to protect themselves and advocate for their rights and the rights of those in their communities. The paralegal discussion program successfully bridged the gap between legal professionals and the general public, fostering a collaborative and informed society.
Many civil society organizations (CSOs) and human rights activists were unable to continue providing services to their respective communities or continue their advocacy work following the 2021 coup. While many LGBTQI+ rights organizations have suspended activities since the coup, local CSO Rainbow Alliance has responded to the post-coup environment by developing a set of new organizational strategies to address the current crisis and continue providing services to LGBTQI+ individuals. Under the SEPT program, Rainbow Alliance implemented three of these new strategies on youth empowerment, awareness raising, and queer media advocacy. With support from CEPPS/IFES, throughout the eight-month project Rainbow Alliance provided 150 participants with virtual empowerment services and supported the creation and distribution of 66 different pieces of awareness raising media content on gender equality, health, and leadership. Several young LGBTQI+ participants from Rainbow Alliance’s programming have become active leaders working to empower their local communities through virtual activities.