Yangon | “I didn’t mean to lie.” Campaigning for the November 8 elections in Burma, Myo Min Tun openly displays his homosexuality, a first in the country where same-sex relations remain illegal, even if mentalities are starting to change.
Aung San Suu Kyi’s party, the National League for Democracy (LND), has done virtually nothing for the gay community since taking power in 2015, advocacy groups say.
The law inherited from the British colonial era, which punishes homosexual relations up to 10 years in prison, is no longer strictly applied, but it is still in force, responsible for discrimination and harassment, according to its detractors.
Disappointed, Myo Min Tun decided to go into politics when transgender friends told him that he had been “victims of police humiliation and violence”. “I realized that there was no one in Parliament to talk about this,” he told AFP.
In the midst of an election campaign to renew Parliament and regional assemblies, this 39-year-old florist, who is seeking a mandate as regional councilor in Mandalay [centre], decided for the first time to openly display his homosexuality.
“I am doing this to be a pioneer, so that all LGBT people know that we can be whoever we want”, notes the candidate who has also devoted himself to the fight against AIDS in an NGO.
Last year, the suicide of a librarian, an alleged victim of homophobic harassment in his workplace, sparked an unprecedented stir in the homosexual community.
But the investigation ruled out any responsibility of the employer in this death, describing the young man as “mentally weak”, proof of the prejudices still numerous in the conservative country.
Among the Buddhist clergy, being gay is still seen as a punishment for sins committed in a previous life.
The country has fallen behind in Asia – India decriminalized homosexuality in 2018 – but the taboos are slowly beginning to fade.
Swe Zin Htet, Miss Burma, representative of the country in the Miss Universe 2019 election, had the guts to come out last year, a few days before the international competition.
And last February, more than 10,000 people took part in various rallies in Rangoon to demand a decriminalization of homosexuality.
But for Myo Min Tun, it is too early to wage this battle: it is better to tackle everyday discrimination first.
The daring candidate discovered his homosexuality at around 14 when he fell in love with a classmate, and his father, now deceased, never accepted him.
“I have always been actively involved in my community,” he says.
Myo Min Tun refuses to compete under the LND label, even if the formation is tipped to retain power after the poll, maintained for the moment despite a sharp increase in cases of coronavirus in the country.
He chose to run under the banner of the People’s Pioneers Party (PPP), which is “against discrimination and for the youth”.
But even this movement, created a year ago, remains cautious on the issue of sexual orientation.
“There could be a lot of backlash if we advocated for the decriminalization of homosexuality. It is not a matter of concern for the people ”, assures the leader of the party, Thet Thet Khine.
“We still have a long way to go,” admits Myo Min Tun.