Youth: Open Space #12 : Young and Queer in Southeast Asia

Published by AYF Secretariat on

In this Open Space and in the observation of Pride Month, AYF is providing a platform for youth to discus the experience young queer experience in Southeast Asia. . Southeast Asia is the region where diverse sexual orientation and gender identities are stigmatized as western culture. This stigma is perpetuated by the government,  law enforcement and religious institutions. Stigma that lead people to hate other, to discriminate  and persecute people in diverse sexual orientation and gender identities; Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer and Intersex persons. 

On the 13th of June (Sunday), over 30 youth in Southeast Asia attended the session. The participating youth are coming from 9 countries, which are Brunei Darussalam, Cambodia, Indonesia, Lao, Myanmar, Malaysia, The Philippines, Timor Leste, and Vietnam

It was an entirely youth-led discussion, co-hosted by Naz (Brunei Darussalam), Lars (Lao PDR), and Peosamnang (Cambodia).


Here are list of pre-readings of the session

  1. Right to Sexuality
  2. The Five Sexes Why Male and Female are not Enough
  3. LGBTQI Identities Are Inherently Asian (Twitter Thread)
Copy of Black White Think Speak Typography Saying Poster-3

Here are some highlights from the session

I understand that most of us here can relate to the feeling of wanting to be accepted rather than being tolerated. Personally, I feel this way with the majority of people with society. Fortunately enough, there are few people who do accept us without any judgements.

Naz, Brunei Darussalam

From the aspect of change that I want to see, I guess to add to what you said about the decriminalization queer community, I would also like to see the legalization of them, such as in marriage and things like that. It is because I think that it is a kind of testament of acceptance of the society that we live in toward the queer community. It is because, you know, marriage is a big thing for some people to interact with each other and express your love. I think it is a symbol of tolerance even for religious purposes. I think it would be a great change if we can see that in our generational lifetime. I think we are on the right track of going in that direction. So, hopefully, especially in ASEAN countries, we can see that happening as is already happening in Western countries.

Rosalind, Indonesia

I think being the first openly queer person especially in Asian countries is very important. I think it can reshape the minds of the people and the society itself about queer people. Talking and just making a discussion about queer people, or start to be open about it. In Indonesia, if you heard the news, especially in Vice news, there is the first transgender public officer in Indonesia named Bunda Mayora. It is very ground breaking.  There are nasty comments about it in Instagram about the video. I think when people are starting to talk about her or queer community, it will reshape the conversation about transgender or the queer people in Indonesia itself. I think it is important to be the first to acknowledge the queer community.  I think acknowledging it is a big step for the queer people in Indonesia. 

Joshua, Indonesia

In Myanmar as well, we have specific pronouns for male and female, like (note: unidentified Burmese language) thu ma, thu berd, but people do not really care with the pronouns that someone used. We usually use pronouns tthu for any kind of gender or sex.

Nan Win, Myanmar

From my experience, I work in the activism of queer in Kota Banding and Kabupaten Garut, and both cities are rough. Each city has unique challenges and people, also community that I am facing on. In Bandung I can connect freely with the community but it is so secluded and exclusive to maintain the security of anyone else there. The difference with Garut is that in Garut I also build a community there and it’s also hard to re-create some of the fellow allies and fellow queers. Somehow it’s best to work from one cafe to another to know each other, to know who is interested in the community, also how and why we contribute to the community. So it’s rough. The hard thing for both of the cities is to maintain the security and also one of my friends in Garut has also experienced forced conversion by the government. And also I had been abused and discriminate by a doctor in Bandung and forced to join conversion therapy by the doctor, which I had reported the doctor to the committee of doctor and other health organizations that’s concern about this. So it’s a lot of hard work that I had from 2019.

Rhaka, Indonesia

I think that just highlights how that in Southeast Asia there’s, I would say, a diverse reaction to diversity. Coming from LAO PDR perspective, it’s more accepting socially, and I wouldn’t have to face problems like someone in certain parts of Indonesia for example, for being queer. Western queer culture is so different from Asian queer culture and I do feel like it’s unfair that we see a lot of progress in the western countries, and it’s like good for them, but to apply the same methods you know concept of coming out, and like we discussed before pronounce, it’s not the same to just implant that in our society and expect change like that. I think to make change in Southeast Asia it has to be more nuance it has to be more subtle.

Lars, Lao PDR

I’ve met some queer of friends but we never really disclose it in public settings because of the security and we’re not like protected or anything so it can be dangerous

Kay, Indonesia

I think it’s all because of people try to not to listen to what queer community have to say. And they don’t really understand what is exactly LGBTQ community. And I think there’s always a saying that LGBTQ community is different from the society, is minority, vulnerable, but actually not. Queer people or queer community is actually like human being, is part of the society, they are smart, they are intelligent, they are super fun. So I think the people just try to be ignorant at the end of the day. That is why contributes to the negative action toward the LGBTQ community. But from my point of view, if you want to try to live in harmoniously, and you know, where everybody can actually grow and contribute its potential, I think we have to like listen to each other and understand each other and respecting otherwise we cannot reach to that inclusivity.

Richardo, Timor Leste

Related to the coming stories, I myself actually don’t really need to come out, because I’ve already got accepted by my family. But the reason why I need to come out and speak about LGBTQ voice, because I think I have privilege. Many LGBTIQ+ people, individuals they don’t have this support from their family you know, so I think I have privilege so I should use this privilege to help raise up their voice as much as we can.

Peosamnang, Cambodia

advocacy is not only about explaining laws, or doing “classic acts”. Because for me like making other people comfortable with who you are, what you understand about queerness is also taking the step. For example my hair is super long, but even in public people gets uncomfortable and feel confused. Hence, I think advocacy can mean like sharing queer movie, or like showing someone a song, and I think that’s already showing advocacy. It doesn’t have to be like a stressful work. Especially when you see the western style activism, it’s like advanced, and have a certain aesthetic and it can be as simple as letting your hair down. So, it can be really simple.

Jing, Malaysia

For me, it is important to let people understand about how to treat LGBTQ+ people like other straight people. LGBTQ+ people facing the community who are cannot accept their appearance and behaviour.

Sitti Fatimah,Malaysia

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