Myanmar’s LGBT Community Members Beaten, Insulted During Protest Arrests

'We are now heading back to the pre-democracy era, the Dark Period,' says LGBT activist Ma Shin Thant.
Myanmar’s LGBT Community Members Beaten, Insulted During Protest Arrests LGBT community members participate in a protest in Myanmar's former capital Yangon, Feb. 19, 2021.

Members of Myanmar’s LGBT community are being targeted for humiliation by security forces after arrests in anti-junta protests, raising fears that rights recently won under democratic rule are now being rolled back under the military regime, sources in the country say.

Forms of humiliation used against LGBT detainees include sexual insults, taunts, and mockery of styles of dress, with arrestees often kicked and beaten while being detained, they said.

At least 45 LGBT citizens have been arrested while protesting against the Feb. 1 military coup that ousted Myanmar’s democratically elected government, according to the opposition National Unity Government’s (NUG) Ministry of Human Rights.

Thirty-five of these are still being held in custody, and at least six have been killed during protests in the streets, the ministry said.

“LGBT people are being specially targeted for persecution, and are being humiliated and treated even more inhumanely [than others] because of prejudice against them, and because the military thinks it can do whatever it likes,” NUG Minister of Human Rights Aung Myo Min told RFA.

“They hate to see a man dressed like a woman, and when they see people like this, they not only arrest them but harass them sexually,” said Aung Myo Min, Myanmar’s first openly gay government minister.

The NUG, a parallel government made of lawmakers who won elections last November but were ousted in the coup, is working to provide more protection for Myanmar’s women, children, and minority communities, he added.

Among those arrested, May Sharr—a transgender person from Taunggyi in Myanmar’s Shan state—was arrested and held for 24 hours for taking part in local anti-military protests, and was mocked and beaten while detained, she said.

‘“’You queers are so useless,’ May Sharr said she was told. ’Why did you have to get involved in this protest?’ What do you have to do with it?”

“They pushed me onto a truck, and when I struggled they pulled my hair and pushed me to the ground,” she said.

“’Aren’t you a man?’ they asked, and hit me again.”

LGBT rights had improved under the former civilian-led National League for Democracy government, May Sharr said.

“But the lives of LGBT people, who had been oppressed in various ways in the past, are now again being faced with uncertainty just when our lives were starting to get better,” she said. “I feel that there was more openness under the NLD government, where we could say what we wanted and make our voices heard.”

“All of our dreams have been shattered by this coup,” she said.

'My brother is dead'

Among those killed by junta troops, Thaw Thaw—a makeup artist and transgender person from Mandalay region’s Kyaukpadaung township—was shot dead by soldiers while delivering makeup to an area wedding by bicycle, his sister said.

“Because I have a heart ailment, I thought I would be the first to die, but now the heart patient is still alive and my brother is dead,” she said, adding, “I am so devastated, and every time I think of him I can’t help but cry.”

Khine Khine, an anti-coup protester in Yangon’s Pazundaung township who dresses as a woman, was arrested one night in mid-April at his home by soldiers who beat him and taunted him over his clothes, according to a friend.

Now facing trial, he is being forced to wear men’s clothing in a male dormitory in Yangon’s Insein Prison, his friend said.

Attempts this week to reach military spokesperson Zaw Min Tun for comment were unsuccessful.

“We are now heading back to the pre-democracy era, the Dark Period under a military regime in which we passed our childhood,” said LGBT activist Ma Shin Thant.

“To whom should we make our complaints if we are arrested?”

“There are blatant human rights abuses [in Myanmar] now. There is no justice, and we have no one we can turn to.”

“We really don’t want to see democracy turned back,” she said.

The military’s violent suppression of widespread protests has killed at least 883 people, with more than 5,200 arrests, according to the Thailand-based NGO the Assistance Association for Political Prisoners (AAPP).

Reported by Soe San Aung for RFA’s Myanmar Service. Translated by Khin Maung Nyane. Written in English by Richard Finney.


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