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Myanmar celebrates Pride with first-ever boat parade

Sofia Lotto Persio January 27, 2019
Members of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) community dance and take selfies under rainbow flags displayed on a boat during the Pride Boat Parade, an event of the Myanmar's Yangon Pride festival in Yangon on January 26, 2019.

They're on a boat, and they're Proud. (Photo by YE AUNG THU / AFP) (Photo credit should read YE AUNG THU/AFP/Getty Images)

The LGBT+ community in Myanmar has celebrated Pride with a boat parade for the first time.

Around 600 people participated in the parade, which saw a cruise-like boat and several smaller wooden vessels sailing through Yangon’s river on Saturday (January 26), amid sea of rainbow flags.

“Myanmar LGBT people, especially young people, are now more courageous and more ‘out’,” Hla Myat Tun, co-director of the Pride organising body &Proud, told AFP.

The Pride festivities are taking place in public for the second consecutive year.

Wooden boats displaying lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) community flags float near the jetty during the Pride Boat Parade, an event of the Myanmar's Yangon Pride festival.
The boats were suitably decorated for the Myanmar Pride festivities. (Ye Aung Thu/AFP/Getty)

In January 2018, around 12,000 people attended &PROUD Festival at a park in Yangon, Myanmar’s largest city, where the main Pride festivities took place across two consecutive weekends, including activities such as a drag queen race and handbag throwing and screenings of LGBT+ films.

In previous years, organisers have had to host Pride festivities in a discreet garden at the French Institute.

“I promise that I will continuously stand up for Myanmar LGBTIQ rights and freedom.”

— Okkar Min Maung

The LGBT+ community in Myanmar still lacks equal rights on several fronts. The British colonial era law banning homosexual acts, section 377 of the penal code, remains in place and carries a maximum sentence of life imprisonment.

The law is rarely enacted, but last year the non-governmental organisation Colours Rainbow released a study indicating that LGBT+ people, particularly trans women, remain vulnerable to abuse and exploitation due to the so-called “darkness law,” which gives police the power to arrest anyone who is out after dark wearing a disguise.

Myanmar Pride organisers award gay actor Okkar Min Maung recognition

According to AFP, the Myanmar Pride festivities this year had the theme “Heroes,” in recognition and celebration of those who are supporting the country’s LGBT+ community as it becomes increasingly visible.

One such person is popular film star Okkar Min Maung, also known as Ye Htoo Win, who came out as gay via a Facebook video in June to his thousands of followers.

Members of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) community dance and take selfies under rainbow flags displayed on a boat during the Pride Boat Parade, an event of the Myanmar's Yangon Pride festival in Yangon on January 26, 2019.
Myanmar’s LGBT community celebrates Pride on a boat. (Ye Aung Thu/AFP/Getty)

The actor received a “LGBTIQ Hero Award” at a ceremony on Saturday in Yangon, who was collected by his mother Nylar Thein Myint—who also won the “Most Amazing Mother Award” for supporting her son—on his behalf.

He posted pictures from the awards ceremony on his Facebook pages and wrote: “I promise that I will continuously stand up for Myanmar LGBTIQ rights and freedom. Things have changed gradually after all those years of hardships and struggles.”

He continued: “This award empowers me and gives me the strength to represent all the LGBT community in Myanmar. I will keep chasing my dreams without giving up.

“It’s my wish to be a positive influence on the entire LGBTIQ community. I want to leave my footprints in their hearts and minds and have that be the legacy that I leave behind when I leave this world, for one day to have somebody look at me and say, ‘Because of you I didn’t give up.'”

More: LGBT rights, Myanmar, Okkar Min Maung, Pride

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