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Gay librarian’s suicide prompts LGBT rights debate in Myanmar

Emma Powys Maurice June 27, 2019

The funeral of Kyaw Zin Win in Myanmar was attended by over 600 people (YouTube/AFP)

The suicide of a gay man in Myanmar who was subjected to “homophobic bullying” from his co-workers has prompted a national conversation on LGBT+ rights in the Southeast Asian country.

Kyaw Zin Win, 25, worked as a librarian at Yangon’s Myanmar Imperial University. He took his own life on Sunday (June 23) after posting a final Facebook message about colleagues mocking his sexuality and forcing him to publicly admit that he was gay.

Screenshots of the abuse reportedly show his colleagues saying: “We should send him to the army,” and “Don’t become an imbecile like [Kyaw Zin].”

In the two-part post to his family and friends, Kyaw Zin says: “I bear [the pain] patiently, wishing it would end soon.”

Myanmar is “a country which mocks the existence and identity of an individual being”

— Kyaw Zin Win

He says Myanmar is “a country which mocks the existence and identity of an individual being” and pleas “not to be reborn” in a country “where superiors oppress those under them.”

The University said on Wednesday (June 26) that it had launched an inquiry and suspended three staff members while it investigates Kyaw Zin’s suicide.

More than 600 people, including many LGBT+ activists, attended Kyaw Zin’s funeral in Yangon. Local activist Aunty Min told Gay Star News: “LGBT+ people throughout the country wanted to come here to show our solidarity.”

Kyaw Zin was hailed as a “hero” and a “martyr,” and a rainbow flag was draped over his coffin — the first time this had been done for a Myanmar funeral, according to local news.

Those unable to attend changed their Facebook profile pictures to a black circle with a rainbow edge in a show of support for Kyaw Zin and the repressed LGBT+ community.

Homosexuality is still criminalised in Myanmar

The LGBT+ community in Myanmar is starting to gain traction and celebrated its first ever Pride parade earlier this year, showing signs of growing acceptance in the conservative country.

But gay sex is still punishable by up to 10 years in jail under British colonial-era legislation. The law is rarely enacted, but LGBT+ rights groups have long been calling on Myanmar’s government to repeal it.

Last year the non-governmental organisation Colours Rainbow released a study indicating that LGBT+ people in Myanmar remain vulnerable to abuse due to the so-called “darkness law,” which gives police the power to arrest anyone who is out after dark wearing a disguise.

This case highlights gaps in the law.

— Nang Hsu Mon Thar, Colors Rainbow

Kyaw Zin’s death is now being investigated by Myanmar’s National Human Rights Commission, who called on the government to protect LGBT+ people with anti-discrimination legislation.

But Yahoo News reported that a representative from another human rights group, Colors Rainbow, told AFP the commission does not have the power to instigate legal proceedings and there is currently no legislation that could be used against the perpetrators.

“This case highlights gaps in the law,” said Nang Hsu Mon Thar, repeating calls for the decriminalisation of gay sex.

Activists are reportedly planning rallies, including a protest at the Myanmar Imperial University.

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