From Cambodia with Love Part two!
Cambodia is one of the Voice focus countries where same-sex unions are not punishable by law. Although Cambodian family law does not recognise same-sex marriages, there has been greater public awareness of same-sex unions since the 1990s. Through CamASEAN, a former Voice empowerment grantee and a current co-applicant of Empowering Rainbow Voices, a Voice influencing grant led by Child Helpline Cambodia we have been able to showcase voices from long-term couples. We have featured them before -hence the title- but wanted to highlight them again in celebration of this year’s IDAHOT themed Justice and Protection for all.
“I started to dress up like a boy when I was a kid. Fortunately for me, my parents supported me for who I am. Later, however, I was forced to marry a man during the terrible Khmer Rouge regime. This was a tough time for me. We got divorced after having one son and that’s when I finally met my beautiful wife who has made everything much better for me. We have been married for 37 years and adopted two kids from an orphanage who have made our relationship grow into something even stronger and certain,” says a happy 66-years old Keo Pon.
“To be honest if my parents were alive, they wouldn’t allow me to get married to Pon,” shyly admits 69-year-old Mey Phouek-Pon, the wife of Pon.
“I did feel anxious about it for a long time. However, that changed after attending the recent CamAsean Rainbow Exhibition. The space gave me strength that can only be found in a community of people with the same struggles, and within the same space, I also gave strength. Since then, I feel I am a much happier person, more whole because I belong. Things have really changed for us from the past. Now villagers and the community authority accept, respect and consider us a couple just like any other in the village. It’s wonderful.”
“I believe that given a chance, LGTBI people can prove themselves just like everyone else in society. Being part of CamAsean, (the Voice project) has changed the life of many LGTBI people in this area. I am now 67 years old and I have seen, through the project, that people are feeling more comfortable to share their stories even if it’s just online. A safe space allows us to bring out all our pain, our struggles, our joy, our hopes and our dreams as who we are and there’s a sense of calm and belonging after sharing. I want to say this to all parents out there, please give your children enough time to become better people and please respect their decisions. To the LGBTI youth, accept yourselves for who you are, try to help your country when you can, be a good son or daughter to your parents, a good person in general and an honest person to your partner. When you can, also listen to and support your LGBTI friends.” says Sanh Peng.
Listening to someone else’s story which might be similar to yours has a comforting effect.
As much as we have beautiful and encouraging love stories as featured above, the cultural tolerance of LGBT people has yet to be matched with the legislation of LGBT rights in Cambodia.
A big thank you to Keo, Mey and Sanh for sharing their voices.