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Sharing life experiences as LGBTIQ in Cambodia

Written  by Saophorn Phoeng, Linking, Learning and Amplifier in Cambodia

I am Tol Chhourkimheng, a 30-year-old LGBTIQ+ rights activist with Love is Diversity (LiD). In fourth grade, I understood I was not straight, and I felt exceptionally different than others with particular preferences to the opposite sex. Societal norms dictated that as a female, I needed to have a relationship with a male. Later, I met a few folks who shared the same feelings. But, more critical, I began searching on the internet, which made me curious in how and why same-sex feelings occur and my doubts about homosexuality. I also obtained knowledge and information from university lectures. I first came out to my co-workers and friends. A few accepted me most of them did not.  I was advised to change for various reasons; I had no future, no children, and my parents would be embarrassed. As an activist, I began with Love is Diversity and am improving my awareness of Sexual Orientation, Gender Identity,Gender Expression and Sexual Characteristics (SOGIESC), solidarity, self-love, and self-acceptance. Everything starts with love; we deserve respect regardless of who we are.

My community and family still have limited knowledge of the LGBTIQ+ community’s needs. While employers are beginning to take gender identity and expression into account, legalization and legislation remains a mirage. As a result, LGBTIQ+ community members are not legally protected against discrimination, bullying, and violence. Still, LGBTIQ+ people face personal, family, work, and social challenges.

Kimheng shares his story at our session “Enabling safe space with Linking & Learning community

Back then, this was challenging the most at the moment that made me very depressed living in a toxic environment with no support system in place, and this was hard enough to continue, and later I quit the job. An employee stated with solid feelings of discrimination against homosexuality that he would kill all LGBTIQ people if he became the country’s prime minister, and there are no spaces for LGBTIQ people in this world.

How do I plan for a safe coming-out journey?

Family not accepting one is impactful. One feels  unloved and unsupported of who we are and want to be. Parents try to change us and expect us to follow them, although it would be impossible to shift SOGIE in a lifetime. I hope family members will try to understand and not deny genuine desire. Whatever golden net is, I will choose the ability to fly high over being secure in a trap.

My family accepted me when I came out, and I slowly told them I am part of the family. I am trying to finish my education and eventually get a job. I am starting to develop a sense of independence for my economic and financial situation. I dream of continuing higher education, and my effort will pay well – winning the Australia award to pursue my master’s degree; this is the right time to raise my voice on SOGIE. Reflectively, evaluate what is best to fly with and be confident enough to overcome those consequences. How much do you learn from yourself and who you are? How ready have you built to go further? This is my way of coming out and is suitable for me, but I am not sure if this works for others.

Although the government supports non-discrimination based on SOGIESC, tangible legislative and policy initiatives should be planned on the pledges of non-discrimination to LGBTIQ persons. Based on the experiences of meeting with many LGBTIQ people, legal support is crucial to eliminating discrimination against homosexuality. Furthermore, LGBTIQ people urge the government to legalise same-sex marriage to ensure that LGBTIQ people get equal rights and opportunities in society. Some progress has been achieved in advocating for the interests of LGBTIQ+ people through social media and the larger community. Hopefully, LGBTI people will become more self-assured and encouraged to engage in and be represented in community activities and events. They are utilising their skills to reach their potential and, of course, the society for development, leaving no one behind the action.

Nothing about us without us; we join hands to make an inclusive and diverse world. We have no right to discriminate against others; others would not be entitled to be bullied and discriminated too. We are all free and equal based on the universal declaration of human rights.

Activists pose for photo


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