LGBT people in Asia denied access to basic rights

16 May 2014

Bangkok – Lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) people across Asia continue to face discrimination and violence because of their sexual orientation and gender identity, and are unable to access the same rights and services as other citizens of their countries.

This is the primary finding from eight national LGBT and intersex dialogues convened in Cambodia, China, Indonesia, Mongolia, Nepal, the Philippines, Thailand and Viet Nam held as part of the ‘Being LGBT in Asia’ regional initiative supported by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and the United States Agency for International Development (USAID).

“We must make sure that human rights are universal and that everyone is able to live their lives free from fear, discrimination, violence, homophobia, or transphobia,” said Haoliang Xu, UN Assistant Secretary-General and Director of the UNDP Regional Bureau for Asia and the Pacific.

He continued, “We must work against all forms of marginalization, injustice and inequality to sustain economic and social progress. Our public discussions across the region contributed to changing the public’s and policy makers’ attitudes toward LGBT communities.”

Held over the past 12 months, the national dialogues convened 650 LGBT activists, representing over 190 community based organizations, and representatives of government, legal and human rights institutions, donors, United Nations agencies, academia, faith-based organizations and other key stakeholders.

"There's no room for stigma and discrimination in today's world," said Michael Yates, director of the USAID Regional Development Mission for Asia. "For USAID, this means that truly sustainable development requires everyone's contribution and participation, including the LGBT community."

In each national dialogue, participants examined LGBT rights in their country as related broadly to law, policy, and social and cultural attitudes; and more specifically to employment, housing, education, young people, health and well-being, family affairs, media and information communication technology, politics and religion. The meetings were also an opportunity to review the capacity of LGBT organizations and ask how they can work together more effectively to achieve change.

Homosexuality is not criminalized in any of the countries participating in ‘Being LGBT in Asia’ but laws and policies generally do not address LGBT people or can be interpreted in negative ways. While some policies related to health have acknowledged men who have sex with men and transgender people as populations at risk of HIV infection, the most basic protections of citizenship rights are often not available to persons living with HIV or the entire LGBT community.

“Anti-discrimination laws that protect LGBT people are long overdue in many countries,” Professor Michael L. Tan, Chancellor, University of the Philippines, Diliman and a ‘Being LGBT in Asia’ Technical Advisor, told the Philippines Dialogue. Participants discussed issues faced by transgender persons, including a lack of appropriate health care and access to sex reassignment surgery, and problems associated with being unable to have their chosen gender reflected on identification documents and cards and educational certificates.

The importance of family in Asian society was particularly noted in all national dialogues. Various recommendations from country reports involved reaching families with LGBT members with accurate information and support, and facilitating the expansion of Parents and Friends of Lesbians and Gays (and similar groups). As Dédé Oetomo, Chair of the Asia Pacific Coalition on Male Sexual Health and Founder & Trustee, GAYa NUSANTARA Foundation noted in the Indonesian Dialogue, “The family unit is arguably the greatest influence on the lives of LGBT people, yet acceptance by families is limited by strong cultural pressures.”

LGBT civil society groups are requesting support so they can more effectively advocate for laws and policies that will enable them to better address stigma and discrimination, access education, employment and healthcare, and thus better participate in the development of their perspective societies and countries National LGBT reports covering the human rights background in each focus country, as well as recommendations from the national dialogues, are currently being produced. The Philippines country report was publicly released this week in Manila.

For more information on the Philippines National LGBT Report please visit: http://www.ph.undp.org/content/philippines/en/home/library/democratic_governance/being-lgbt-in-asia--the-philippine-country-report/ 

Contact Information

Edmund Settle, Policy Advisor
UNDP Asia-Pacific Regional Centre
Bangkok, Thailand | edmund.settle@undp.org

Thomas White, Deputy Director
Governance and Vulnerable Populations Office
Regional Development Mission Asia (RDMA)
US Agency for International Development (USAID)
Bangkok, Thailand | thwhite@usaid.gov