History of Pride Month Celebration in Cambodia
This June is Pride Month, which is the annual celebration when the world´s LGBTQI+ community and allies come together to commemorate the freedom of their right to be themselves. Pride gatherings particularly in the month of June are rooted in the difficult history of minority groups, who have struggled for decades to overcome prejudice and be accepted for who they are. The origin of June as Pride Month marks the Stonewall riots in Manhattan, which started on June 28, 1996, when police raided the Stonewall Inn LGBTQ-friendly bar. One year later, the first Pride march in New York City was held on June 28, marking the anniversary of the Stonewall riots. Since 1970, the LGBTQ+ community continues to gather in June to march with Pride and demonstrate for equal rights.
In Cambodia, the Pride celebration started in 2003. The First Gay Pride celebration was held in 2003 as a one-day event consisting of a music and dance program, a fashion show, and a social gathering. The event was organized by volunteer activists and was funded through private contributions. Between 2005 and 2008, no organized pride events took place. However, since 2009, Rainbow Community Kampuchea (RoCK) started to promote extended celebrations of LGBTQI+ Pride. These included week-long activities and the expansion to other provinces like Battambang and Siem Reap. Since then, the Pride Week activities include a variety of events such as art shows, performances workshops, sports competitions, drag shows, book launches, and many more activities. More organizations such as Pride Cambodia have been formed to promote and advocate for the rights, well-being, and equality of the LGBTQI+ community. Pride Cambodia actively organizes LGBTQI+ events and provides safe spaces for the community. Their vision is to create a future where all LGBTQI+ individuals have access to resources, support, and opportunities to thrive and enjoy fulfilling lives, and where diversity is not only accepted but also celebrated.
The Rights of the LGBTQI+ Community in Cambodia
The Pride Month and the related events are important to give a jolt of recognition to the LGBTQI+ community and highlight the discrimination members of the LGBTQI+ community face in terms of social and legal issues, although under domestic and international law, all persons- including lesbians, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LBTQI+) persons- are entitled to the same rights as other individuals. This is stipulated under Article 1 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which affirms that all human beings are born free, equal in dignity and that everyone is entitled to all rights and freedom without distinction of any kind. In Cambodian law, Article 31 of the Cambodian Constitution reaffirms these principles and respect for human rights, providing that all Khmer citizens are “equal before the law, enjoying the same rights, freedom and fulfilling the same obligation” regardless of their distinctive status and shall “have the right to participate actively in the political, economic, social and cultural life of the nation”.
Even though same-sex relations are not criminalized, they are neither protected nor officially recognized by Cambodian law. The current legislation does not provide a legal framework that prohibits discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identities. In addition, there are no sanctions towards those that violate the human rights of members of the LGBTQI+ community. By that, members often face high levels of stigma, discrimination, and exclusion both in the private as well as public spheres in terms of home, school, health facilities, and public spaces. This reality underlines the importance of Pride Month and all events aiming to create visibility and support for the LBGTQI+ community.
Pride Month Celebration in June 2023: Remork Pride Race and Meta Film Fest
This year the Heinrich Böll Foundation in Cambodia joined the Pride Month as a partner of the Remork Pride Race and collaborated with Meta House to organise a one-week-long screening of pride films from across Asia.
Pride Film Fest took place at Metahouse in Phnom Penh from 30th May to 4th June 2023. Each evening, the event featured long/short films, most of them from Asia. Along with the film screening, there were also site activities to make the atmosphere and purpose of the event more meaningful and engaging. Each night, a Cambodian activist/community member presented relevant topics around Sexuality, Identity, Safe Sex, Society, Language, etc.; followed by networking. Other activities included a panel with activists and artists on a Saturday afternoon (simultaneously translated), a drag show night (in cooperation with Cambodian LGBTIQ club “POC”/ “Pride of Cambodia”), a live performance by Cambodian LGBTIQ activist/singer-songwriter Felix Sea and a DJ party with LGBTIQ DJs.
The Remork Pride Race took place on the 27th of May. The Remork teams with colourful decorations were on the road in Phnom Penh to pass challenges at different LGBTQI+-friendly spots, with Heinrich Böll Foundation among them. Each Team made up its team name such as Rainbow Racer, Dancing Kweens, What Tuk you so long, Team Mearmaizing, or Queendom of Wonder. Beyond that, all teams had colourful, creative, and uniquely decorated Tuc Tucs that mirrored their team’s name and vibe. Around 40 teams/remorks found their way to the Heinrich Böll office and participated in the creative challenge. On this rather rainy day, the Tuc Tucs stood out in pride colours paired with high spirits in defiance of the grey clouds of Phnom Penh. On this day, each team was unique bringing together old and young, but all had one thing in common, which was a good mood, fun, and pride.
At the Heinrich Böll office site, the teams had to take up a creative challenge to achieve points during the race. In the challenge, the participants had to draw and create their own background and finally take a team picture in front of it. While designing their background, we gave them two guiding questions, that should be represented on their final poster. The two guiding questions were: Draw your favourite thing or place in Phnom Penh or Cambodia and draw what you wish for in Phnom Penh or Cambodia. The teams were provided with all kinds of colourful pencils and lots of LGBTQI+ Stickers.
The participant had up to 5 minutes to answer the guiding question in the most creative way possible. As a result, each team took up the challenge from their perspective with different creative approaches and created individual and meaningful backgrounds. Some of the teams were very quick in knowing what they love and like about Cambodia/Phnom Penh and created their backgrounds. Some of the teams took the challenge as a way to calm down and take their time to draw and create their background. Each team member participated in creating the background making it a team product. Finally, all teams created unique and different posters, but all represented their love for Cambodia.
In light of Pride Month, it becomes clear that there is still a lot to be done but we can and must all be part of the movement. Thus, Pride Month, week, and events such as the Pride Film Festival from the Meta House and the Remork Race are important to create visibility and recognition for the LGBTQI+ community.