Myanmar’s LGBTI welcome first community cafe

LGBTI cafe My Place opens in Myanmar's commercial hub, Yangon

Myanmar last month opened what could well be the country’s first LGBTI cafe, named My Place.

Well-known actress Khine Hnin Wai and her partner Junior Dennis set up the cafe in the country’s commercial hub, Yangon.

‘I want them [LGBTI] to feel warm, relax, and equality when they come to My Place.’ said Junior Dennis.

Homosexual sex is illegal in Myanmar under article 377 of the colonial-era penal code, although it is rarely enforced.

LGBTI people in Myanmar do, however, face widespread stigma and discrimination.

Local LGBTI people and allies have welcomed the community space.

Facebook users reviewing the cafe described it as ‘friendly,’ ‘warm,’ ‘welcoming’ and said that it ‘empowered’ the local LGBTI community.

‘Why not Myanmar?’

Junior Dennis explained that neighboring China and Thailand have many LGBTI venues. ‘Why not Myanmar?’ the owner asked.

No one will look down on people at My Place, said Junior Dennis.

‘[Customers] are all equal to any other human beings and have all the rights of human society,’ the owner said.

The couple adorned the cafe’s walls with photos of LGBTI celebrities including Sam Smith, Kristen Stewart, and Ellen DeGeneres.

The cafe sells rainbow accessories including shirts and flags and offers leaflets and advice LGBTI issues.

It serves up local coffee and Thai food with half of profits going to a charity founded by Khine Hnin Wai.

Myanmar's first LGBTI cafe in commercial hub, Yangon.

Myanmar’s first LGBTI cafe in commercial hub, Yangon.

More safe spaces

HlaMyat Tun of local LGBTI group Colors Rainbow welcomed the new space for the community.

But, the activist, said: ‘Importantly, existing spaces should also be non-discriminatory.’

‘We need more safe spaces in daily life, such as schools, home, and workplaces,’ he told Gay Star News.

‘People look down [on LGBTI] for no concrete reason and start discriminating by isolating them from the society,’ he explained.

In January, thousands attended Myanmar’s first public LGBTI pride party.

Last month, Myanmar actor and model Okkar Min Maung (also known as Ye Htoo Win) sent shockwaves through society when he publicly came out as gay.

‘I am who I am, I love who I love. I won’t give up,’ he said in a video that went viral.

Taiwan’s LGBTI activists launch equal marriage referendum campaign

LGBTI activists in Taipei, Taiwan launch equal marriage referendum campaign

LGBTI activists in Taiwan have launched a campaign to secure votes in an equal marriage referendum likely to take place in November.

“Our goal is to win the referendum so the government and parliament will understand the majority of people support marriage equality,” chief organizer Jennifer Lu told Gay Star News by phone on Wednesday (August 29).

The Marriage Equality Coalition Taiwan launched the campaign in response to a petition  by an anti equal marriage group.

The petition of more than 600,000 signatures, presented to election authorities on Tuesday, asked for a referendum on the issue.

In May 2017, Taiwan’s top court ruled it was unconstitutional that the Civil Code did not allow same-sex couples to marry. It gave legislators two years to make marriage equality law.

The Central Election Commission is currently vetting Tuesday’s petition organized by the group named Happiness of the Next Generation Alliance.

If approved, a referendum would likely take place on November 24 alongside local elections.

Separate but equal

President Tsai Ing-Wen promised equal marriage during her election campaign in 2015. However, she has been slow to act on legislating changes to the Civil Code dictated in 2017.

Therefore, in the case of a successful referendum for anti-gay campaigners, Taiwan may instead enact a ‘separate but equal’ law for civil unions between same-sex couples.

‘This kind of proposal is not equality,’ said Lu. ‘Only changing the civil code will bring equality to same sex couples in Taiwan.’

One million ‘no’s

The ‘Fight for Happiness’ campaign wants one million people to register ‘no’ before the upcoming referendum.

The campaign will launch a new website September 10. It will organize 60 events across the country in the next three months to encourage people to vote in November.

So far, 31 organizations, 11 individual partners, more than 30 local council candidates  and 400 local businesses have joined the campaign.

‘Start the conversation right now,’ urged Lu.

‘Talk to your friends and family,’ she said. ‘Make them understand what is real love and let’s work together to create a better future for Taiwan.’

The campaign is also encouraging ‘no’ votes for two more referendums. One on removing same-sex education and another on changing the civil code’s definition of marriage as being between a man and a woman.

Petitions for these referendums were submitted by the anti equal marriage group on Tuesday.

A separate campaign, Vote4LGBT, is also petitioning for a referendum on the issue. It had collected 270,000 signatures as of Wednesday, according to the group’s Facebook page.

In Taiwan, conservative campaigners seek referendum on same-sex marriage

Anti same-sex marriage campaigners in Taiwan deliver petition for a referendum on the issue.

Conservative campaigners in Taiwan on Tuesday attempted to derail the country legalizing same-sex unions.

The anti-gay marriage group Happiness of the Next Generation Alliance submitted a petition with more than 600,000 signatures to election authorities asking for a referendum on the issue, according to the group’s Facebook page.

‘The referendum will give a choice on basic values, it’s a selfless act of justice,’ Happiness of the Next Generation Alliance wrote on their Facebook page. ‘We pushed the referendum with tears in our eyes, no one benefits from this,’ the post Tuesday said.

In May 2017, Taiwan became the first Asian nation to rule in favor of same-sex marriage.

Grand Council of Justices ruled it was unconstitutional that the Civil Code did not allow same-sex couples to marry and gave legislators two years to make marriage equality law.

The ruling came after  local activist, Chi Chia-wei, challenged the rejection of his and his long-time partner’s application to marry in 2013.  A local Taipei registration office refused the pair a marriage certificate.

Since the court’s 2017 ruling, president Tsai Ing-Wen has been slow to act on legislation. Therefore, same-sex marriage will most likely become legal by default in May 2019.

More petitions to come in Taiwan

The Central Election Commission will now vet Tuesday’s petition. If approved, a referendum could take place in November.

In the case of a successful referendum, Taiwan may instead enact a separate law for civil unions between same-sex couples.

LGBTI equality campaigners have denounced such a move as discriminatory and failing to offer genuine equality.

The anti same-sex marriage group on Tuesday also lodged two other petitions with the commission. One to remove same-sex education from the school curriculum garnered 670,100 signatures.

Another to redefine the civil code’s definition of marriage as being between a man and a woman garnered 678,550 signatures.

Meanwhile, equal marriage campaigners have been preparing their own petitions and were expected to make an announcement Wednesday.