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PostPosted: Mon Apr 04, 2011 7:16 am 
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Myanmar cracks down on prostitution near capital
21 March 2011

Yangon (dpa) — Local authorities in Pyinmana, a town neighbouring Myanmar's capital of Naypyitaw, have banned massage parlours and slapped restrictions on other fronts for prostitution, media reports said Monday.

"Massage parlours often act as a front for prostitution, which is illegal in Myanmar, and anyone caught running a brothel faces a lengthy prison term," said an official of the Pyinmana Township Peace and Development Council, the local authority.

Restrictions have also been placed on restaurants, beauty parlours and karaoke lounges, which must now close at 11 pm, according to the council's announcement issued last week, The Myanmar Times said. Karaoke bars and lounges must install transparent glass in their rooms and are forbidden to use curtains, the announcement said.

Although Naypyitaw, established by the military as Myanmar's capital in 2005, has been kept free of prostitution, an "entertainment industry" has flourished in Pyinmana over the past five years.

Some Pyinmana residents welcomed the crackdown on prostitution. "It is good to put restrictions on those 'fake' entertainment venues because some men go there just for pleasure," said a 50-year old local, who asked not to be named. "It impacts their family lives severely."

Naypyitaw is 350 kilometres north of the old capital and Myanmar's largest city, Yangon.

Source: Earth Times / dpa.

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PostPosted: Fri Jun 15, 2012 2:12 pm 
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Gay people in Burma start to challenge culture of repression

Clubs, magazines and even an LGBT-oriented TV show are building momentum against institutionalised prejudice

by Esmer Golluoglu
Sunday 13 May 2012

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Shwedagon Paya temple, Rangoon 27/4/04. A man prays at a temple in Rangoon, Burma, where men and women are expected to dress and behave conservatively. Photograph: AFP/Getty Images

The nightclub is heaving, sweaty and loud, pulsating with blinding blue and white lights, and packed with drunken dancers. At the bar, the young sons of Burma's elite are buying bottles of Jack Daniel's and Johnnie Walker with thick wads of dirty kyat notes.

But inside the double doors and through the dark fog of the smoke machine, a cultural transformation is taking place on the dance floor. Clubbers are grinding up against each other – girls on girls, boys on boys – singing along to American hip-hop blaring out of the giant speakers in the corner.

In a country that still criminalises homosexual activity – a legacy from when the British once ruled this country of 50 million – such sights have long been kept out of view. But as Burma slowly opens up, many of its lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) population are hoping they will no longer have to stay in the shadows.

"When we cruise, we cruise with everyone else – gay or straight – because we don't have 100% gay venues here," says Chitoo, 33, a gay Burmese living in Rangoon. "If we did, the government would arrest us. But now Daw [Aung San] Suu [Kyi] is bringing human rights on to the table, and through her our voices will be louder than ever before."

Some expect the change to be rapid, such as Douglas Thompson, a gay activist who founded the LGBT-friendly travel company Purple Dragon 15 years ago and has been operating tours in Burma and other south Asian countries ever since. "If it's anything like India or China or Vietnam … when things begin to open up, people meet and communicate," he says. "Gay is an idea that people bring with them. It's a lifestyle that is really for most people [in Burma] still completely alien."

Activists say the culture of repression that has long existed in Burma – thanks to an autocratic military junta that ruled the nation for nearly 50 years – prevents many LGBT people from coming out, for fear of being ostracised by their families as much as targeted by police.

Authorities operate under the archaic 19th-century penal code 377, which criminalises "intercourse against the order of nature" and is punishable by up to 10 years in prison. Ambiguously worded laws are also used at whim to arrest, harass and intimidate anyone suspected of "doubtful acts", says Aung Myo Min, of Thailand-based advocacy group Human Rights Education Institute of Burma.

Yet slowly, Burma's LGBT community is gaining ground. Last year Burma got its first LGBT-targeted TV programme, Colours Rainbow TV, which airs once a month online and focuses on LGBT news, interviews and features from Burma and the rest of the world. Aung Myo Min's charity, which created it, estimates that it has 3,000 regular viewers within Burma, but admits the audience is limited to those who can afford internet access and have electricity – just 25% of Burma is on the national power grid. The organisation also publishes a quarterly magazine, Colours Rainbow, and distributes it free within Burma.

The suppression of the LGBT community has public health, as well as human rights, implications. According to UNAids, HIV/Aids affects roughly 240,000 people in Burma, or 0.6% of the population. But that number jumps to 29% for gay men, and the Rangoon-based Aids Alliance estimates that fewer than 20% of the 76,000 people needing anti-retroviral treatment are receiving it. Activists blame Burma's repressive political environment, which for decades severely limited the number of international organisations and donors able to operate within its closed borders. "The international assistance we've got right now is very low compared to other countries, and stigma is still very high, even in many donor organisations," says Nyi Nyi, a gay HIV/Aids activist working in Rangoon.

In a nation in effect long cut off from the rest of the world, Burmese society is far more conservative than its more outwardly sexualised neighbour, Thailand. Here, both men and women wear long cotton sarongs called longyi, with women taking pains to cover their shoulders and chest. Premarital sex is frowned upon and traditional beliefs are the norm, especially in rural areas, says Chitoo. "It's common for people to believe that a gay man had a bad relationship with a woman in a past life, so in this life he's punished by being 'turned' gay," he says.

"Corrective" behaviour targeted at LGBT people is common, say rights groups, with even rape used against lesbians, while families may send a gay son to the monastery to "correct" his sexual orientation.

Some names have been changed. Esmer Golluoglu is the pseudonym of a journalist working in Rangoon
Source: Guardian UK.

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PostPosted: Wed Jan 09, 2013 12:35 pm 
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Burma Gets First ‘Sex Education’ Magazine
By MA SAT SU
December 6, 2012

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A man reads a copy of Nhyot in Rangoon. (Photo: The Irrawaddy)

Many previously taboo subjects are now being brazenly embraced in Burma, although some changes are only emerging step-by-step in the traditionally conservative society.

Beautiful models clad in revealing dresses can be found in today’s domestic journals and magazines according to so-called “international standards,” and readers can even study erotic issues under the guise of “sex education” thanks to a ground-breaking magazine.

Nhyot, roughly translated as “Allure” in Burmese, is a new publication which boasts erotic images from cover to back. Advertisements for the publication have caused a storm in Burma as well as on social media such as Facebook. Oo Swe, the editor-in-chief of Nhyot, told The Irrawaddy that topics in his magazine are presented from a health point of view, aiming to prevent unwanted diseases from sexual encounters.

“People in this country don’t know about sex education even after they have grown up,” he said. “In other countries in the world, it has been included in school curricula and people have known about it since they were in primary school. Lack of knowledge can unwittingly bring sexually transmitted diseases, which can then be infected in partners. Such problems will have an impact from the family to the national level. This is the idea behind the publication of Nhyot. Articles in the magazine are written from a clinical point of view and carefully supervised.”

Nhyot first hit shelves on Nov. 27 with new issues available in the last week of each month. The owner of a bookshop on Rangoon’s 32nd Street told The Irrawaddy that the attractive magazine has been a hit from day one. “A lot of buyers, mostly boys, came to my shop to look for Nhyot,” he said. “The price is 3,000 kyat [US $3.50].”

Articles with titles such as “Secrets of the bedroom,” “Will you be in the arms of everyone” and “What men hate about women” seem to deliberately cater for men. And there is also a Q&A section that includes in-depth discussion of sexual topics. Indeed, the disclaimer “Minors are prohibited” on the cover appears to be enticing a larger readership. “There has been no such warning in Burma before,” said Oo Swe. “But there are actually many issues, including those related to love, in current magazines and other publications, which minors should not read. I put the warning because my magazine only features issues for adults.”

The pioneering editor explained that literature regarding sex education has existed in the country for a long time with writers such as Dr. Maung Maung Nyo and Dr. Nan Ohnmar covering the subject in their books, although Nhyot is the first magazine of its kind.

A young female reader told The Irrawaddy that Nhyot is interesting although the article titles are very lewd and price high for a newly-published magazine. “As our country has opened up and enjoys more freedom, such magazines will be published eventually. We can’t stop them,” she said. “We will be able to gain knowledge through this kind of magazine.”

Nhyot, however, has not had a smooth arrival as many conservative people in Burma even complain about advertisements for women’s menstrual hygiene products and men’s potency drugs. The magazine has encountered some quandaries using photos to match with its written content. “No censor has been applied to us but I won’t publish a magazine like Playboy because we have to pay attention to our culture,” said Oo Swe. “We have carefully taken all the photos ourselves.” He added that publications on sex education should be readily available in the country to encourage people to be more open about reproductive health.

The end of Nhyot’s first edition editorial reads, “Love and sex are like Kyut-Kyut-Ate [non-recyclable plastic bags]. They are essential but can also bring negative impacts if we don’t use them with discipline. In order to apply them properly, this magazine presents sex education in combination with entertainment.”

Source: The Irrawaddy.

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PostPosted: Tue Jan 22, 2013 11:42 am 
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Myanmar gets steamed up by sex education magazine
7 January 2013

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A woman is pictured on January 5, 2013 browsing in a Yangon bookshop where sex education books are on display.

AFP - With its glossy pages of pouting models and racy romance tips, Myanmar's first sex education magazine has got the usually demure nation hot under the collar as it cashes in on new-found cultural freedom.

"Hyno" has sparked fevered debate since hitting Myanmar's bookstores in November, where it has become a must-read among the young and curious, just a few months after the end of direct censorship in the former junta-ruled nation.

Perhaps tame by western standards, Hyno's photo spreads of semi-clad women and columns espousing "bedroom secrets" and "the benefits of cuddling" -- to the more cryptic "modern lies before marriage" -- have raised eyebrows in conservative Myanmar, earning it an adult-rating.

But its editor brushes off accusations that the monthly publication is too risque for the country, or in any way as salacious as "Playboy" magazine as critics have claimed on Facebook. "This magazine is a combination of sex education and entertainment," Ko Oo Swe told AFP, saying the red label on the front page warning it is for over 18s has stirred the unfavourable comparisons. "Issues about sex remain hidden in Myanmar. Our society is becoming more open but I think sex education is still weak," he added.

Hyno -- which translates as "enchant" or "hypnotise" -- is the first magazine of its kind and is proving very popular despite the relatively-expensive $3 cover price at bookstores and street stalls. Its debut follows the abolition in August of Myanmar's stringent pre-publication censorship which had seen officials scrupulously flag photos or articles deemed distasteful to public morality, as well as stifling dissent. But since censorship was scrapped, fashion and lifestyle magazines have started to push the boundaries with their content -- so far without sanction.

Hyno has raised the stakes, so much so that some bookshops refuse to stock the magazine, saying its aim is to titillate rather than educate. Ominously, the Ministry of Information sent a letter to the interim press council registering its unhappiness with the "unethical" lifestyle magazine. The ministry accuses Hyno of breaching its licence as a fashion publication by printing "sex-related articles and photos that are not appropriate for Myanmar's culture." "I even saw some comments on the Internet saying how shameless the editor is to print such magazine," said Ko Oo Swe, urging people to avoid criticism until they have read it and seen how he has "stuck to the cultural rules."

Despite the uproar, Hyno's young readers believe it could play a major role in raising awareness of sexually transmitted diseases and, in the longer term, shifting rigid social mores as Myanmar edges out of decades of isolation. "For those who are quite old-fashioned it (sex education) is a very shameful thing," said Yoon Lae Khin, a 20-year-old student, who is also a volunteer for the Myanmar Medical Association (MMA). "My mother understands there are things we need to know, but it is difficult to talk about sex in front of my father and siblings. So we need to get this awareness from magazines."

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A woman sells copies of "Hyno", Myanmar's first sex education magazine, in downtown Yangon on December 20, 2012.

Medical professionals have joined Hyno's corner saying it is high time the country talked about sex. "Young people do not have enough knowledge so problems such as underage pregnancy, pregnancy before marriage and infection with HIV/AIDS and venereal disease occur," said Khine Soe Win, a project officer for a youth development programme with the MMA. "Old-fashioned people turn their noses up in disapproval" of sex education, he added, criticising them for judging the issue by the yardstick of "a culture they don't understand."

His comments were echoed by Ne Win, a doctor working for the United Nations Population Fund in Myanmar, who believes a modern, progressive media can fill the void left by the nation's reluctance to promote sex education. "Our activities are not as strong as media coverage which can reach hundreds of readers in a short time," Ne Win said.

While its editor says Hyno is here to stay, a battle is brewing with those who see it as a threat to decency in hitherto modest Myanmar. Mg Mg Lwin, manager of Innwa Book Store -- one of Yangon's leading bookshops -- refuses to stock Hyno despite fielding a barrage of enquiries, mainly from women, about its availability. "Even if someone gives me those magazines to sell at my shop, I will not accept them," he said.

Source: France24.

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PostPosted: Sun Mar 10, 2013 3:36 am 
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Myanmar magazine license pulled for sexual content
9 January 2013

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"Hnyo" editor Ko Oo Swe

YANGON, Myanmar (AP) -- Myanmar's new reformist government revoked the publishing license of a magazine for the first time Wednesday, saying it violated regulations by publishing sexual material when it was supposed to cover fashion.

The information ministry announced on its website that the monthly magazine "Hnyo" deviated from its charter as a fashion magazine by publishing sexually arousing photos and articles.

The December issue of the magazine carried several pictures of scantily clad Myanmar women in provocative poses and articles that the editor said constituted sex education. The content appears tame by the standards of similar publications in the West or in neighboring Thailand, but Myanmar's society is notably more conservative.

"Hnyo" editor Ko Oo Swe told the Associated Press that whether the photos were sexually arousing depended on "the eyes of the beholder." He said other magazines have also published material that differs from their charter but have not been shut down. "What I want to tell the government is to treat all publishers equally," he said.

Myanmar abolished direct censorship of the media last year and announced last month that it will allow the first private daily newspapers in decades starting in April, in the latest steps toward allowing more freedom of expression in the long-repressed nation. The government's tolerance has been tested previously, with articles exposing alleged official corruption and sensationalistic coverage of ethnic strife that threatened to inflame passions. It instituted lawsuits alleging the corruption stories were false, and temporarily suspended publication of some magazines.

Source: AP.

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PostPosted: Wed Mar 13, 2013 8:08 pm 
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Study reveals discrimination against LGBT people in Burma
28 January 2013
By Anna Leach

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Gay Burmese spirit medium Ko Chit Tae

Research from human rights activists in Burma has revealed the extent of discrimination against LGBT people in the Southeast Asian country.

Human Rights Education Institute Burma (HREIB) carried out focus groups and individual interviews with 24 LGBT people from five different cities.

The report from the research says that all respondents experienced 'some level of discrimation'. LGBT people 'are victims of numerous discriminatory acts and even crimes, committed both by ordinary citizens as well as law enforcement and state agents,' it says.

In one case study, a 35-year-old beautician who lives in Rangoon, spoke about being arrested and held in a police station for 10 days where police made him take off his clothes and act 'manly' for them. He was raped by five police officers. Another gay man from Rangoon said he was arrested in 2011 and kept at a police station for three days where he was forced to perform oral sex. He was taken to court and charged without being allowed access to a lawyer. He was sentenced to a month in prison where he was treated badly.

Another man was arrested for carrying condoms in his bag. Police officers physically assaulted him and he was sentenced to one month in prison. He said that the police target LGBT people when they want money.

HREIB's report found that a British colonial era law that criminalizes gay sex, Section 377, 'contributes to an unsafe and highly discriminatory environment for LGBT persons' in the country. 'The criminalization of one act pertaining to a specific group of individuals has contributed to the prejudice and now embedded discrimination against LGBT communities in the Myanmar [Burma] society,' the report said. 'Section 377 makes LGBT more vulnerable to harassment from law enforcement authorities,' Aung Myo Min, founder and executive director of HREIB told Gay Star News. 'The law itself is not enforced, but LGBT are harassed by police referencing this law, and other laws. LGBT are blackmailed so if they give the police money they are let off, if they don't then they are detained and are subjected to sexual humiliation and violence.'

Last month Phil Robertson, deputy Asia director of Human Rights Watch, told Gay Star News that the British government should take more responsibility for laws that create suffering for LGBT people in former colonies. 'They should be actively trying to persuade governments to take these laws of the books,' said Robertson.

Gay Star News contacted the UK's Foreign and Commonwealth Office for a response to Robertson's call for the government to publicly denounce the laws. 'The UK works through our embassies and high commissions and through international organisations, including the UN, the Council of Europe and the Commonwealth, to promote tolerance and non-discrimination against LGBT people and to address discriminatory laws, in particular those that criminalise homosexuality,' said a spokesperson.

Source: Gay Star News.

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PostPosted: Mon May 27, 2013 8:24 pm 
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Myanmar's Suu Kyi slams 2-child limit for Muslims
27 May 2013
By AYE AYE WIN

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In this photo taken on Oct. 28, 2012, Muslims refugee children wave their hands while taking photos at their refugee camp in Sittwe, Rakhine State, western Myanmar.Authorities in Myanmar's western Rakhine state have imposed a two-child limit for Muslim Rohingya families, a policy that does not apply to Buddhists in the area and comes amid accusations of ethnic cleansing in the aftermath of sectarian violence. (AP Photo/Khin Maung Win)

YANGON, Myanmar (AP) -- Opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi and Islamic leaders expressed dismay Monday over plans by authorities in western Myanmar to revive a two-child limit on Muslim Rohingya families, a policy that does not apply to Buddhists and comes amid accusations of ethnic cleansing.

Some Buddhists, however, welcomed the plan for addressing their fear of a Muslim population explosion.

Authorities in strife-torn Rakhine state said this past weekend that they were restoring a measure imposed during past military rule that banned Rohingya families from having more than two children. Details about the policy and how it will be enforced have not been released, sparking calls for clarity and concerns of more discrimination against a group the U.N. calls one of the world's most persecuted people.

"If true, this is against the law," said Suu Kyi, the opposition leader and Nobel Peace Prize laureate. Suu Kyi has faced criticism for failing to defend the Rohingya following two waves of deadly sectarian violence last year. She told reporters she had not heard details of the latest measure but, if it exists, "It is discriminatory and also violates human rights."

The policy applies to two Rakhine townships that border Bangladesh and have the highest Muslim populations in the state. The townships, Buthidaung and Maungdaw, are about 95 percent Muslim. Nationwide, Muslims account for only about 4 percent of Myanmar's roughly 60 million people.

The order makes Myanmar perhaps the only country in the world to level such a restriction against a particular religious group, and is likely to bring further criticism that Muslims are being discriminated against in the Buddhist-majority country. The central government has not made any statement about the two-child policy since Rakhine state authorities quietly enacted the measure a week ago. Calls seeking comment from government spokesmen have not been returned.

Longstanding antipathy toward the Rohingya erupted last year into mob violence in which Rakhine Buddhists armed with machetes razed thousands of Muslim homes, leaving hundreds of people dead and forcing 125,000 to flee, mostly Muslims. The New York-based group Human Rights Watch has accused the government and security forces in Rakhine of fomenting an organized campaign of "ethnic cleansing" against the Rohingya, who are regarded as aliens.

Since the violence, the religious unrest has expanded into a campaign against Muslim communities in other areas, posing a serious challenge to President Thein Sein's reformist government as it attempts to implement democratic reforms after nearly half a century of harsh military rule.

Rakhine state spokesman Win Myaing said over the weekend the policy was meant to stem population growth in the Muslim community, which a government-appointed commission last month identified as one of the causes of the sectarian violence. He said authorities have not determined how the measure will be enforced, but it will be mandatory. "This is the best way to control the population explosion which is a threat to our national identity. If no measure is taken to control the population, there is a danger of losing our own identity," said National Affairs Minister for the Yangon Region Zaw Aye Maung, an ethnic Rakhine member of parliament. He said restricting the number of children in the poorer Muslim community will benefit them because smaller families are better able to feed, clothe and educate their children.

A Buddhist monk in Maungdaw township was also enthusiastic. "It's a good idea. If the government can really control the Bengali population in the area, the other communities will feel more secure and there will be less violence like what happened in the past," said monk Manithara from the Aungmyay Bawdi monastery, using the name "Bengali" that most Buddhists prefer to "Rohingya." "It's also a good step to develop the living standards of the people in the region. China also has this kind of policy."

China has a one-child policy, but it is not based on religion and exceptions apply to minority ethnic groups. "This restriction violates human rights," said Nyunt Maung Shein, head of Myanmar's Islamic Religious Affairs Council. "Even if it existed under the military regime, it should be considered inappropriate under the democratic system. The authorities should be very cautious," he said. "If this is a step to ease tension between the communities, it will not produce the desired effect."

Myanmar's government does not include the Rohingya as one of its 135 recognized ethnic minorities. It considers them to be illegal immigrants from Bangladesh and denies them citizenship. Bangladesh says the Rohingya have been living in Myanmar for centuries and should be recognized there as citizens.

For years, the Rohingya in Myanmar have faced a variety of heavy-handed restrictions. They needed permission to travel outside their villages, couples were required to have permission to marry, and were then limited to having two children. Any offspring that exceeded the regulation were "blacklisted" and refused birth registrations, and denied the right to attend school, travel and marry, according to a report by the Arakan Project, a Thailand-based advocacy group for the Rohingya.

Phil Robertson of Human Rights Watch called the development "outrageous," noting that the commission's report stated that any form of population control must be "voluntary" and conform to human rights standards. "This is a step precisely in the wrong direction - going exactly the wrong direction from reconciliation and respect for human rights," he said.

Source: AP.

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PostPosted: Sat Mar 22, 2014 6:02 am 
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Myanmar couple in 'first public gay wedding ceremony'
March 3, 2014

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Tin Ko Ko (R) and Myo Min Htet pour champagne at their wedding reception in Yangon on March 2, 2014 (AFP Photo/Ye Aung Thu)

Yangon (AFP) - Dressed in matching traditional Myanmar clothes and garlanded with jasmine, a gay couple married in a lavish public ceremony that they say was the first of its kind in the conservative nation.

Tin Ko Ko and Myo Min Htet exchanged rings in an upmarket Yangon hotel Sunday, in the latest sign of changing social mores in the Southeast Asian nation as it emerges from the shadow of military dictatorship.

The marriage does not enjoy any legal status but followed the customs of other Myanmar weddings, with the two men arriving in solemn procession followed by six groomsmen in front of some two hundred guests.

"My family accepted me. I am so glad that my parents were understanding... but he had to overcome many difficulties from his family," said Tin Ko Ko, 38, of his partner in an emotional speech. The pair, who both work for rights groups, have lived together for 10 years without publicly declaring their relationship.

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Tin Ko Ko (R) and Myo Min Htet at their wedding reception in Yangon on March 2, 2014 (AFP Photo/Ye Aung Thu)

Same-sex relations are criminalised under the nation's colonial-era penal code. While the law is not strictly enforced, activists have long complained of harassment and discrimination. But taboos around homosexuality have begun to be relaxed after a quasi-civilian government replaced military rule three years ago. Myanmar held its first gay pride celebrations in May 2012.

Tin Ko Ko and Myo Min Htet had discussed their wedding in local media, but the pair kept the venue a secret for fear it could attract protest. But some journalists were able to attend and pictures of the ceremony were splashed on the front pages of several local newspapers Monday. "We both tried hard to make this a reality. I am almost speechless, I am so happy," said 28-year-old Myo Min Htet, adding that the event also marked the couple's 10-year anniversary.

Wedding guests applauded as the couple kissed after cutting a red heart-shaped cake. "This is like a challenge to our neighbours, who do not understand us and see us as very strange people," said Aung Myo Min, from the rights group Equality Myanmar, addressing fellow guests.

Source: Yahoo! AFP.

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PostPosted: Thu May 08, 2014 3:11 pm 
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Burma's homosexuality law 'undermining HIV and Aids fight'
by IRIN
Friday, 21 March 2014

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AIDS treatment in Thailand. Nearly half of the estimated 200,000 people with HIV/Aids in Burma live in Rangoon or Mandalay. Photograph: Paula Bronstein/Getty

A law criminalising "unnatural" sex is reinforcing the stigma that leaves gay men in Burma hidden, silenced and shamed, hindering efforts to contain HIV/Aids, claim experts and activists.

Monks, lawyers and the police are calling for the rarely enforced law – section 377 of the penal code, which dates from the British colonial era – to be used to imprison a gay couple who marked their 10th anniversary this month with a wedding-style event. The ceremony made front-page news on 3 March, and the backlash was swift. The next day, Burma's largest newspaper, Eleven Daily, equated sex between men with bestiality and asked why the couple were not being investigated for violating section 377, which carries a 10-year prison term.

Aung Myo Min, director of rights group Equality Myanmar, which is leading the campaign to repeal section 377, said Eleven Media was using hate speech to stoke homophobia.

Increased hostility against homosexuality could make it harder to reach the community's most hidden members, said Nay Oo Lwin, programme manager with Population Services International (PSI), which operates the largest HIV/Aids outreach programme in Yangon.

Aids experts here say it is difficult to provide gay men with safe-sex information, counselling and testing services because intense stigma keeps them hidden. Gay men were "hard to reach in the most extreme sense" as stigma keeps them hidden, said the UNAids country representative, Eamonn Murphy. Anne Lancelot, director of PSI's targeted outreach programme, said: "We know there is a large population of [gay men] who do not identify themselves that way, but we don't even know how large that population is." Murphy said, however, that homosexuality had become more visible over the past decade, particularly in cities.

Burma's National Aids Programme (Nap) puts the number of gay men at less than 0.5% of the population: 240,000 of an estimated 60 million people. Fewer than 30% of them have received HIV prevention services. This low level of outreach to a group that may also be vastly underestimated alarms experts. Concerns are compounded by the lack of sex education in Burma. Nap conducted its first surveillance of HIV prevalence among gay men in 2007 and uncovered a 29% infection rate. The rate is now about 7-8%, compared with less than 0.6% for the overall population.

The decline is often attributed to increased condom usage, but it is possible, too, that some gay men are hiding their identity to escape the stigma, Murphy said. Nearly half of the estimated 200,000 people with HIV/Aids in Burma live in Rangoon or Mandalay, the two largest cities, according to a draft report by regional Aids experts. Cities offer gay men freedom, but the risk of HIV infection rises when awareness of safe sex is scant, discrimination rife and services frail, the report noted.

If Burma wants to avoid the fate of other Asian cities, it needs to reduce stigma and expand services for gay men in cities, said the report, which stressed the need to repeal section 377. Doctors need to become less hostile to gay men, who are often treated with contempt by medical professionals, according to the study's authors. As a result, "most gay men are terrified of going to a doctor for a sexually transmitted infection", Lancelot said.

Gay men in Burma have a unique set of terms for describing themselves, partly based on the degree to which masculinity and femininity are experienced and displayed. Transgender people are less likely to be hidden and thus more likely to experience harassment, especially from police, according to complaints to the Human Rights Commission set up by Burma's nominally civilian government.

Gay men who identify themselves as heterosexual, however, are more likely to be hidden, married and susceptible to bribery, according to the UNDP report. Expanding internet access in Burma is providing a new way for gay men to connect anonymously, as well as more opportunities for risky sex.

PSI is expanding its outreach programme online. "We're going on the cruising websites and Apps, such as Grinder and Jack D," Lancelot said. "This might help us reach people who do not come to our [18] drop-in centres. We are watching very carefully what is happening in Thailand, where there seems to be quite a rebound of the HIV epidemic among [gay men]. We need to be ahead of the curve."

HIV prevalence among gay men in Bangkok surged from 17.3% to 28.3% between 2003 and 2005, and remains at nearly 30%, according to a 2013 report by Thailand's public health ministry and the US Centres for Disease Control and Prevention.

Source: Guardian UK.

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