Laos has held its first ever gay pride event in what supporters hope is a sign of softening social values in the small communist country.
Although homosexuality is legal in Laos, it is frowned upon by many among the socially conservative nation of around six million people, and event organisers decided against holding a parade as is common at global pride events.
Instead, around 100 lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) people gathered on a US embassy sports field in the capital Vientiane to watch performances relating to their marginalised position in society and sip beers provided by the capital’s handful of gay-friendly bars.
Organised by the US embassy and local activists, the June 25 “Proud to be Us!” event also drew a senior government health representative – a positive sign in one of the world’s few remaining communist countries.
“The aim was to show that we can live and work together in harmony and that LGBT people can contribute enormously to the country given the opportunity,” event organiser, Anan Bouapha, told AFP on Wednesday from Vientiane.”We have never had an event like this in our history. I feel empowered that this first step can take us forward … and I’m sure many in the LGBT community feel the same way.”
Urging an end to “discrimination and stigma” he expressed hope the government will start to engage with the community on a broader basis rather than merely “as the people most vulnerable to HIV/Aids”.
Mike Pryor, the US embassy’s deputy public affairs officer, said the goal was to spread the message “that LGBT people are valued and loved” adding that the issue of gay rights is high on Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s agenda. “Everyone should be treated with dignity and respect and be allowed to contribute fully to society,” he said.
Although they are rarely victims of violence, the LGBT community in Laos face discrimination and find it hard to gain employment in government or other high status sectors, leaving many in poorly paid jobs and the sex industry.
Homosexuality is widely accepted over the border in Thailand, although it is still taboo in neighbouring Burma which held its first gay pride event in May.
Source: The Telegraph