ASEAN and its way to LGBT Rights

AAYLF delegate from Lao PDR Thiladeth Sivixay discusses key challenges for LGBTIQ+ rights in the ASEAN region and looks forward to a more inclusive future for all.  

The Asia-Pacific as considered the most populous region yet also one of the strongest and fastest growing regions economically. But what of the social aspects and human rights that are fundamental to the lives of citizens in the region? Southeast Asian countries have a large communities of LGBT+ identifying persons, with the Philippines being ranked in the top 10 most LGBT friendly countries globally and Thailand being one of the countries where LGBT is considered free and acceptable in many aspects.

 LGBT Rights are considered to be quite a controversial topic over the past decades, especially in ASEAN. To be exact, as of now ASEAN has never reached any specific conventions nor agreements in regards to LGBT rights. But if we consider cases within ASEAN, there are countries trying to support and legalize LGBT rights to certain levels. Same sex sexual activity is legal in Vietnam and Thailand, and in countries like Philippines, Laos and Cambodia there have not been any laws against it. As you can clearly see that is the number of 50 percent of ASEAN member countries, however what about the other five? In Myanmar there is a law punishable by imprisonment. Singapore made it illegal for men to have intercourse with a maximum of two years in prison for “any act of gross indecency with another male person” in “public or private”. in Indonesia it is legal but not in the provinces of Aceh, South Sumatera and Palembang. Malaysia made it punishable up to 20 years in prison. Last but not the least in the case of Brunei Darussalam, same sex activity is punishable up to death under Syarriah Penal Code Order or Sharia Code in 2014.

With the example of same sex sexual activity, the basic rights provided to the LGBT community is already divided in ASEAN. Most of the time the reason behind this the influence of the dominant religions of the countries that play a big part in the lifestyles and beliefs of the people.  In some countries, it is claimed that same sex activity is illegal in de jure but not in de facto, meaning the law itself is not practiced or enforced. Even in countries that allow same sex sexual activity, LGBT rights still lack in other areas, undermining the goal of an equal society. Other rights infringements are highlighted by few same sex marriages, same sex adoption and laws concerning sexual identity.  But still considering all of these we must come back to one of the ASEAN pillars, the socio-cultural community. As we mentioned one of ASEAN’s aims is to promote human rights, equality and inclusiveness among the society. Even if the law is not enforced, is it right to have laws that discriminate or that concern only certain groups of people when we consider ourselves entering the rule of law of a state?

In Australia, it is evident that the LGBT community has begun to be treated equally especially since 1997. After that Australia continued to uplift LGBT rights in different sections including same sex marriage in 2017 and same sex adoption in 2018. In this stage, as the relationship between ASEAN and Australia is growing and one of the missions is also an inclusive society and human rights, ASEAN could learn a few lessons from Australia as to rule of law and fully promote peaceful equal society for all.


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