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Wednesday, June 19, 2024

Celebrating Pride Month: Voices From the Rainbow Community in Laos

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Pride Month in June marks a time of celebration and reflection for the LGBTQ+ community worldwide. In Laos, the momentum toward acceptance and inclusivity is gaining pace, highlighted by the efforts of dedicated advocates and positive shifts in societal attitudes. While there are no specific Lao laws directly addressing the rights of LGBTQ+ individuals, the Lao constitution ensures that all citizens are equal.

“We need to speak the language of diversity and inclusion more fluently as we move forward with everyone else,” said Anan Bouapha, the founder of “Proud to be Us Laos.” Anan is one of the leading voices advocating for LGBTQ+ inclusion in the country. His work tackles various cultural, legal, and normative barriers that the rainbow community faces in Laos, helping to create conditions for a more inclusive society.

To highlight the positive developments, Anan also noted that societal attitudes have shifted significantly over the past decade. “People are beginning to see the importance of diversity and inclusion in the national development context compared to the past decade, when people did not want to say a word about LGBTI and inclusivity when it involved the diversity of genders,” he said while also acknowledging that the work is far from over.

Envisioning a future where diversity and inclusion are deeply embedded in Lao society, Anan further emphasized the importance of the slogan “Leave No One Behind,” which is part of the national development agenda. Collaborating with government partners, civil society, and international organizations, efforts are being made to create a positive environment for underrepresented groups.

Anan also praises state enterprises, private sectors, and national or transnational corporations for their unwavering efforts in adapting diversity and inclusion into their in-house policies to ensure zero stigma and discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identities.

Monlady “Beer” Souliyavongsa, a 27-year-old Managing Editor of a Lao media outlet, has also highlighted the positive progress towards the acceptance of the rainbow community in Laos.

“Laos has become more open-minded towards gender and sexual diversity, especially a lot of private companies and organizations,” she noted. Despite encountering some resistance, Beer considers herself fortunate for the support she received when she came out during her high school years. She encourages those who may secretly be a part of the LGBTQ+ community to stay true to themselves and accept who they truly are. “It was around my high school years when I started to realize my preference,” she recalls. “Although I was not vocal about it, my close peers knew, but instead of making fun of it, they showed full support.”

Reflecting on the broader societal changes, Beer observed, “There are still some who have doubts and are against the community, but the overall trend is towards more acceptance. It gives me hope for the future.”

“I encourage everyone to be proud of who they are and not to be afraid to come out. The more visible we are, the stronger we become,” she added.

Anoulack “Bill” Somphong, a transwoman working as a project manager at the Gender Development Association (GDA), appreciates the growing openness and inclusivity in Laos, evidenced by companies hiring LGBTQ+ individuals and schools allowing students to dress according to their gender identity. Bill discovered her true self at a young age and found acceptance among her peers. “When I was a kid, I did not feel any difficulties in admitting that I am into men. I believe that my actions and how I behaved spoke for me,” she said.

According to the 30-year-old, it is still rather difficult for members of the LGBTQ+ community to be widely accepted within the government circle. She further highlighted several rights Laos should provide to the community, for instance, same-sex marriage, and more coverage of trans people’ need in social insurance.

Despite these challenges, Bill remains optimistic about the future. “The progress we’ve made is encouraging, but we need to keep pushing for full equality. It’s not just about legal recognition but about changing hearts and minds,” she stated.

Despite these positive strides, full acceptance and equality for the LGBTQ+ community in Laos remain distant goals, according to its members. Meanwhile, Pride Month continues to be a global event that highlights these issues and provides a time for celebration for everyone.

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