A gay man will run for public office in Myanmar in November, marking a first in the Southeast Asian country’s history.
Myo Min Tun, 39, is vying for a seat in the regional parliament in Mandalay, the nation’s second-largest city home to 1.2 million people.
Myanmar, which was under British rule from 1824 to 1948, maintains a colonial-era law that criminalizes sexual activity involving people of the same sex.
Convicted individuals face a penalty of imprisonment from 10 years to life, though such sentences are reportedly rare.
Myo Min Tun, who represents the relatively new People’s Pioneer Party (PPP), is running for office to protect the often-violated rights of LGBTQ people.
Some of his transgender friends claimed that during an operation, police officers forced them to remove their bras and kneel in humiliating positions before touching them inappropriately.
“This was a violation of their rights. And I realised there’s no one in parliament to talk about this,” Myo Min Tun said, according to AFP. “I’m doing this to be a pioneer for all LGBT people so they know we can be anyone we want.”
The candidate believes it’s too soon to decriminalize same-sex relations, so he plans to focus on ending daily acts of discrimination.
The PPP was started by a lawmaker formerly affiliated with but later dismissed by the ruling National League for Democracy (NLD) party.
Myo Min Tun — a florist, noodle soup chef, wedding planner and HIV prevention worker — is among the 7,000 candidates from more than 90 parties running for seats in the Nov. 8 elections. At least 200 are coming from the PPP.
The NLD and other parties have mentioned the LGBTQ community in previous campaigns, but little has been done to create an impact.
“[Because] their lifestyles are different from those of the majority, some of them have been mocked or looked down upon,” NLD spokesman Myo Nyunt said, according to Radio Free Asia. “Now, we are more attentive to these issues, so we’ve added them as one of the party’s goal to address in future.”
The Myanmar National Congress Party (MNCP), which supports State Counselor Aung San Suu Kyi, vows to “protect the rights of all gender orientations.”
“Same-sex orientation is not a deficiency of moral character,” MNCP chairman Kaung Myint Htut said. “We need to respect the integrity and job opportunities of all gender orientations in society.”
Aung San Suu Kyi called for the decriminalization of homosexuality in 2013. But the NLD has not done so since it came to power two years later.
Still, Myanmar sees growth in acceptance, just like in many parts of the world. Myo Min Tun believes that now is the time to move forward.
“I didn’t want to lie to get votes,” he said. “I believe if I’m fair and truthful, people will support me.”
Feature Images via ဦးမျိုးမင်းထွန်း