Cambodia: Village where ‘love the same’ is embraced

Tabitha Payne visits a village in Prey Veng Province which is home to aging trans couples.

It’s 5:45 in the morning, the sun is just rising over the rice paddies, and a loudspeaker on the skinny, reddish dirt road that runs through Angkrong, Cambodia has already begun blaring traditional Khmer music at top volume. It is a village announcement: today, January 5, at 8am, the commune council, district governors, local monks, and all members of the town are invited to attend a pro-LGBT community event to celebrate the surprising amount of LGBT people living in the agrarian hamlet of an estimated 1,000 people.

Srun Srorn, Cambodia’s prominent LGBT activist who first visited the village in 2010, says he’s never seen anything like it. Usually, according to Srun and Pheung Sophea, both activists with the grassroots local LGBT group, CamASEAN Youth’s Future, LGBT couples in rural areas are rare, especially older ones, and when they do exist, they live villages apart.

Angkrong, a village in Prey Veng Province in Cambodia’s southeast corner, has been home to five couples over the age of 40, two young couples who recently emigrated, another middle-aged couple where one of the partners, a transgender man, passed away just last year, and a transgender monk. All are pairings of transgender men and cisgender women (“cisgender” meaning non-transgender). The couples say they are accepted by the community and local government officials, and claim not to experience discrimination from their neighbours. They refer to one another as husband and wife, irrespective of the fact that gay marriage is not recognised in Cambodian Family Law. Also remarkable is that the couples are all friends who have known each other for years.

The older couples, who have raised adopted children and maintained respectable, stable livelihoods here, have gained community respect over time. This is remarkable in a nation where stereotypes cast LGBT people as lazy, promiscuous, and unreliable, and where most LGBT people are young and live in urban areas. For these couples, leaving would mean not only abandoning friends who share their experience but also a community that reveres them as elders, invites them as respected guests to bless new marriages and homes, and helps them with farming and housework as they grow older. Another reason there might be so many couples here is simply that, because some people were already out, others felt comfortable coming out themselves. Read more via Khmer Times