When Thet Mon Phyo underwent a gender change operation in 2005, her parents told her not to bother returning home.
“They were ashamed and I had to go and live with my aunt,” 34-year-old Phyo recalled. “When I was young my father often scolded me for my feminine behaviour. Later, my lover left me because his parents persuaded him that same-sex love was unnatural,” she said.
In Myanmar, many transgender people and men who have sex with men (MSM) face widespread stigma and discrimination, complicating efforts to halt the spread of HIV.
According to UNAIDS, the HIV prevalence among MSM and transgender people in some places is much higher than that of the general population (9.4% versus 0.53%). Male-to-male sex is illegal in Myanmar and there are no laws to protect MSM and transgender people from discrimination.
“They are objects of ridicule for some people, even hated,” Phyo said.
“There is discrimination in the workplace and even within families….some MSM are disowned, disinherited and expelled from their homes,” she added.
Phyo is Programme Manager at The Help, Myanmar, a group which focuses on HIV prevention, care, support and advocacy for MSM and transgender people and works to ensure their voices are heard and their issues taken up at the national level. All members of The Help are MSM or transgender and almost half are living with HIV.
The Help Myanmar was awarded a prestigious Red Ribbon Award at the XIX International AIDs conference held in August for its work on the prevention of sexual transmission of HIV and other STDs. The Red Ribbon Award is the world’s leading award for innovative and outstanding community work in the response to the AIDS epidemic.
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