Tin KoKo and Myo Min Htet have been living together for 10 years. They are just like any other couple –they cook together and enjoy talking about their day.
Earlier this month they celebrated their tenth anniversary in a lavish ceremony in Yangon. They invited their friends and family but within hours the news spread on social media and local newspapers picked up the story.
Their photos were splashed across the front pages of national papers. And they were even mentioned in the Wall Street journal. “(It is) distressing. The story was mentioned without permission. And, there are a lot of errors. We celebrated the tenth anniversary, not the wedding,” Tin KoKo says.
This is the first time a gay couple has openly declared their relationship and it has stirred public debate. Some people thought their union was unnatural but others thought it was a good step for the LGBT community.
In Myanmar homosexuality is not illegal - but sodomy is and the wording of the law means some heterosexual acts are also illegal. At a press conference AungMyo Min an LBGT rights activist said the law is flawed.
“The law itself has flaws. It also talks about acts against women. But, it is threatening to us. There is no actual law against homosexuality.”
If convicted you can be charged with 10 years to life imprisonment.
AfterTin KoKo and Myo Min Htets’s celebration, news spread that the police were investigating them. “Actually, they didn't interview us and the police didn't take any action against us. They got their information from Facebook. The Deputy station officer from western district police station had already stated that they didn't bring us and ask questions.”
In fact he said they had no problems at all with the police. “Since we have finished the anniversary celebration, he goes to his work and I am doing my job. There is no problem.”
Tin KoKo is a member of LGBT rights group “Kings & Queens”. And Myo Min Htetworks at anorganisation that assists LGBT people with healthcare. Despite their work with the community they said their tenth anniversary celebrations was notan event to get international attention advocating LGBT rights. “We care for each other. We can ask each other for help. It is like a family. We enjoy it. That is all.”
There is no legal protection for LGBT people in Myanmar. They face widespread social discrimination and police persecution.
Tin KoKo’s friend NgelNgel is a well-known beautician in Yangon. He has suffered years of bullying from his old colleagues for the way he dresses. He left home because he couldn’t stand his fathers disapproval. “In school they said, boy must be like boy and girl must be like girl. They believe that we are against the nature. I wanted to live on my own style, so I had to fight against all of them."
But NgelNgel sees that attitudes towards the LGBT community are slowly changing. “In the past, everybody blamed us. Now, people are getting more awareness and it is encouraging for people like me.”
After their big celebration and the following press interest, Tin KoKo and Myo Min Htet just want to get back to normal.
“Like the past ten years, we will try to understand each other. We will build understanding between us.“
“I am worried there would be repercussions from what we did. People are watching us. Their eyes questionif can we be as successful as other couples.”