LGBT rights in Myanmar

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PenaltyTen years to life in prison (rarely enforced)[1]
Gender identityNo
Discrimination protectionsNone
Family rights
Recognition of relationshipsNo recognition of same-sex relationships

Lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) rights in Myanmar are subject to official persecution and discrimination, with LGBT people facing legal and social challenges not experienced by others. Same-sex sexual activity is illegal and section 377 of Myanmar's Penal Code 1861 subjects same-sex sexual acts (regardless of whether they were consensual or done in private) to a term of imprisonment from ten years to life.[2] Heterosexual anal intercourse and oral sex are also illegal. Transgender people are subject to police harassment and sexual assault, and their gender identity is not recognised by the state.[3]

During the country's long military dictatorship under the authoritarian State Peace and Development Council, it was difficult to obtain accurate information about the legal or social status of LGBT Burmese citizens. Following the 2011–2015 Myanmar political reforms, improvements in media and civil freedoms have allowed LGBT people to gain more visibility and support in the country.[4][5][6] Despite the 2015 electoral victory of the National League for Democracy, which promised improved human rights and whose leader Aung San Suu Kyi had once called for the decriminalisation of homosexuality,[7] there have been no changes to anti-LGBT laws.[3] Nevertheless, LGBT activists have noted a growing climate of societal acceptance and tolerance toward LGBT people, in line with worldwide trends.[1]

Legality of same-sex sexual activity[edit]

Section 377 of the Penal Code prohibits sodomy, whether heterosexual or homosexual. Alongside fines, the prescribed punishment is ten years to life imprisonment, although the law has not been strictly enforced.[8] In 2001, exile group, the All Burma Students' Democratic Front, voted to have the law repealed. This was seen as a victory by the Committee for Lesbigay Rights in Burma, although such a change was considered unlikely to occur given the prevailing political climate against change.[9] In 2013, then-Opposition Leader Aung San Suu Kyi called on the country to decriminalise homosexuality, stating that it was hampering efforts to combat HIV in Myanmar.[7] After her party came to power in 2015, it did not change the laws.[3]

LGBT people are also targeted under the "shadow law" or "darkness law" in section 35(c) of the Police Act (Burmese: ၁၉၄၅ ခုနှစ်၊ ရဲအက်ဥပဒေ), which allows police to detain anyone they consider behaving suspiciously after sunset.[3][5][8] In November 2018, gay activist Aung Myo Htut, also knows as "Addy Chen" was arrested under the country's sodomy law.[10]

Other provisions of the Penal Code can also be used against LGBT people:[11]

  • Sections 269 and 270 make it a crime for a person to negligently spread a sexually transmitted disease.
  • Section 290 makes it a crime to commit "a public nuisance", not specified in the code, with fines up to two hundred rupees.
  • Sections 292, 293 and 294 make it a crime to make, sell, or distribute "obscene" material or songs to adults or minors and to engage in any obscene acts in public.
  • Section 372 prohibits buying or selling a prostitute under the age of eighteen or using a prostitute to engage in illicit sexual relations.
  • Section 377 prohibits carnal intercourse with any man, woman or animal and provides imprisonment varying between life and a term not less than 2 years, but may extend to 10 years and shall also be liable to a fine that shall not be less than four hundred rupees but may extend to one thousand rupees.
  • Section 469 prohibits engaging in any marriage ceremony absent of a legal marriage.
  • Section 5(j) of the Emergency Provisions Act (Burmese: အရေးပေါ်စီမံမှုအက်ဥပဒေ ) prohibits anything that might affect the morality of an individual, society or the public in a negative way.[12]

Recognition of same-sex relationships[edit]

Myanmar does not recognise same-sex marriages or civil unions.[13] In 2014, a Burmese same-sex couple drew widespread media attention for holding an unofficial wedding ceremony after having lived together for 10 years.[13][5] It also triggered a backlash from social conservatives, who queried why the anti-homosexuality laws were not being enforced against them.[14]

Gender identity and expression[edit]

Myanmar does not allow transgender people to change the gender assigned to them at birth.[15] Transgender people in Myanmar are subject to rape, mistreatment or extortion by police,[15] and are often targeted using the "shadow law" in section 35(c) of the Police Act.[8] Generally, there are only three "respectable" career options open to transgender Burmese: beautician, fashion designer or nat kadaw ("spirit wife" or spirit medium).[16] As a nat kadaw, transgender Burmese people can be afforded respect and veneration otherwise denied to them by Burmese society.[16]

Living conditions[edit]

Public attitudes[edit]

During the military regime, no organised LGBT political or social life was able to exist. Burma's social mores about human sexuality have been described as being "extremely conservative".[17] Gay men are stigmatised, especially if they are living with HIV/AIDS.[5] In the local Buddhist tradition, those born LGBT are perceived as facing punishment for sins committed in a past life.[18][19] Historically, the combination of official homophobia, limited public awareness and lack of community role models have rendered LGBT people invisible in Burmese society.[20]

LGBT activism[edit]

Aung Myo Min is an openly gay man and has been involved in the All Burma Students Democratic Front (ABSDF). In 2005, he talked about his coming out process and the homophobia that exists, even with the pro-democracy opposition.[21] Today, he is involved with exile Burma human rights organisations, including the Campaign for Lesbigay Rights in Burma.

Equality Myanmar (Burmese: ညီမျှခြင်း မြန်မာ) was founded in 2000 "with the goal of empowering the people of Myanmar through human rights education to engage in social transformation and promote a culture of human rights."

In late June 2019, a young gay man, Kyaw Zin Win, working as a librarian at the Myanmar Imperial University in Yangon, committed suicide after continuous harassment and bullying from colleagues. More than 600 people attended his funeral, and a rainbow flag was wrapped around his coffin. The university has launched an investigation into the matter and has suspended three staff members. The Myanmar National Human Rights Commission (Burmese: မြန်မာနိုင်ငံ အမျိုးသားလူ့အခွင့်အရေး ကော်မရှင်) has launched a separate investigation and has called for the enactment of anti-discrimination provisions. PinkNews reported that the issue had "prompted a national conversation" on LGBT issues in the country.[22][23][24]


Despite their criminalisation, LGBT people have become more visible in Burma, especially after the political reforms.[25] Gay and lesbian couples freely cohabit in major cities like Yangon and Mandalay, though they are not legally allowed to marry. The increased media freedom has also allowed journalists to report on the gay and lesbian community.[26] Same-sex couples have also been able to celebrate ceremonial marriages in major cities without any legal persecution.[27]

In 2003, FocusAsia (Star TV) aired a story about the nat kadaws. The "Utopia Guide to Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar & Vietnam" references "transgender shaman channeling spirits at Myanmar sacred festivals."[28]

In 2016, The Gemini was released and became the first LGBT film in the cinema of Myanmar. The film openly railed against the Burmese homosexuality laws.[29][30]


Burma celebrated its first gay pride in several cities around the country in 2012, to mark the International Day Against Homophobia, Biphobia and Transphobia.[31] In 2018, officials gave permission for a public pride party. Almost 6,000 people showed up to the event, a rise from previous times.[32] The number rose further to 10,000 the next day.[33]

Notable LGBT people[edit]

Summary table[edit]

Same-sex sexual activity legal No (Penalty: Up to life imprisonment, rarely enforced)
Equal age of consent No
Anti-discrimination laws in employment only No
Anti-discrimination laws in the provision of goods and services No
Anti-discrimination laws in all other areas (incl. indirect discrimination, hate speech) No
Same-sex marriages No
Recognition of same-sex couples No
Step-child adoption by same-sex couples No
Joint adoption by same-sex couples No
Gays and lesbians allowed to serve openly in the military No
Right to change legal gender No
Access to IVF for lesbians No
Commercial surrogacy for gay male couples No
MSMs allowed to donate blood No

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b "Year End Review on LGBT rights". Myanmar Times. 28 June 2019.
  2. ^ "Penal Code 1861". Burma Code. AsianLII. Retrieved 21 June 2019.
  3. ^ a b c d Nickerson, James (16 November 2016). "Myanmar's abused, intimidated LGBT people long for acceptance in new era". Reuters UK. Retrieved 9 October 2018.
  4. ^ "Gay subject of documentary warns of continuing rights violations in Myanmar". Mizzima. 18 June 2015. Retrieved 9 October 2018.
  5. ^ a b c d McFetridge, Matthew (5 September 2014). "The Outlook for LGBT Rights in Myanmar". The Diplomat. Retrieved 9 October 2018.
  6. ^ Ferrie, Jared (1 February 2018). "LGBT festival opens in Myanmar after first public launch party". Yahoo! Finance. Reuters. Retrieved 9 October 2018.
  7. ^ a b Roberts, Scott (20 November 2013). "Aung San Suu Kyi: Stigma against HIV and anti-gay laws are costing lives in Burma". PinkNews. PinkNews. Retrieved 20 June 2019.
  8. ^ a b c Myint, Lae Phyu Pyar Myo; Htwe, Nyein Ei Ei (1 June 2017). "Prejudice and progress: a snapshot of LGBT rights in Myanmar". The Myanmar Times. Retrieved 9 October 2018.
  9. ^ "Sodomylaws.Org". Sodomylaws.Org. Retrieved 20 January 2011.
  10. ^ a b "Gay man with HIV charged under Myanmar sodomy law". The Washington Blade. 2 November 2018.
  11. ^ "Burma Lawyers' Council [Legal Resource] The Myanmar Penal Code". Archived from the original on 17 January 2011. Retrieved 20 January 2011.
  12. ^ "BLC Publications". 9 March 1950. Archived from the original on 6 January 2011. Retrieved 20 January 2011.
  13. ^ a b Hawley, Samantha (4 March 2014). "Myanmar couple in 'first public gay wedding ceremony'". ABC News. Australian Broadcasting Corporation. Retrieved 9 October 2018.
  14. ^ "Burma's homosexuality law 'undermining HIV and Aids fight'". The Guardian. 21 March 2014. Retrieved 9 October 2018.
  15. ^ a b England, Charlotte (2 February 2016). "Myanmar's transgender people not just chasing rainbows in fight for equality". The Guardian. Retrieved 9 October 2018.
  16. ^ a b Baker, Nick (23 October 2017). "How Myanmar's Paranormal Spirit Wives Escape LGBTQ Persecution". Vice. Retrieved 11 October 2018.
  17. ^ "CURRENTS: HIV/AIDS in Myanmar | global nomads group". 2 July 2005. Archived from the original on 21 August 2006. Retrieved 20 January 2011.
  18. ^ "It Ain't Great Being Gay in Mandalay". Vice (in Danish). 30 January 2014. Retrieved 11 October 2018.
  19. ^ Me, Nyo (17 May 2018). "Not very gay". The Myanmar Times. mspiral creative agency. Retrieved 11 October 2018.
  20. ^ Mosbergen, Dominique (18 October 2015). "Gay People In Myanmar Can't Live Openly. Here's Why". Huffington Post. Retrieved 9 October 2018.
  21. ^ "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 5 March 2005. Retrieved 12 October 2007.CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link) CS1 maint: BOT: original-url status unknown (link)
  22. ^ "Gay librarian's suicide prompts LGBT rights debate in Myanmar". PinkNews. 27 June 2019.
  23. ^ "Bullied Gay Librarian Posts Heartbreaking Facebook Message Before Dying By Suicide". Newsweek. 26 June 2019.
  24. ^ "လုပ်ငန်းခွင်အတွင်း ခွဲခြားဆက်ဆံမှုကြောင့် ကိုယ့်ကိုယ်ကိုယ် သတ်သေခဲ့သည့် ကိုကျော်ဇင်ဝင်း၏နာရေး ပြုလုပ်ခဲ့ပြီး ဖြစ်စဉ်နှင့်ပတ်သက်၍ ရဲတပ်ဖွဲ့က စုံစမ်းစစ်ဆေးမှုများ ပြုလုပ်မည်". Weekly Eleven (in Burmese). 26 June 2019.
  25. ^ Golluoglu, Esmer (13 May 2012). "Gay people in Burma start to challenge culture of repression". London: Guardian.
  26. ^ "Woman raised as a man in Birma". Retrieved 20 April 2013.
  27. ^ "Myanmar Gay Marriage". 13 September 2012. Retrieved 16 January 2018.
  28. ^ "A Revealing Glimpse at Gay Life in Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar and Vietnam". Retrieved 20 January 2011.
  29. ^ "Convoluted plot and tech issues undo gay romantic thriller 'The Gemini'". Retrieved 16 January 2018.
  30. ^ "Burmese Director Explores Same-Sex Relationships in New Film". 28 January 2016. Retrieved 16 January 2018.
  31. ^ "A pride with no parade for Burma's first gay festival". BBC. 17 May 2012.
  32. ^ "Myanmar just had its first public pride party and thousands turned up to celebrate". 31 January 2018.
  33. ^ "LGBT festival opens in Burma after first public launch party- DVB Multimedia Group". 1 February 2018. Archived from the original on 29 August 2018. Retrieved 12 February 2018.
  34. ^ Kyaw, Kyaw Phone. "LGBT beauty queen behind bars after actress files defamation suit".
  35. ^ "Abused, arrested but not giving up: transgender activist fights for equality".
  36. ^ Glauert, Rik. "Myanmar's biggest gay celebrity 'feels free' six months after coming out".