Violence: Through the Lens of Lesbians, Bisexual Women and Trans People in Asia

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Read the press release Asia: Governments Must Protect Lesbians, Bisexual Women, and Trans Persons for more information about the study. To set up an interview with Grace Poore, Ging Cristobal, or any of the researchers, please contact Brian Tofte-Schumacher at brian@iglhrc.org or +1-914-222-3951. There is also a media fact sheet (PDF) available for download.

Executive Summary

Lesbians, bisexual women and transgender (LBT) individuals in Japan, Malaysia, Pakistan, the Philippines and Sri Lanka face violence and exclusion in every sphere of their lives. This violence is fueled by laws that criminalize same-sex relations and gender non-conformity and encouraged by governments who tolerate, endorse, or directly sponsor the violent clamp-down on those who do not follow prevailing norms on sexual orientation, gender identity and gender expression.

This is the main finding from research coordinated by the International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission (IGLHRC) and conducted over a two-year period by women’s rights, sexuality rights and gender rights activists based in Japan, Malaysia, Pakistan, Philippines and Sri Lanka. Interviews were conducted in Japanese, English, Malay, Tamil, Urdu, Tagalog, Cebuano, Ilocano and Sinhala. The researchers uncovered high levels of family violence perpetrated against LBT individuals as well as widespread discrimination in education, health and work sectors.

LBT people faced this frequent violence and daily discrimination without any protection from the state. While many found strength in knowing that they had survived the violence they were subjected to, the quality of survival was affected – even compromised – by the ubiquity of discourses in the public sphere justifying abuse against lesbian and bisexual women. In particular, public discourse sanctioned abuse against gender non-conforming women and men.

While country contexts differed on the basis of culture, religion, legal systems and inherited colonial legacies, there were undergirding realities that LBT people faced in the five Asian countries in some or all of the following ways:

  • Homosexuality and gender non-conformity were criminalized directly or indirectly through penal code provisions that specifically targeted lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) people or through laws concerning public order, vagrancy or impersonation that were implemented disproportionately to punish LGBT people.
  • Homosexuality (same-sex relations between women) and gender non-conformity were penalized and condemned under religious laws.
  • High-level government officials endorsed intolerance and even actively participated in promoting harmful messages that encouraged abuse or discrimination against LBT individuals. Government-controlled media and state-supported religious leaders perpetuated cultural messaging that preached intolerance against individuals with non-conforming sexual orientation, gender identity and gender expression.
  • LBT victims of violence were disadvantaged even before they could seek redress for violence – due to the risk of being criminalized by the state, stigmatized by society, vilified by religious groups, and rejected by family when their identities or explanations of the violence were revealed.
  • There was a close correlation between general gender inequality and the additional oppression of LBT individuals. Where women are expected to conform to stringent norms on sexual orientation and gender expression, those who do not conform are violently punished.

The five-country study confirmed the existence of complex layers of intersecting discrimination where violence against LBT individuals was not only motivated by rejection of sexual orientation, gender identity and gender expression but, in many instances, also other identity markers (e.g., race, ethnicity, class, economic status, religion, economic status). In this way, LBT individuals were punished by their families and communities for “betraying” their heritage, religion and culture. Those without financial advantage to “get out of” violent situations or who were targeted for violence because they were poor were even more vulnerable because of increased opportunities for violence.

While findings of the studies may not be representative of the experiences of all LBT people in Sri Lanka, Philippines, Pakistan, Malaysia and Japan, they represent experiences that show patterns of violence that require serious attention and redress. At the same time, the focus of the research itself is important because violence against LBT people is under-reported in many Asian countries. As this research shows, one reason for the under-reporting is precisely the “private nature of the violence.” It occurs in the private sphere (of family, home, intimate relationships) while being encouraged by the stigmatization – and in some instances, demonization – of LBT people in the public sphere (by state institutions, government leaders, media, employers, non-governmental organizations, police and people on the streets).

IGLHRC and the five groups that undertook the research urge comprehensive recommendations to the executive and legislative branches of government, state institutions and civil society groups. The following is a summary:

  • The state must take responsibility for ensuring an environment that is supportive of all women's rights, not merely the rights of some women.
  • The state must exercise due diligence in preventing violence and promoting the safety and dignity of all marginalized and vulnerable populations. These include ethnic and religious minorities, people with disabilities, indigenous communities, and sexual and non-conforming gender minorities.
  • The state must not endorse and, in fact, must denounce the misuse of religious discourse to promote intolerance, stigmatization and violence against LBT people.
  • The state must comply with international treaties it ratifies and honor international agreements it makes, such as the Beijing Platform for Action, in order to remove obstacles from both the public and private spheres that prevent all women (female bodied, gender variant, lesbian, bisexual) and female-to-male transgender men from enjoying violence-free lives.
  • The state must recognize that violence and discrimination against LBT youth and adults hinders the achievement of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) on poverty eradication, gender equality, universal healthcare and universal primary school education. As such, the state must integrate LBT concerns and needs into the MDGs and legal and policy reforms. This includes extending legal protections against violence and discrimination, decriminalizing adult consensual same-sex relations, decriminalizing gender non-conformity, and penalizing violence against LBT people in the public and private spheres by State and non-State violators.
  • State actions must be accompanied by stronger community capacity for sustainable and supportive interventions as part of civil society accountability to vulnerable communities. It should not be the expectation that individual LBT victims be self-reliant and resilient in order to deal with violence on their own while waiting for State action to reduce violence.

To purchase a hard copy of the publication, please contact Grace Poore at gpoore [ @ ] iglhrc.org.