Canada champions LGBTQ2 rights across Asia-Pacific
Canada in Asia-Pacific
LIFE Center Project: Promoting gender sensitivity in health care services for transgender people in Vietnam.
Over the past year, the LGBTQ2 community in the Asia-Pacific region has faced both triumphs and setbacks. From stigma facing transgender people in Vietnam to Taiwan’s pledge to legalize same-sex marriage, no two countries have the same approach to LGBTQ2 rights.
For Canadian offices in the Asia-Pacific region, advocating for LGBTQ2 persons means navigating strict laws, religious conventions, and local community organizations. But the goal is always the same: to honour Canada’s commitment to fight for the rights of LGBTQ2 people around the world.
Overcoming legal challenges
In a number of countries across Asia, the LGBTQ2 community faces barriers not just from society, but from the legal system itself.
In Malaysia, the LGBTQ2 community encounters widespread discrimination and harassment, including through the legal system.
Same sex relations remain illegal under the criminal code regardless of age or consent, while “cross-dressing” is illegal for Muslim Malaysians under Shariah law.
The Malaysian government has also sponsored rehabilitation camps to address “gender confusion.”
In Singapore, local law criminalizes sexual acts between mutually consenting men, although the law is not enforced. And in Vietnam, where same-sex marriage is no longer banned, the transgender community still faces inequality across society.
For activist groups in Malaysia, one of the key priorities is fighting to improve living and working conditions for the LGBTQ2 community.
SEED, a non-profit and community-based organization, is helping marginalized groups in Malaysia. From health care services and HIV/AIDS information to job referrals and networking events, SEED provides safe spaces for the transgender community, disadvantaged women and people living with HIV.
With financial support from the Canada Fund for Local Initiatives (CFLI), SEED provided people in Malaysia’s transgender community with the professional training they needed to enter the workforce.
Recognizing the reality of widespread discrimination against Malaysia’s transgender community, participants shared information about transgender-friendly workplaces in Malaysia and strategies for dealing with discrimination and harassment.
Nisha Ayub, the Founder and Director of SEED, told the audience “we need more opportunities like this to educate our community… to improve their confidence to pursue their career and development.”
In Singapore, Canada has supported an organization named Oogachaga, which has worked with Singapore’s LGBTQ2 community for nearly 20 years to provide counselling, support groups and training.
The Canadian High Commission in Singapore supported the organization’s initiative to update their website, making it more user-friendly and accessible on mobile devices. Within a week of the re-launch, the average number of visitors to the site increased nearly five-fold.
Access to information, support, and services for the LGBTQ2 community is now just a click away.
Legal acceptance but social stigma
While many Asia-Pacific countries do not pose strict legal barriers towards LGBTQ2 persons, discrimination remains a problem.
In Vietnam, the ban on same-sex marriage was lifted in 2015, and gender reassignment surgery has been legalized.
However, transgender people in Vietnam still face stigma in applying for jobs, visiting public spaces and accessing health care.
Recognizing the toll of these day-to-day struggles, the Canada Fund for Local Initiatives (CFLI) in Vietnam funded the Centre of Promotion of Quality of Life (LIFE Centre) to promote gender sensitivity in health care services for transgender women.
One of the LIFE Centre’s trainers, Mia Nguyen, is a psychological counselling specialist and a transgender woman. Mia trained 250 healthcare providers to promote gender sensitivity in the medical profession, and to recognize the challenges facing Vietnam’s transgender community.
“It is the first time I trained health service providers and I am so happy about this. My husband and my family must be very proud of me!” Mia said.
“I believe love and tolerance will change a person—I am proud to be trans!”
Fighting intolerance with education
In 2017, Taiwan’s Constitutional Court ordered the country to legalise same-sex marriage within two years, making it the first jurisdiction in Asia to take this crucial step.
But negative responses from the population have been vocal. Opposition groups mobilized against same-sex marriage, launching strategic attacks and “fake-news” campaigns against both the court decision and the push towards gender-inclusive education.
In response, Canada’s Trade Office in Taipei implemented a multi-year strategy to support LGBTQ2-inclusive education.
Working with the Taiwan LGBTQ Hotline and the Taiwan Gender Equity Education Association, the Trade Office used seminars, roundtables and lectures to promote an exchange of ideas on LGBTQ2 rights, marriage equality and inclusive education.
Cho Keng-yu, a board member of the Taiwan Gender Equity Education Association, drew comparisons between Canada and Taiwan’s support for LGBTQ2 issues.
“Both Canada and Taiwan are working for inclusive education, gender equality and LGBTI rights,” he said.
“But both still face obstacles. Hopefully we can pass through difficult times and let everyone be proud of themselves.”
Protecting LGBTQ2 people around the world
LGBTQ2 rights are human rights. And for Canada, the human rights of all people are non-negotiable.
Canada not only fights to promote LGBTQ2 rights, but also to protect them.
In the Asia-Pacific region, where approaches to LGBTQ2 rights are so diverse, Canada’s commitment holds true.
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