The attitudes of Cambodians who claim to support lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender (LGBT) people are often very similar to those who identify as opponents of LGBT rights, according to a new report released on Monday by the local NGO Rainbow Community Kampuchea.
The report, conducted by social research agency TNS, is based on information gathered in eight focus groups as well as face-to-face interviews with 478 LGBT people and 1,085 straight people in Phnom Penh and 10 provinces.
The research found that 78 percent of those interviewed who identified as LGBT supporters would still attempt to change their child’s sexual orientation, while 15 percent of “supporters” said they would force their LGBT child to date or marry someone of the opposite sex.
The report concludes that while many straight people support LGBT people in theory, they are more sensitive about their progeny and close family members.
And even supporters of LGBT people “appear to feel it is within their rights to pass judgment through their actions (e.g., many think that being LGBT is abnormal enough that they would try to change an LGBT person before accepting or supporting them),” the report says.
It’s a familiar attitude for 32-year-old Seaklay, a transgender man from Phnom Penh who works for Rainbow Community Kampuchea. He said that while his parents did not strongly oppose his identity, they persistently attempted to convince him to dress as a female again, despite the fact that he had been living as a man since the age of 16.
“They still try to ask me if I want to dress up as a girl again. They still pursue me to marry a man,” he said.
The report speculates that this kind of hypocrisy is due in part to a lack of cohesive and clear terms in Khmer to refer to LGBT people.
“Findings reveal up to 200 terms that are used across the provinces to describe LGBT people,” the report says, with “khteuy” and “PD”—from the French slang for homosexual—being the most commonly used.
About half of LGBT respondents found these terms offensive, while only 29 percent of straight respondents thought they were.
Both straight and LGBT people in Cambodia believe that outside factors can influence sexuality, with 30 percent of straight people and 21 percent of LGBT people believing that a “difficult breakup with the opposite sex” can make somebody gay, lesbian or bisexual.
Chhoeurng Rachana, a 29-year-old woman from Banteay Meanchey province who dates women, said she had encountered this belief before.
“My workmates and close friends frequently say that I am like this because I had my heart broken by men, so I chose to be like this,” she said.
“But it’s not true…. I know who I am.”
(Additional reporting by Kuch Naren)
© 2015, Taylor O’Connell. All rights reserved.