Myanmar’s first openly gay MP candidate has said he will use his position to tackle police abuse of LGBT people if he wins a seat in the election on November 8.
Myo Min Htun, 39, is standing for a regional seat in Aung Myae Tharzan township in Mandalay, where trans women and other LGBT people have long complained of wrongful arrests, beatings and abuse at the hands of police.
“People know the value of water only when they feel thirsty,” he told Myanmar Now in an exclusive interview, the first time he has discussed his sexual orientation with the media.
“Only LGBT people know about the lack of LGBT rights, the problems with the police, and how the police have unlawfully arrested those from the LGBT community. I understand LGBT people because I’m one of them,” he said.
Myo Min Htun, a Mandalay native who works as a florist and wedding planner, is running for the People’s Pioneer Party, which was founded by a former NLD MP who was kicked out for criticising the party.
The party’s policy of prioritising young people and tackling gender discrimination made him feel he would be welcome there, he said. He wrote in his application to the party that he wanted to fight for LGBT rights.
Even though this is his first foray into politics, he breezed through the in-person interview, and says his sexuality was never an issue throughout the application process.
“The candidate must be a citizen, and meet the eligibility criteria stated in the 2008 constitution,” said PPP’s vice-chair Kyaw Zay Ya.
Beyond that, he added, “we don’t set boundaries.”
The NLD’s 2020 election manifesto calls for the elimination of discrimination against LGBT people.
But despite having enjoyed five years with a supermajority in parliament, NLD MPs have failed to scrap section 377, a colonial-era law against gay sex, even as Myanmar’s LGBT community has become more open and vocal in calling for rights.
“We voted for MP candidates and secured them their seats in parliament,” said Myo Min Htun. “But they were nowhere to be found when we needed their help. So I decided to stand for parliament myself instead of asking them for help,” he said.
As a regional MP, he would be unable to work directly on scrapping section 377, but he would focus on protecting local LGBT rights in Mandalay, he added.
Before becoming a florist, Myo Min Htun worked for three years for an NGO providing health education to LGBT people, and then opened a Mohinga shop at the foot of Mandalay Hill.
Now that he has chosen to run for such a public role, he expects to be on the recieving end of homophobic abuse.
“People are bound to criticise and make bad comments when an LGBT person runs in the election… I will be criticised more than the others,” he said.
Aung Myo Min, a prominent LGBT activist and executive director of the human rights group Equality Myanmar, said many in Myanmar will have trouble accepting an openly gay man in politics.
“People can accept LGBT people as friends, but we need to take two more steps for the public to accept them as government leaders or MPs to represent them and their township in parliament,” he said.
But Myo Min Htun is upbeat about the chances for change. “The LGBT community has a place in society now. They don’t have full rights yet but I can say their situation is not as bad under the current government,” he said.
Shin Thant, a transgender LGBT activist, said she hoped Myo Min Htun’s candidacy would encourage more people to come out.
“Other LGBT politicians are still in the closet. This could be the driving force for them to come out openly as LGBT people,” she said.