‘I am what I am’: In Phnom Penh, a rainbow and costume rally against discrimination


Author: Mariken Harbitz

Phnom Penh, Cambodia – They came in bright rainbow colors and outrageous costumes, but what they wanted was to be accepted like everyone else.

Participants exceeded costumes expectations at the event. Photo: UN Women/Mariken Harbitz

The LGBTI community held its annual PRIDE “tuk tuk race” on 21 May, sending more than 100 contestants in rainbow-draped tuk tuks – local trishaws -- for dashes through the streets of Phnom Penh. Many wore costumes with rainbow themes, there were also pop stars, pirates, Donald Trump.

UN Women is working with and supporting grassroots organizations to promote LGBTI rights in Cambodia, which is a deeply conservative country.

And it does seem more people are speaking out and more people are listening.

Fiona Shanks, a co-organizer of the tuk tuk race, enjoys the rainbow colors of Phnom Penh. Photo: UN Women/Mariken Harbitz

The tuk tuk race started as a one-off event in 2012, then quickly became a big celebration for the city’s LGBTI people. The contestants raced to solve various challenges – solving puzzles, creating human PRIDE formations -- at well-known LGBTI sites in town including cafes, restaurants, hotels, and nightclubs.

The number of race participants was double that of last year.

“I see rainbows everywhere” said Bun Thorn, an activist of YouthLEAD, an NGO that helps to combat the spread of HIV. “So many people and so much good spirit means we are not alone and not isolated anymore. We are accepted for who we are.”

He said it would be good to take the PRIDE celebration to other provinces of the country.

The tuk tuk race winners celebrate (from left): Lili Suon, Sophy Heyduck, and Zin HD Narath. Photo: Ricardo Perez-Solero

Two women and one man from Cambodia won the tuk tuk race.

“We wanted to join the race because it firstly is so much fun, and secondly because we want to support the LGBTI community,” said one of the women, Sophy Heyduck, a 29-year-old host for local radio station Love 97.5. “The race and many of the other activities help people understand the context of LGBTI in Cambodia.”

The Deputy Representative of UN Women Cambodia, Sarah Knibbs, said, “Stigma and discrimination against LGBTI people are still widespread, forcing many Cambodians to hide their sexuality, but PRIDE is a wonderful opportunity to celebrate diversity and reiterate the message that everyone has equal rights.”

The organizer of the tuk tuk race, David Hunt, a British teacher in Phnom Penh, said the event helped people become more open about their sexual identity.

“A woman from last year´s celebrations wrote me that the race had helped her come out to her friends and family,” said Hunt. ”And in the end, this is why we do this. Because we want to make a difference in someone´s life.”

For more information:

Please contact: Mariken Harbitz
Communications Officer for UN Women Cambodia
Email: [ Click to reveal ]