The Irrawaddy News Magazine [Covering Burma and Southeast Asia]
A Test of Tolerance
JUNE, 2010 - VOLUME 18 NO.6

A Karen singer’s complaint that he was blacklisted by a foundation in Burma because he was gay has triggered a debate about sexual prejudice in Burmese society.

The barred singer, Saw Yuri, told The Irrawaddy that the Rangoon-based Klo and Kweh Foundation had informed him he couldn’t perform for the organization any more, telling him “there are no gays in the Karen ethnic group.”

The Klo and Kweh Foundation, founded in 2001 by Karen people living in the United States and Burma, organizes social work and events for Karen communities. 

Yuri worked for the music awards scheme of the foundation since its formation. He has published two albums of Karen songs.

Yuri now lives with a Thai man in Thailand since the pair celebrated a marriage ceremony there three years ago. Gay marriage is prohibited in Burma. .

Saw Yuri

Several leading figures in Burma’s arts and entertainment scene condemned the Klo and Khwe Foundation’s action in blacklisting Yuri.

The popular author Nu Nu Ye (aka Inwa) said Burmese society should accept gays and “allow them to enjoy their rights, including marriage.”

Phyu Phyu Thin, a Rangoon-based HIV/AIDS activist, told The Irrawaddy that some Burmese believe gays should be shunned because it is thought they spread the HIV virus.

“Instead of saying whether they should be in society, we’d better think about how to deal with them,” she said. “As long as we don’t recognize them, gays will remain hidden away. Without openness and understanding, the spread of AIDS is likely to increase.”

Khaing Mar, a young Rangoon man, told The Irrawaddy that Burmese attitudes towards gays had changed, but only slightly. “There are still many limitations for gay couples,” he said.

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