Myanmar: University investigates suicide of gay librarian

A Myanmar university said on Wednesday it had suspended three staff, while it investigates the suicide of a gay employee, who said he was bullied at work in social media posts widely shared in the conservative Asian country.

Kyaw Zin Win, a librarian in his 20s, took his own life on Sunday, after sharing accounts on Facebook about colleagues mocking his sexuality, and forcing him to publicly admit that he was gay.

Gay sex is punishable by up to 10 years in jail in the Southeast Asian country, under British colonial era legislation.

The Myanmar Imperial University, a private university where Kyaw Zin Win worked, said in emailed comments that the death was a “huge tragedy”, and that it had a zero tolerance policy towards discrimination in the workplace.

“We have suspended three people,” Nandar Phyoe from the university’s human resources department told the Thomson Reuters Foundation by phone from Myanmar’s capital Yangon.

“We have been doing all of the necessary investigations and all the things that we can to support his family.”

While 2,000 people in January attended the country’s second publicly-celebrated Pride festival in Yangon, signalling growing acceptance of LGBT+ people, gay rights campaigners said they still face discrimination in Myanmar and across Asia.

“LGBT discrimination in the workplace is unfortunately a common practice in Myanmar,” said Juan Miguel Sanchez Marin, deputy director from the Myanmar’s LGBT+ rights group, Equality Myanmar.

“Young Myanmar LGBT (people) are specially vulnerable and often left to the tough decision of leading a life of secrecy or face discrimination and violence,” he added.

Although rarely enforced, the gay sex ban – known as Section 377 – can stigmatise LGBT+ people who are often denied jobs or fired if their identity becomes known, gay rights groups said.

Malaysia and Singapore also have laws banning sexual relationships between men but a similar law in India was struck down in a landmark court ruling in 2018.

“We need to get rid of this law. Having Section 377 allows people to discriminate the LGBT community,” said Hla Myat Tun, deputy director of Yangon-based campaign group Colors Rainbow.

“Any kind of discrimination is not acceptable at any workplace or schools,” he said, calling for anti-discrimination law to be enacted in Myanmar.

-Beh Lih Yi @behlihyi – Thomson Reuters Foundation

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