By Alisa Tang
BANGKOK, Feb 24 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - Some of those most guilty of violence and discrimination against gays, lesbians and transgender people in Asia are their families, which must instead play a key role in improving LGBTI rights, activists from the region said.
Lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex people (LGBTI) in Asia face the threat of violence and widespread discrimination - denied education and jobs, and disowned by their families in societies that are often patriarchal and religious, the activists said ahead of a three-day meeting on LGBT health and human rights in Asia.
"The family is one of the main perpetrators of violence and discrimination. (According to) Asian values, you control your family's sexuality, and it's a shame - a family shame - when one of your family members does not fit into... what society says is normal," said Ging Cristobal of the Philippines-based International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission (IGLHRC).
If LGBT people suffer violence at the hands of family members, there are few places they can turn to in countries where traumatic conversion and religious therapies are common, Cristobal said.
"You don't have access to services, counseling. Where do you go if you're being battered by your family? The service providers are also homophobic or transphobic," she said.
Cristobal and other activists spoke on a panel at the launch of the second phase of Being LGBT in Asia, an $8 million project supported by the Swedish government, USAID and the U.N. Development Program (UNDP) that aims to improve LGBT rights through research and support for civil society groups.
The first phase of the initiative included national consultations and interviews to learn more about the challenges facing LGBT people and organizations in Cambodia, China, Indonesia, Mongolia, Nepal, the Philippines, Thailand and Vietnam.
Among the findings, published in country reports in English and local languages, was evidence that high levels of stigma and discrimination persist in families, workplaces and sectors such as health and education.
In many countries, the laws and social framework cast LGBT people as criminals or deviants, a statement on the project said.
"When we talked with other transgender people, we realized that these are conversations they can never have with their families because they don't have enough information about their identities at this point," said Joe Wong, who was born female but identifies as a trans-man.
"It's only when we had consultations in the respective countries that they understood that there's nothing wrong with them, and that they are not actually alone," said Wong of the Asia Pacific Transgender Network, which is developing a "trans-health blueprint" for transgender people to learn more.
The second phase of the Being LGBT in Asia project aims to strengthen and empower LGBT regional civil society groups and community networks in China, Indonesia, the Philippines and Thailand.
Edmund Settle, a policy adviser on HIV, human rights and governance for UNDP, said the involvement of the parents of gay and lesbian children - and the group PFLAG - was essential to improve the rights of LGBT people in countries like China and Vietnam.
The three-day regional dialog on LGBT human rights and health in Asia-Pacific from Feb. 25 to 27 will close with a panel discussion on families.
"That's the challenge for us: How do you transform families? What's the bridge to turn tolerance into acceptance?" said Cristobal of IGLHRC. "Because we know the acceptance is very conditional. We accept you, but... There's always a big but." (Reporting by Alisa Tang, Editing by Tim Pearce)