Advertisement

Miss Myanmar comes out before Miss Universe pageant, shines spotlight on LGBTQ2 persecution

Click to play video 'House of Commons votes to call Myanmar Rohingya killings a genocide' House of Commons votes to call Myanmar Rohingya killings a genocide
WATCH: House of Commons votes to call Myanmar Rohingya killings a genocide – Sep 20, 2018

This year’s Miss Universe pageant made history, as the organization celebrated its first openly gay contestant from Myanmar.

While she may have failed to advance to the top 20, all eyes remain on 20-year old competitor Swe Zin Htet, whose homeland still considers homosexuality a punishable crime.

READ MORE: Miss Universe Canada calls out body shamers: ‘This is not OK’ (Jan. 28. 2017)

Swe Zin Htet, also known as “Superman” to her fans, reportedly came out as a lesbian during an interview posted on Missosology, a pageant forum, shortly after arriving in Atlanta on Nov. 28 for the competition.

“I came to a full realization about my sexual orientation over a long period of time,” she said.

“I knew I was ‘one of them’ way back in 2015.”

Story continues below advertisement
Miss Universe Myanmar 2019 Swe Zin Htet poses for the photographs after winning Miss Universe Myanmar 2019 pageant contest in Yangon, Myanmar, May 31, 2019. Lynn Bo Bo / EPA

Coming out publicly isn’t easy, Htet said, but she wants to use her platform to help those identifying as LGBTQ2 in Myanmar.

“I want the world to accept the LGBTQ+ community and their right to choose their own path and pursuit of happiness,” said Htet. “We should always have the freedom of choice and promote equality.

“Love is the most powerful thing and people fall in love with human beings, not gender.”

The following day, the Miss Universe contestant posted a photo collage on Instagram, overlaid with a rainbow flag and the word “Proud.”

Story continues below advertisement

Htet’s coming out is striking, particularly in light of Mynamar’s strict laws that prohibit same-sex relationships.

According to Section 377 of Myanmar’s penal code, homosexuality is akin to “unnatural behaviour” and subject to permanent exile or a lengthy imprisonment of up to 10 years — a remnant of the British Empire.

Click to play video 'LGBTQ2 employment rights tested in landmark Supreme Court cases' LGBTQ2 employment rights tested in landmark Supreme Court cases
LGBTQ2 employment rights tested in landmark Supreme Court cases – Oct 13, 2019

The law isn’t widely enforced, but the social prejudice still exists. Those identifying as LGTBQ2 still face a greater frequency of arrests, high rates of domestic abuse and violence, and discrimination in the workplace.

Homophobia is prevalent in a variety of countries in Southeast Asia, like Singapore, where having gay sex is punishable with jail time. Brunei nearly imposed the death penalty for it in May.

The law remains on the books in more than 40 countries across the world, but a global movement to undo the colonial legacy is gaining momentum.

Story continues below advertisement
Contestants kiss Miss Universe Myanmar 2019 Swe Zin Htet (centre) as they celebrate during Miss Universe Myanmar 2019 pageant contest in Yangon, Myanmar, May 31, 2019. Lynn Bo Bo / EPA

Across the continent, activists are going to the courts to challenge discrimination of LGBTQ2 people and force legislators to act.

Several countries, including India, Botswana and Belize, have overturned Section 377 or similar anti-gay legislation in recent years, bolstering hopes that activists can achieve the same in other countries that were once British colonies.

READ MORE: Deputy Conservative leader apologizes for comments on LGBTQ2 pride parades

Earlier this year, Taiwan became the first place in Asia to legalize marriage equality. Litigation for marriage equality is currently underway in Hong Kong, Japan and South Korea.

But petitions in China and the Philippines were rejected, and conservative values and deep-rooted biases have hamstrung progress on gay rights in countries including Myanmar, Indonesia and Malaysia.

Story continues below advertisement

Sponsored content