Rebel soldier to gay rights warrior

As published with Democratic Voice of Burma. View original here.

With tears in his eyes, Aung Myo Min tells the story of his first love. As a young man, filled with a fierce passion for equality and democracy in his home country of Burma, he had taken up arms against the military government with other like-minded students. Deep in the Burmese jungle, Aung Myo Min fell in love with another young man, a fellow student-cum-soldier who shared his ideals and fought alongside him. But while their comrades preached equal human rights for all, the two men knew they were not accepted by the rest of the group. Unable to cope with the stigma, the couple separated.

Aung Myo Min left the army to pursue non-violent activism, while his lover was sent to the front lines.He was later captured by government forces and tortured to death.

“They did not believe in this kind of love,” Aung Myo Min tells the camera.

“But our love, it came from the heart.”

As patrons steadily fill the Chiang Mai University Art Centre on Wednesday evening, Aung Myo Min has smiles for everyone as he eagerly ushers them into the centre’s small theatre to await the premier of This Kind of Love, a documentary film about his life.

Directed by noted US documentarist Jeanne Hallacy, This Kind of Love follows Aung Myo Min’s struggle for equality as a gay man and ardent human rights activist.

At once excited and nervous, the famed LGBTIQ (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, intersex, and questioning) campaigner said while he was unsure as to what the film’s reception might be, he was proud of how the documentary had turned out.

“When we showed this in Burma, some people were crying because the film shows what a painful experience it was for me as an exile for 24 years,” Aung Myo Min told DVB on Wednesday night.

“But some people were really appreciative, because the documentary is an expression of hope and inspires gay activists who never gave up in their struggle for human rights and democracy.”

Exiled in 1988 for taking part in infamous nationwide protests which culminated in a military government crackdown resulting in thousands of deaths, the then-young student fled to the Thai border, where he joined the All Burma Students Democratic Front, or ABSDF, an armed group fighting the Burmese military. It was here he met his first love, a fellow solider in the rebel army ranks.

Despite the ABSDF’s ideals of democracy and equality, Aung Myo Min found that these so-called human rights activists were unable to accept ‘this kind of love’ between two young men. He decided to leave the army, swapping violent means for peaceful campaigns to achieve his dream of equality.

In documenting this quest for equality in Burma, filmmaker Hallacy said her primary aim is to show the world how Aung Myo Min uses his tools of love, creativity and empowerment to pave the way for LGBT rights in his home country.

“He is indefatigable in his stance for truth and to speak out to right the wrongs for anyone who is suffering – from former child soldiers to ethnic refugees to transgender women. His passion is infectious and he works from the heart,” Hallacy told DVB.

“These are qualities that make real change.”

Undoubtedly, Aung Myo Min’s struggle has been a tough one. As he acknowledged in the Q&A session after the film’s screening, the life of an activist often means choosing between one’s family and security, and his or her ideals. But he said he maintains hope that equality for all will soon be a reality in Burma, as long as human rights activists value the role of LGBT people in their struggle.

“If no one is committed, this fight for equality will take forever. But if everyone is committed to their belief in human rights and ready to fight against injustice, the victory may be tomorrow.

“Don’t underestimate the power of LGBT people in this struggle. We are human beings, we are very creative, and we are very strong and have strong beliefs in equality.”

Responding to a question by DVB, Hallacy said if her audience can take away only one thing from the film, it should be that love is the foundation for lasting positive movements, not only in Burma, but all around the world.

“If we move people’s hearts without judgement about who they are or why they think a certain way, and invite them to be part of a broader shared vision of an inclusive society, they change.”

For Aung Myo Min, the most important take away is the message for LGBTIQ activists to maintain their pride in who they are.

“We don’t have to be ashamed of ourselves; we don’t have to think we are wrong. Be proud of your identity; and be who you are.”

The 45-minute documentary is scheduled to be screened at The Foreign Correspondent’s Club in Bangkok on 15 July. The film is to be released on DVD and Blu-Ray by producers in the near future. Anyone wishing to keep up to date with the project can visit the documentary’s website or Facebook page.

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