Social Work is a helping profession which promotes the well being of people while human rights and social justice are highly stressed (IFSW, 2000). The primary mission of social work on the NASW webpage is stated that it is to enhance human well-being and help meet the basic human needs with special attention to vulnerable and oppressed people (NASW, 2007). When the topic “Vulnerable group” is discussed, women, children, handicapped and aged people are mainly under discussion and the issues of Lesbians, Gays, Bisexual and Transgender population (LGBT) are less discussed.
The LGBT population is one of the vulnerable minority groups since the population takes only a small proportion of the whole population. It takes approximately 10 percent of the population (Hilda, H et al. 1988). Also because of the facts that being lesbians or gay in the society was regarded as mental disorder and homosexuality was labeled as a sexual deviation over the early past decades (Hilda, H et al. 1988). The LGBT populations had suffered discrimination based on sexual orientation depending on different geographical area. Exclusion is what the population was brought up with and equity is what they had been struggling for.
Although people became more and more aware of LGBT issue nowadays, the population is still discriminated and marginalized by the majority. The perceptions, attitudes, values and stereotypes of people are the major barriers for LGBT to be socially included. As social work professional who is supposed to promote human rights, social justice and to help the oppressed and vulnerable groups, these influence factors limiting the social work practice are needed to be emphasized. At the same time, persons who are going to help this population need to be competent in this specific field of helping. There are many challenges and difficulties to help this population because of personal and environmental factors.
In this paper, I will try to bring this issue to my own local context: elaborate the situation in Myanmar regarding LGBT, brainstorm how they can be helped applying social work practice and most important of all, I will try to examine and explore how my own perceptions, attitudes, values, experiences, emotions and stereotypes may interfere my ability of social work practice with this specific issue. Moreover I will try to find out how social work practice can be done to help the sexual minority in my local context.
In chapter 2, I would explore how the issue of LGBT came into existence and what is the significant literature about this issue for the better understanding of this population. In chapter 3, I would try to relate the issue to my own local context: explaining the values, cultural norms, perceptions and stereotypes in Myanmar and why gay persons are significant to study. In chapter 4, would make a personal reflection. I would also try to examine myself regarding my own personal values, perceptions and attitude towards this issue. I would also discuss environmental factors in this chapter. In chapter 5, I would conclude with the description of my personal plan while I am in MSW. Potential intervention plan in three levels of social work intervention would also be discussed.
2.1 History of Homosexuality
Homosexuality had long existed in human history and it can be seen in different culture in different settings. It had made a long way and still making its way ahead.
Wormer et al. (2000) stated that people were morally against homosexuality since ages ago although the term became to be popular in the 1980s. People accepted that homosexuality is morally unacceptable and the attitude of people towards homosexuality is mainly based on strong religious beliefs. Homosexuality was regarded as a sin, a crime, a sickness in the Roman Empire times and it was also legally forbidden (Wormer et al. 2000).
Even in the modern times, homosexuality or same sex relationship and marriage take a controversial topic in debates. It is controversial when discussion comes for rights talk and legal issues. There are some parts of the world where homosexuality or same sex relationship is legalized while in some parts it is illegal and strongly forbidden.
Wormer et al. (2000) explained that “Homosexuality refers to sexual attraction between members of the same gender, often but not always accompanied by sexual behavior.” It implies that both male and female who are sexually attracted are covered in the term Homosexuality although males are referred as gays and females as lesbians.
2.3 Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender people
This term, also abbreviated as LGBT usually refers to homosexuality while bisexual talks about sexual attraction to members of both sexes. However, in review of the literature, bisexual and transgender are not as commonly seen as lesbian and gay are. Mallon (2009) mentioned that there had not been many researches on the two important populations besides gays and lesbians and the terms and bisexual and transgender were added into research literature only after 1998.
2.5 LGBT and Social Work
The National Association of Social Workers (NASW) had been working on the LGBT issues since 1970s. The National Committee on Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender issues was formed in 1982 with 8 specific objectives in which promoting social justice and defending the rights of persons who are suffering oppressions and discrimination based on their sexual orientation NASW (2010).
Situation in Myanmar
3.1 Situation of LGBT persons in Myanmar
There is no specific study and literature about LGBT persons in Myanmar. The issue is not published nor does not take media coverage despite of its existence. Yuuki (2009) complained that there have not equal rights or opportunities for LGBT in Myanmar even though there is no apparent discrimination towards the population (para. 1). There is very little knowledge about LGBT in Myanmar and they are only regarded as the carriers and distributors of HIV/AIDS.
As cited in The International Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Trans and Intersex Association of Asia (2009), the Penal Code, Act 45/1860, Revised Edition, Section 377 states
“Whoever voluntarily has carnal intercourse against the order of nature with any man, woman or animals shall be punished with transportation for life, or with imprisonment of either description for a term which may extend to 10 years, and shall be liable to fine.” (Ottosson, 2007). The law is in fact not very clear whether or not all LGBT persons who have sexual relationship to same sex. The International Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Trans and Intersex Association of Asia (2009), only states that male to male sexual relationship is illegal (p. 1).
There have not much concern on LGBT persons in Myanmar. Only gays; male to male sexual relationship has been concentrated regarding the distribution of HIV/AIDS. It has been only a decade or so that the LGBT issues involved in public chat and gossips with the celebrities who had come out of the closet and with the popularity of sex change operations in neighboring country, Thailand. People in Myanmar hardly know about Lesbian, Bisexual and Transgender but gays. When LGBT is discussed, gays would be the major discussion.
3.2 Values, Culture norms and stereotypes in Myanmar
Myanmar, being one of the Asian countries holds and practices Asian values. Buddhism is the national religion and the culture is not different from other Asian countries. Masculinity is accepted as superior, being male is believed as natural gift which is related to the good deeds one had done in the previous life according to Buddhism belief. Only males can be monks and become God.
As seen all over the world, gender stereotypes can also be seen in Myanmar. Men are supposed to be the bread winners while women are responsible for the household chores. Men are socially looked down if they can not be able to support the family. Similarly, women are looked down if they can not be able to perform the child care and house works. Min (2010) explained that males have to behave like males and if a boy or girl behaves like a different gender, they would be scolded and punished by the elders. He also told the media that it is a shame to express one’s gender identity whether gay or lesbian and people dare not come out to their real gender identity since they are afraid of discrimination.
3.3 Discrimination against LGBT in Myanmar
Although obvious discrimination against gays was not made public in Myanmar, there are similar situations in the society. The head of the Human Rights Education Institute of Burma reported to a media that there is discrimination against gays. Min (2010), reported that “Although several Asian countries have discriminatory laws against homosexuality, it is illegal in Myanmar. Discrimination against gays and lesbians is traditionally rooted in our societies and the society does not tolerate homosexuality.” (p. 1).
In a few years ago in Myanmar, a gay person who expressed himself as gay and engaged a same sex marriage was expelled from his society after he identified as being gay. He was a strong member of that artist society before he expresses himself as gay but soon after, he suffered sexual prejudice. Irrawaddy (2010) reported that some commented on the case that the Myanmar society should understand gays and allow them to enjoy their rights, including marriage, but some believe that gays should be shunned because it is thought they spread the HIV virus (p. 1).
There are similar cases of discrimination against gays in Myanmar, in a wide society, in the community and even in families. People have little knowledge and misconception about gays by the value, norms and stereotypes.
Social Work Practice with LGBT in Myanmar
4.1 Personal reflection
In reviewing myself, I do not seem to accept gays as normal. I did not have good experience with gays and I found it difficult to deal with them. The first time I recognized gay persons was in my adolescence. They appeared to be different from other boys that I disliked the way they behave since they do not behave like boys but girls. I see them as cowards and when I encounter those who have sexual relationship with same sex, I used to regard them as persons who are against the religious teachings and law. Although I came to know more about the gay persons, I observed myself that it is still hard for me to deal with them.
4.2 Personal factor contributing the difficulty for social work practice
Since social workers value dignity and worth of a person, my own perception and attitudes towards gay persons would be a barrier in social work practice with them. The factor that I had bad experience with gay persons where I began to dislike them might also contribute the difficulty. It would be difficult for me to bring about equity and change to them because transference and counter transference issues may interrupt my ability to perform social work practice.
More importantly, I do not feel comfortable talking with gay persons and when I examine myself regarding my hesitation dealing with them, the reason behind is that I had the experience in which I was approached by some gay persons. Thus it is very much likely for me and I easily tend to stereotype other gay persons that they would approach me as well. It can also be said as pre judgment which contradicts to social work practice. Again, my perception and attitude towards gay persons is that they are shameless and immoral because they approach and sexually harass the same sex. These personal factors are the barriers that may influence my ability to perform social work practice.
4.3 Environmental factor contributing the difficulty for social work practice
In Myanmar, the cultural and social norms are strong and conservative that there are misconceptions and social exclusions for gay persons. A person who works with the gay persons is likely to be seen as someone strange since the society tends to dislike gay persons. People have very little knowledge about LGBT and tend to label and stigmatize them. One of the comments post on the case of a gay person who was expelled from his society goes as mentioned in Irrawaddy magazine (2010):
Anyone who is neither woman nor man is alien or guest. So, real man and woman have to defend their homeland from invasion of aliens. By common sense, alien or guest should follow the requirements of host. If they do not agree with the terms and conditions of the host, they must go somewhere else. (p. 1).
It shows that despite of the educational level, many people do not accept nor tolerant the LGBT population in Myanmar. The factors that the issue is illegal and no right of expression may also result the isolation of the LGBT and they would not come out of the closet.
5.1 Personal plan for social work practice with LGBT
During in the MSW program, for better social work intervention practice with the LGBT, especially with the gay persons in Myanmar, I would try to study more on social work practice with diversity. I will try to explore more about the oppressed and vulnerable population: what are the needs and how best intervention can be brought. To change something, I believe that it is important to change one self first. Thus, I would reflect my own personal perceptions, values and attitudes to try to be aware of myself in every situation of social work practice.
5.2 Possible social work intervention for sexual minority in Myanmar
In terms of micro level intervention, with the proper knowledge on the specific subject and by applying social work values, the LGBT population can be helped to adapt with the environment. Empower them as good contributors to the society to receive good image.
In mezzo level, awareness raising for the family members can be done so as all the family members are acknowledged the LGBT subject and the ways they can help their LGBT family members. LGBT group work can also be implemented so that there will be sharing among them for mutual support and coping with the difficulties they face.
In macro level intervention, public awareness can be raised regarding the subject by means of using palm flats, banners and through media so that many people will be acknowledged the know how on LGBT issues.
Now that I am aware of my personal weaknesses that interferes my ability to work with the sexual minority, I am sure that after intensive study while I am in MSW program, I can work with the population efficiently under limitations of my personal values, perceptions and attitudes.