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Myanmar has become a hot destination, especially among LGBT travelers who are thunderstruck by the evocative photos posted by their enviable friends who've already visited.
While it's illegal to be gay there, we've found the culture to be far more accepting than other countries in Asia which ban homosexuality, including Malaysia, Sri Lanka, the Maldives, and India.
Most visitors stay on the fairly well-trodden tourist trail, which includes Mandalay, Bagan, Inle Lake and the former capital Yangon. These spots are all so accustomed to tourists, that LGBT travelers should have no problems here.
While there are no LGBT-exclusive establishments, Yangon is where the bulk of the community lives. StickyRice offers a fairly up-to-date listing of LGBT-popular venues in Yangon.
There’s a monthly gay event in Yangon called FAB – keep an eye on the dates to see if it coincides with your trip. Most of the attendees will be local, and the event draws a fairly young crowd.
Gay people are rarely out, the country is devoutly Buddhist, and most Burmese people tend to think of gay men as men who want to be women or dress like women. Some locals believe that those who conducted sexual misconduct in a previous life are gay in this one. But, attitudes are slowly changing.
Aung San Suu Kyi, the pro-democracy activist, and now the country’s leader, has spoken out against Myanmar's antiquated anti-gay laws. There have been pride festivals and film festivals — but on a very small scale.
In the rural areas, the locals are not used to seeing LGBT people. That said, Robert Sharp, owner of gay tour company Out Adventures, reports, "groups have experienced some very interesting conversations in rural areas, where locals are curious and just want to know more."
A holdover from British colonial days, homosexuality is illegal in Myanmar with punishment including 10 years’ imprisonment. The law is rarely enforced, but it can be used as an excuse to harass LGBT locals.
There are also other laws that can negatively impact the LGBT community, from sodomy laws to restrictions against participating in a marriage that is not considered “legal”, i.e., same sex. Many of the laws are quite conservative, and can also cross over to various sexual identities, as well as making, selling or distributing “obscene” material, i.e., pornography.
Two men or two women together are mostly viewed as just friends. More sophisticated Burmese, however, will understand the nature of the relationship but won't react, especially those in the hospitality field.
Though the culture is welcoming overall, with respect to gay travelers it's more like tolerated, not so much enthusiastically embraced.
With many exceptions, generally speaking it is still shameful for a family to have a child that identifies as LGBT. It is still a conservative culture, especially after being under strict military rule for decades, where media could not openly report on LGBT issues, and LGBT people could not legally organize.
Myanmar is a challenge logistically, especially if you go overland (as opposed to an all-inclusive river cruise). Work with an international tour operator. We highly recommend OUT Adventures which has been organizing trips there for four years.
Venture Out is launching their first Myanmar adventure in early 2018.
The NomadicBoys, a blog produced by a young well-traveled gay couple has extensive up-to-date information on the country and its gay life.
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