Rainbow Community Kampuchea (RoCK) is a local NGO founded in 2009 to advocate for equal rights and protection of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) people in Cambodia.

In 2014, RoCK became the first registered NGO in the country and currently boasts a total of approximately 3,000 members, including partners and their families.

To gain more insights into the LGBT community and RoCK, reporter Chea Sokny sat down for an interview with Pho Sophea, an admin for the “I Accept” social media page run by the group.

How has the situation for the LGBT community evolved in recent years?

Compared to the past five years, the situation for the LGBT community has improved. Families and relatives are becoming more accepting and individuals are increasingly confident about coming out and being themselves in society. This acceptance has also led to a decrease in overt discrimination compared to the past.

What challenges do LGBT people face?

The challenges are primarily workplace-related. While some are accepting of LGBT individuals, discrimination persists in certain sectors. Transgender people, for example, often find it difficult to enter the teaching profession because they are required to dress according to their assigned gender at birth. In the banking sector, LGBT people also face obstacles.

Though societal attitudes have become more positive, practical issues still exist. For instance, despite living together for years, couples do not have the legal documentation, such as the ‘Family Book,’ that heterosexual couples possess. Additionally, they can’t register a birth certificate for their adopted children because they lack a marriage certificate.

What are the most pressing needs for the LGBT community?

The most urgent need for the community is marriage equality. Legal recognition through marriage would allow couples to register births for adopted children, granting them access to education and social benefits. Currently, we don’t have the legal protections that heterosexual couples enjoy. This makes us feel isolated; however, with marriage equality, we’d feel more secure and accepted in society.

How does Cambodia compare with other countries in the region in terms of LGBT rights?

In the ASEAN region, no government has yet passed laws allowing same-sex marriage. However, in Asia, Taiwan legalised LGBT marriage in 2019. If Cambodia were to pass such a law, it would become the first ASEAN country, and potentially the second in Asia, to do so.

What is RoCK doing to promote a legal framework for LGBT individuals?

We are actively working with various arms of the government, including the Cambodian Human Rights Committee (CHRC), and the ministries of Women’s Affairs, Interior and Justice through the UN’s Universal Periodic Review (UPR) mechanism. We are currently in the fourth round of this process. Our immediate focus is on the enactment of a marriage law, followed by a law recognizing gender identity for transgender individuals and laws and policies against discrimination. We have also launched the “I Accept” campaign to advocate for marriage equality in the country.

What are your hopes for the community with the advent of the new government?

We are optimistic that the new government, which is rich in young, progressive leaders who are aware of social issues, will be more receptive to our needs. We hope they will grant us the same legal framework as heterosexual couples, especially concerning marriage laws.

Although we understand that these changes may take time, we believe that the new government will not leave us behind. After all, we too are a driving force for societal development.