Rights concerns as Laos bans LGBTQ+ beauty pageants

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An order by the Lao government banning LGBTQ+ beauty pageants this month has raised concerns about human rights violations among the community and supporters, who question the need for the measure, sources in the Southeast Asian country told RFA.

While the people of Laos appear to recognize the rights of the LGBTQ+ community, many fear that authorities in the one-party communist state will reject legal changes.

“Those running the country at the moment are mostly from an older generation, therefore their understanding of this issue is not up to date like people in the new generation,” another local source told RFA.

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On social media, musicians, actors and other prominent Laotians condemned the September 9 order and asked why the Lao People’s Revolutionary Youth Union had issued it without clarifying its context or purpose. Historically, many pointed out, beauty pageants did not require government approval.

While Laos has no major LGBTQ+ beauty pageants planned, the order appears to be targeting smaller events and performances taking place at festivals, temple gatherings, nightclubs or bars, a source familiar with the scene said.

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“Most people go to Thailand for the bigger games,” the Champasack source, who declined to be named for security reasons, told RFA.

Behind the order is the government’s aversion to people participating in these competitions abroad, said a person who helps organize trips for Laotian LGBTQ+ people to participate in parades in Thailand and other countries.

“Last year there was a Lao LGBTQ+ person who entered the election without notifying the government, and she said something she did not consider appropriate on the podium,” the source said.

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The Lao People’s Revolutionary Youth Union’s new rules restrict individuals’ participation in competitions to their birth gender, effectively barring transgender people in Laos from participating in pageants.

Translated by Sydney Khotpanja. Written in English by Nawar Nemeh.

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