Same same, but different.
Cambodia is very accepting of gay culture and gay expats. While there aren’t any official laws on the books in Cambodia protecting the rights of the LGBT community, same-sex sexual activity is legal and accepted. (Commercial sex acts are prohibited, as they are between opposite-sex partners.)
The culture is so accepting of LGBTs, in fact, that business owners recently launched a tourism campaign to attract more gay visitors to the Kingdom, and specifically to Siem Reap, where many hotels and businesses enthusiastically welcome gay men.
Gay culture in both Phnom Penh and Siem Reap is rich; clubs, bars, and hotels catering to gay expats and tourists are all over the place. In Phnom Penh, Blue Chili, 2 Colors, Rainbow Bar, Shameless on Thursdays at Pontoon, the Empire, and the Local 2 and are all gay-owned or gay-friendly. In Siem Reap, Linga Bar, Miss Wong, and the Station Wine Bar are all gay-owned or gay-friendly. Many hotels in Siem Reap, including the Golden Banana, MEN’s Resort and Spa, and Cockatoos, cater to the LGBT crowd.
Same-sex relationships between Khmers and foreigners are tolerated, although these couples are expected to forego canoodling in public, just like their heterosexual peers. However, same-sex friends will often walk hand-in-hand, and it doesn’t mean that they are gay.
While same-sex sexual activity among Khmers is accepted, most Cambodian men who have sex with men do not identify as homosexual and also have female partners or wives, due to the strong societal pressure to marry and have children. Even after marriage, however, men often continue to engage in same-sex sexual activity, and HIV rates among these men and their female partners are quite high, around 9 percent.
In Khmer culture, the word katoey denotes a third gender. It is often used to describe “ladyboys” but is also used for homosexuals of all stripes, and when used in the latter sense it’s considered derogatory. Generally katoey are accepted or at the least tolerated; hair and makeup salons run by katoey are quite popular with Khmer women, who flock there when they want to look their best. However, katoeys can still face discrimination in Cambodia. Khmer lesbians seem to face even more discrimination, perhaps because of their increasing unwillingness to enter into sham marriages to men.
Every May Cambodia LGBT Pride holds a week-long pride event, where they work to reduce discrimination and celebrate LGBT contributions to the Cambodian community. For more info, visit: facebook.com/cambodiapride.
This is an excerpt from Move to Cambodia: A guide to living and working in the Kingdom of Wonder. To learn more about 100+ topics that pertain to Cambodia expats, please consider buying the book.