Cambodian Transgender Campaigner Sou Sotheavy Scoops Award

Cambodian transgender activist Sou Sotheavy has walked away with the top award at the prestigious David Kato Vision and Voice awards last week.

The courageous 75-year-old scooped the gong after devoting the last two decades of his life campaigning for the rights of Cambodia’s lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LDBT) community. He has also built up a support network across the country that continues to spread today.

“I am tremendously moved to be given this award that to me symbolises the struggle for rights and freedom for LGBT people in Cambodia,” Sou says. “I think of the torture and suffering that I have endured throughout my life.

“Today, I am fortunate to live a life that I have always dreamed of, a life that allows me to help LGBT Cambodians escape the torture, contempt, and discrimination that exists in many families and in Cambodian society.”

At the Teddy Awards ceremony, which was part of Berlin International Film Festival, Sou picked up her prize, along with a $10,000 grant. She will use it to continue her efforts and reach out to remote rural areas, where education levels are low, discrimination is high and many LGBT people are forced to hide their identity.

“I have been working without funds for a very long time,” Sou says. “This award will allow me to help my organisation, train my team, and ultimately strengthen the rights of LGBT people in Cambodia. I will fight until the end of my life. I will not stop until the rights for LGBT exist like for other people.

Born in Takeo province in 1940, Sou studied performing arts in Phnom Penh and went on to work as a military nurse before the Khmer Rouge took over in 1975. Her dedication to human rights started in 1985 when she worked for the Khmer Development Freedom Organisation carrying out HIV and AIDS outreach work.

In 1999, she launched the country’s first NGO for LGBT people, the Cambodian Network for Men Women Development (CNMWD), for which she remains its president. The organisation is active across 15 provinces and provides invaluable support to local programmes.