I like Chiang Mai. I like the old city with its moat and the road to the temple on Doi Suthep mountain. It has the exoticness of Bangkok without the hustle and bustle. Invited by my friend, Aung Myo Min of Equality Myanmar (http://equalitymyanmar.org/ ), I was there to teach a course on Human Rights with a focus on Freedom of Religion or Belief (FoRB). I had done this a number of times over the years and usually my students had a variety of Human Rights interests and concerns, but on this occasion my students were a more homogeneous group. Like me, they were all activists. Unlike me, each of them felt out of place in his own body. Although born male each longed to be female. All were dressed as women. My area of specialty was FoRB, theirs was LGBT (Later two extra initials – QI – have been added. Look it up if you don’t know what it means :-)).
We began our two day course a bit skeptical to each other; tentative and unsure. We ended in a group picture hug, laughing at our own initial prejudices and misconceptions.
Along the way we explored the normative structure of FoRB. I shared stories about religious believers who were discriminated against, harassed and physically assaulted because of their faith, practice or religious identity. They nodded in understanding. They knew what it was like to be singled out for being different. And they all had experienced themselves, or knew close friends who had experienced, the types of abuses I was describing.
In our two days together I not only taught them, but also learned from them. We learned from each other. We shared experiences, tactics and advocacy strategies. Although our areas of specialty differed, we found we had much in common.
No one deserves to be mistreated. We are all human beings, endowed with Human Dignity; of infinite worth!