Ten years ago, Bouapha was a twenty-something revelling in the Vientiane night scene, meeting new and exciting people, exploring his sexual identity. He was out to his parents as gay but unsure of his place in the world.
Over the next decade, Bouapha found it. He founded the country’s first LGBTIQ (see note) advocacy movement, Proud To Be Us Laos. He became the booked-every-day-and-weekends-too maestro behind a manic calendar of sexuality- and gender-awareness events. Perhaps most remarkably, he also built a network of alliances within the Lao government—in effect, a license to operate. Now he takes photos with ambassadors. He studies at foreign universities. He’s on Lao TV a lot.
Yet there’s a loneliness in Bouapha. He hears whispering criticisms, even from his own community.
“A lot of people misunderstand my approach,” he told me. “They think that I’m more about myself. Oh, it’s him again. He appears on TV again. It’s all about him. And I want to say, it’s not about me. Because I know how to do it with peace. A lot of people, they like conflict and confrontation. That’s not the way that you solve the problem.”
He still thinks this is how Laos’ LGBTIQ community gets ahead: by working within the Lao system, not against it. By doing it the Lao way, not the falang way or anyone else’s.
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