The David Kato Vision & Voice Award is proud to announce that the 2014 award went to Cambodian transgender activist Sou Sotheavy. Now 75 years old, she has spent the last two decades working to establish a national network of organizations to support lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) people across the country. Sou was presented with the award on stage at the prestigious Teddy Awards ceremony Friday, February 14, at the 2014 Berlin International Film Festival.
Frank Mugisha, Chair of the David Kato Vision & Voice Award and Executive Director of Sexual Minorities Uganda (SMUG), presented Sou with the award , which was accompanied by a short film profiling Sou and an on-stage interview with
Awarded annually, the David Kato Vision & Voice Award is presented to an individual who demonstrates outstanding courage and leadership in advocating for the rights of LGBT individuals, particularly in challenging circumstances and unsupportive policy environments. The award provides winners with a global media platform and a $10,000 grant to support their efforts. The 2014 David Kato Vision & Voice Award is presented in memory of Eric Ohena Lembembe, who served as Executive Director of the LGBT human rights organization CAMFAIDS in Cameroon before he was brutally murdered in July of 2013.
“Grassroots activists around the world are leading the work to secure LGBT rights and defend our communities,” said Jack Beck, Program Manager of the award. “Yet so often these crucial efforts go unrecognized and unfunded. Through the David Kato Vision & Voice Award, we are able to provide activists with a platform to elevate the issues that are affecting their communities, as well as much needed funding to sustain and expand their work.”
Sou was born on 8 December 1940 in Takeo province, Cambodia. Before the radical communist regime of the Khmer Rouge took over in 1975, she studied performing arts in the capital of Phnom Penh and worked as a military nurse. Her first involvement with human rights advocacy began in 1985 when she conducted HIV/AIDS outreach for the Khmer Development Freedom Organisation (KDFO). In 1999, realizing the need for special attention to LGBT issues, Sou established the Cambodian Network for Men Women Development (CMWD), the first Cambodian NGO to support LGBT people, where she continues to serve as president today. Active throughout 15 provinces, CMWD has provided much needed capacity building to LGBT groups, providing invaluable support for local programs and advocacy.
Until today, CMWD and Sou’s efforts have received no international attention. By acknowledging the importance of her work on these issues, Sou hopes the David Kato Vision & Voice Award will inspire and encourage more people to join the movement against discrimination in Cambodia and around the world. With more funding and volunteer activists working with Sotheavy in the provinces, she will reach out to a broader audience and support more LGBT people and organizations in Cambodia’s remote rural areas, where the education level is low, discrimination is rampant, and LGBT people remain forced to hide their true identity.
“I am tremendously moved to be given this award that to me symbolizes the struggle for rights and freedom for LGBT people in Cambodia,” said Sou. “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.”
“I have been working without funds for a very long time,” Sou added. “This award will allow me to help my organization, train my team, and ultimately strengthen the rights of LGBT people in Cambodia. On the day I receive the award, my wish is that LGBT people from around the world will help support our LGBT communities in Cambodia, who are now facing a resurgence of violence from authorities. I will fight until the end of my life. I will not stop until the rights for LGBT exist like for other people.”
“As we celebrate Sotheavy’s life and work, the global movement for LGBT rights continues to mourn Eric’s loss and the loss of so many other LGBT activists and community members over the past year,” said George Ayala, David Kato Vision & Voice Award Advisory Committee Member and Executive Director of the Global Forum on MSM & HIV (MSMGF). “We commemorate Eric’s legacy and the lives of everyone we lost last year; their memory and contributions will continue to ripple brightly through our communities for years to come.”