A Yangon university is at the center of a growing online backlash in the wake of a suicide by an employee who described a workplace filled with bullying over his sexual orientation.
Kyaw Zin Win, a librarian at Myanmar Imperial University (MIU), took his own life Sunday morning after leaving behind a series of damning details on his Facebook page, including an accusation that he had been forced to reveal his orientation by senior staff at the private college.
“When everyone left the [staff] meeting, they asked me to stay behind,” he wrote. “They wouldn’t let me leave until I told them my sexual preference, something that even my family doesn’t know. When I tried to divert the conversation, they continued to push me to answer and I finally caved.”
Messages on a group chat for colleagues on Viber, screen-grabbed and included in Win’s Facebook post, quickly began to focus on the young librarian.
“We have to send him to the military,” reads one.
“None of you should become like that,” reads another.
A meme posted by one group member shows a picture of a lion, next to a picture of one wearing a wig, with the caption: How men looked before. How men look nowadays.
“I tried hard but I couldn’t handle it anymore,” Win concludes in his post, apologizing to his grandmother and aunt for his decision.
As of this story’s publishing, the post has been shared nearly 11,000 times, with MIU receiving widespread backlash for failing to provide a safe and inclusive working space for LGBT youth.
Netizens have called on the institution both to take action against the parties involved and improve the college’s work environment.
“We want the school to take very strong actions so that such tragedy will not repeat again,” one user wrote. “We want justice!”
“I am watching your next actions. Be transparent and accountable,” another wrote.
In response to the groundswell of criticism, MIU yesterday switched their official Facebook profile picture to a black and white banner, with a condolence message stating that they are deeply saddened by the death of Maung Kyaw Zin Win and for his family.
The university also issued two separate statements, one from the entire MIU team yesterday, and one from the founder, Poht Poht Kyi, this morning, expressing their condolences and explaining that they had been in contact with the deceased family offering support.
“As a leader, I will take responsibility for everything and help solve this issue. When this unexpected tragedy happened, I went to meet with the family from noon till night and tried to provide them with everything they needed,” Poht Poht Kyi wrote on MIU’s Facebook page and her own personal Facebook account.
She went on to ask forgiveness for the more than 24-hour delay in her official response, something that had been condemned online, saying she had been occupied with helping the family arrange their affairs.
LGBT youth around the world are more than three times as likely to attempt suicide when compared to their heterosexual peers, according to a study by JAMA pediatrics. In socially conservative Myanmar, LGBT youth face a myriad of challenges, including rejection from family and friends, as well as a wider culture that discriminates against the LGBT community.
“Based on stereotypes, young LGBT people face different challenges in school, workplace, and family [in Myanmar],” Ye Linn Htet, program coordinator at Rainbow Alliance, a LGBT+ Youth empowerment program told Coconuts Yangon.
“We feel this is a human rights violation and MIU should be aware about diverse social issues. MIU must take responsibility because this case shows the challenges that upcoming young LGBT people face,” he said.
If you or someone you know is having suicidal thoughts, please reach out. A range of free counseling services provided by the Young Men’s Christian Association (YMCA) in Yangon can be reached at 09509440408003, 09401638420, 09421181246, or 09253258821. The emergency crisis hotline at Pan Hlaing Siloam Hospital can be reached at 09452625100. The hotline at Parami Hospital can be reached at 01657930 or at 09977870369.