The Rainbow Group in Mae La camp

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This brief article is relevant for humanitarian practitioners, especially those working in refugee settings, because it highlights the role of informal networks for people with diverse SOGIESC and the challenges faced by this community in refugee camp settings.

The author shares their experience growing up in Mae La refugee camp on the Thai-Burma (Myanmar) border, including their role in creating a group for people with diverse SOGIESC. UNHCR encouraged the group to formalise as a community-based organisation but the author and other group members felt that doing so would compromise the safety and security of members. The group started with 7 members who worked to create a more positive perception of people with diverse SOGIESC in the camp, and to challenge intolerant attitudes. The Rainbow Group began taking a visible role in weddings, funerals and hosting dance classes to engage with the community.

The Rainbow Group remained unfunded as they did not formally become a CBO. The author notes that tolerance may have increased, but that acceptance and genuine changes in attitudes did not eventuate. The author eventually left the camp in order to seek employment in a nearby town—the Rainbow Group has disbanded, but the author feels that he and other people with diverse SOGIESC cannot safely be repatriated to Myanmar.

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"Most of the LGBTI people in Mae La refugee camp on the Thai-Burma border decided to leave Burma because of the discrimination they experienced there. We fled to Thailand with the hope of finding freedom. In reality, things were not going to be as we expected."

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The author shares their experience growing up in Mae La refugee camp on the Thai-Burma (Myanmar) border, including their role in creating a group for people with diverse SOGIESC. UNHCR encouraged the group to formalise as a community-based organisation but the author and other group members felt that doing so would compromise the safety and security of members. The group started with 7 members who worked to create a more positive perception of people with diverse SOGIESC in the camp, and to challenge intolerant attitudes. The Rainbow Group began taking a visible role in weddings, funerals and hosting dance classes to engage with the community.

The Rainbow Group remained unfunded as they did not formally become a CBO. The author notes that tolerance may have increased, but that acceptance and genuine changes in attitudes did not eventuate. The author eventually left the camp in order to seek employment in a nearby town—the Rainbow Group has disbanded, but the author feels that he and other people with diverse SOGIESC cannot safely be repatriated to Myanmar.