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Taking Pride in Your Roots

Pride Festival in Myanmar

In January 2018, Myanmar held its first-ever public LGBTQ festival. Previously the event had only been held privately at a walled and gated cultural centre, but this year, despite same-sex relations still being illegal in the country, organizers were able to get government approval to hold the festival in a public park, allowing thousands more visitors to attend the event. As I’m now working and living in Myanmar, it was an exciting moment for me to visit the festival and reconnect with many of the activists and LGBTQ leaders I had interviewed the year prior for my report with the Asia Pacific Foundation of Canada (APF): Pride Abroad – Canada's Support of LGBTQ Activism: A Study of Canadian Mission Support for LGBTQ Rights in Taiwan, Myanmar, and South Korea.

Reflecting on my ties to Myanmar and all the exciting and meaningful opportunities I have had over the past two years, it is clear how they all have their roots at the Balsillie School of International Affairs at UWaterloo. Originally, I thought I would go work in the Middle East after I graduated— my major research project at BSIA reflected my passion for understanding human security issues in the Middle East. However, with my CIGI Fellowship I ended up working on a project on security issues in East Asia, and then through my internship, I was placed at the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime in Yangon, Myanmar, entirely turning my focus toward Asia.

Joelle CharbonneauAt the BSIA, I was surrounded by some of the most interesting, curious and creative people I had ever worked with. My friends, professors and experiences at BSIA infused me with optimism to advocate for issues I was truly passionate about and to be creative in researching areas where impact is truly needed.

Following my internship, a former professor and CIGI supervisor at the BSIA recommended a program at the Asia Pacific Foundation of Canada. I was given my first opportunity to conduct a full-scale research project that was entirely my own. The Post-Graduate Research Fellowship Program provides young researchers with the opportunity to receive funding and time to conduct a project of their design for APF.

Through conversations with friends in Myanmar, my interest was sparked when I learned that the Canadian Embassy had been funding LGBTQ initiatives in Yangon. With Prime Minister Trudeau’s many statements in support of equal rights for LGBTQ people, I was curious how this was being implemented at a policy level. With the opportunity from APF, I was able to research just that.

Now I am back in Myanmar working for the UNODC again. Along with my day job working on gender issues, I hope to become more involved supporting the LGBTQ movement here. My past few years have been both challenging and rewarding, but I am very thankful to my time at the BSIA for starting me on this journey.

Find out more about Pride Abroad – Canada's Support of LGBTQ Activism: A Study of Canadian Mission Support for LGBTQ Rights in Taiwan, Myanmar, and South Korea here.

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