“People say that I would not be successful because I am gay,” said Sao Sopheap, one of the many gay men who have faced discrimination because of their sexual orientation. He became angry at those people who look at him as if he is a curse on society. However, he realized that his anger would not help him, so he focused his attention on doing productive things. Sopheap was born into a poor family. When he was 17, he resorted to prostitution, catering to foreigners, just to support his education. At 21, he finally decided to stop the rough trade because it became too dangerous for him. He said that some of his clients would ask him not to use condom. It was during that time that he became aware of HIV, STIs and other diseases that he might acquire due to unsafe sex. Soon, Sopheap applied and got a job in one of the NGOs which need a gay staff member with the ability to mobilize communities. He liked his job and later he moved to MHSS, one of the MStyle Clubs in Phnom Penh.
At MHSS, Sopheap actively works on education and outreach programs in the communities, providing information on HIV/ AIDs, Sexual Reproductive Health and key messages from FHI 360, the organisation responsible for the MStyle program. He also facilitates training, distributes condoms for free, refers clients to the different clinics and encourages members of the target group to visit MHSS club.
His family respects him just the way he is, says Sopheap. They have never thought of him as a disgrace because he never gives them problems. He supports the needs of his family and helps to send his siblings to school.
After having been nominated as the MStyle hero for the MHSS club, Sopheap said that he is happy that his efforts and dedication to his work have been recognized by MStyle. He has contributed ideas on how to develop strategies in order to increase the number of club members and has even spent his own money for gasoline when travelling from one place to another to support his clients. He loves his job and he never runs out of energy, even though he often spends far more hours on his job than he is contracted to do.
Sopheap has this message to gays, transgender, MSM and lesbians: “You must respect yourself so others will also respect you. It is very important to establish good relationships in the community, no matter who you are. You may not know it but people who have been the subject of ridicule themselves are often the ones who will help you the most. We should try hard in life and prove to people that we can be successful in anything we do, even if we are gay; we have to let them know that we are no different from them and we can even do better than them.”