Myanmar LGBTQ Makeup Artist Swaps Beauty Salon for Border Hideout and Revolution

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9/3/21

Until the military takeover on Feb. 1, cosmetics, fashion and beauty design were the most important parts of May Oo’s daily life. For more than a decade, he loved to visually transform people’s appearance through his skills. His passion turned him into one of Yangon’s most highly sought-after makeup artists. His customers included celebrities and family members of high-ranking military officials. “It’s the profession I really love and I see it as a creative art,” said May Oo, who is gay. But the military takeover that toppled the elected government led by Daw Aung San Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy (NLD) has turned his life upside down. As a supporter of the NLD government, the 33-year-old opposed the coup. “We can’t accept it. The military stole power from the elected civilian government, which we voted for,” May Oo said. Like millions of others, he joined the anti-coup campaigns that have sprung up across the country and which range from banging pots and pans at night to marching in daily street protests to calling on civil servants to strike. At the same time, he disseminated information on the anti-regime protest movement known as Myanmar’s Spring Revolution via his own social media page, which has 770,000 followers, awing his customers with pictures of him shouting anti-regime slogans via a bullhorn at the front of a protest column. In March, May Oo refused to do the makeup for well-to-do families planning to attend a junta-organized religious ceremony in Naypyitaw, at which the junta conferred titles on wealthy persons. However, he had to pay a price for his activism. An arrest warrant was issued by the regime for incitement. Soldiers raided his apartment and took everything including his computer and makeup boxes. “They also destroyed everything in the whole room,” he recalled. Luckily, he managed to evade arrest. After the junta’s crackdowns against protesters intensified in late March, he was forced to go into hiding in April, partly because of his involvement in protests and for providing support to crackdown victims and their families. As of Sept. 2, the junta had killed 1,043 civilians and arrested a total of 7,768, of whom 6,132 are still detained. In addition, during their raids, junta troops have looted and destroyed property.

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