Andre Akito


A Place to be Yourself (APTBY) is a drop-in / resource center for the LGBTIQ+ Community in Siem Reap, Cambodia. It provides a safe space for individuals to meet, learn and access information. The programs are focused on creating visibility, support, education and advocacy for LGBTIQ+ community in Siem Reap and other parts of Cambodia.

August 23, 2022

A Place to be Yourself

Jason Argenta first visit Cambodia in 2013. During that time, he volunteered at an organization which was focused on building houses for vulnerable families. In a short period of time, he felt in love with the country and the people there and he realized that Cambodia was the place where he needed to be. Even tough his work was pretty intense by then, he felt a great joy in helping others. It was during those days working at the organization that he started to realize that he wanted to help others throughout the next years of his life. After Cambodia, Jason travelled to Europe, went back Australia (his home country) and in 2014 he finally moved to Siem Reap and settled there, a place where he lives until today. 

The LGBTIQ+ Community in Cambodia

After moving to Cambodia, Jason eventually met his current boyfriend and started to get in contact with the LGBT Community in Siem Reap. Even tough there was a lot of diversity in Cambodia and people were relatively free to be who they are compared to other countries, Jason realized that there was still a lack of education about topics that were relevant to the community. When he asked other some basic information about  LGBT rights, most people didn’t know the answers and sometimes he was faced with conflicting information. 

In addition, people in Cambodia didn’t recognized and fully understood the huge diversity that exists within the LGBT community.  They used the see the LGBT community as one. Part of this problem could be attributed to a language barrier. In Khmer, the official language of Cambodia, there doesn’t seem to be enough words that fully reflect the reality of LGBT community. Currently, there is still only one word for the whole community, that is similar to the word “queer”, but still has an offensive background and is sometimes used as a slur. 

Since the government wasn’t really taking practical actions to support and change the LGBT landscape, Jason thought about taking action himself. He thought that the community needed a central space to access, information, learn about themselves, get support and meet each other. That’s how he first developed the idea of A Place to be Yourself. 

A Place to Be Yourself

According to Jason, A Place to Be Yourself (APTBY) is best summarized in its name. In simple terms, it is a safe space where people can come and feel free. The organization basically acts on 4 different areas: (1) drop-in center, (2) resource center, (3) workshops and (4) community engagement events.

The drop-in center is simply a space where people can visit to study, meet their friends, use the Wi-Fi, access the resources, get condoms, ask questions about gender and sexuality or just hang out there. It is open daily from 4PM to 8PM and it is run by local Khmer people. Just by being in the space, people can learn about the LGBT community even when they’re not expecting to by seeing resources hanging on the wall or by listening the conversations that are being held in the room. In order to bring people in, Jason tries to make the space as fun as possible with a library, musical instruments, videogames etc. 

In addition, APTBY creates a lot of resources about topics and information that the LGBT community should know about. For example, they create resources that explain the different terms and pronouns used in the community, hormones, PrEP, relevant news and researches that were published, etc. All of these resources written in Khmer language and are available for free on the internet. 

Jason and his team also organize workshops to a variety of organization such as hotels, universities, schools, coffee shops. Many of these organizations want their staff to learn about the topic in order to apply these knowledge in their everyday life and work. APTBY usually explains about the differences about gender, sexuality and sex, the history of LGBT in Cambodia, what words should and shouldn’t be used to talk about the community, the different pronouns that are used, and other topics. 

Lastly, one of the biggest, a very relevant part of APTBY are the community engagement events. There are currently 8 events that happen on a monthly basis and some of them include yoga sessions, cycling, boxing, make-up lessons and more. These events are organized in order to bring the community together and to make people feel more comfortable in a real world environment outside their own space, which is the final goal in the long run. 

Looking Ahead

In the past 10 years, Jason believes that  there have been big improvements in the LGBT community in Cambodia. There is more education about the topics, more people sharing their stories, there are more meetings of the community and more events where people feel free to join. Additionally, social media has been used in a positive way to raise awareness. Nevertheless, there are still many challenges ahead and APTBY will continue supporting the community and its members until the whole society becomes a safe place for the community. 

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