Moving forward … slowly but surely in Thailand

| Sep 28, 2015
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Long renowned for its tolerance of LGBT people, Thai society has, in the past, nonetheless imposed barriers to the progress of many from this sector.

By and large, despite appearances to the contrary, T people have been tolerated rather than accepted. I know I’ve touched on this in past columns but the maxim always seems to have been: LGBT people are alright as long as they are not in my family, or not my close associates or employees.

Unless, of course, they are the famous stars of Ladyboy cabarets or the bar workers hustling customers for drinks and offering extra-curricular “services,” where a different set of rules applies.

Sure, there are success stories with T people being visible in the media, on chat shows, in TV soap operas and other respectable professions. Indeed, at a lesser level, almost every beauty counter in major department store has 2-3 Ladyboys as client consultants or beauticians; then there are the pharmacy, general retail shop and restaurant workers of the so-called “third gender” who populate many such an establishment.

Notwithstanding this, being T in Thailand, like everywhere else, does has its challenges — especially as, often, the T person themselves gets so focussed on their own identity or gender issues when in their teens, they tend not to perform as well as others during their schooling or time of study and we end up with many not so well educated T people whose only recourse is menial work.

The good news though is that discrimination against LGBT people in the workplace is now punishable by law in the country as, a couple of weeks ago, Thailand’s first discrimination laws specifically protecting LGBT people came into effect.

Although the new Gender Equality Act 2015 was approved in March, it finally came into being in early September. Discrimination against gender identity or sexual orientation is punishable with up to six months in jail and a fine of almost $600.

The Act which aims to prevent government agencies, private organisations, or individuals from creating anti-gay policies and from discriminating against people based on gender or sexuality was launched a at seminar organized by the Department of Family Affairs and Family Development. Some 400 participants attended, with representatives from the legal sector, the media, civil society and government ministries present.

Of course, attitudes to LGBT are not going to change overnight but at least this appears to be a step in the right direction. It’s now up to representatives of the country’s T sector to come to the fore and try to build on the benefits this legislation can bring. Unfortunately, as is common in many other countries in Asia, there is no real leadership for T rights, with groups involved in advocating the sector being fragmented and not very organized — in short, lacking a common goal.

Still, there was another piece of good news over the last two weeks, with the announcement of a new course at Thammasat, one of Thailand’s most prestigious and progressive universities.

The University announced that they will introduce a mandatory course featuring a three hour session on sex education, where part of the focus will be on gender identity. Notably, a Transgender man who is the President of the Transmen Alliance of Thailand, has been invited to teach students about Transgender issues.

The course actually began in early September and was attended by some 300 students. Khun Kritipat (also known as Jimmy) explained to students the difference between gender identity and sexual orientation and revealed details of his struggle with his own gender identity. Part of his challenge to be his own person was the peer pressure he faced when younger when his parents constantly tried to make him conform to the traditional ideal of a girl.

Thai society remains a generally conservative about issue of sex and gender and anyone out of the ordinary, sadly, faces great pressure to live with their assigned gender. Interestingly enough, Universities seem to be at the forefront of change as this initiative follows the move earlier this year by a well known Bangkok University which altered its uniform dress code to take into account the needs of Trans students.

So, we have progress; slow but sure. Certainly not at the same pace as we have been seeing in the West over the last two or so years. This may be partially due to the fact that the awareness and tolerance levels of T people have always been higher in Thailand and Asia generally so perhaps we are coming from a higher starting level.

It’s also that, given the “mai pen rai” (it’s okay…) attitude to most things, especially in Thailand, mean that documented recognition and acceptance of T people has never really been brought to the fore previously.

As I said earlier, let’s hope T rights really pushes on from here.


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Category: Transgender Body & Soul, Transgender Community News

Christine B

About the Author ()

Christine has written numerous (at least 150) articles, columns, op-eds, features & stories for well known T magazines, websites & e-zines; she also works as a part time fiction editor for Club Lighthouse Publishing, and is a co-editor of an award winning T-girl Magazine. In addition, she has written 8 adult books mainly in the T sub-genre which have been published by Club Lighthouse Publishing, for whom she has been the best selling author for the last 5 years.

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