Are Thais really that accepting of LGBTIQ people?
Author: Chitsanupong Nithiwana
Dated: Tuesday, June 26, 2018
From tourist images of Pattaya, Phuket and Bangkok, it would seem that Thailand is very accepting of LGBTIQ people. But in fact, discrimination based on gender identity and sexual orientation occurs in schools, trainings and workplaces. Thai society does not accept fully and unconditionally people who are LGBTIQ--lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer. Thai culture and beliefs create misconceptions and stereotypes about LGBTIQ people that lead to stigma, negative images, discrimination and violence.
Beliefs and culture are powerful forces in Thailand and patriarchy is a firmly rooted norm. For example, in Thai Buddhism, only men are allowed to be monks. Women are not allowed to walk inside certain holy places because menstruation is considered unclean. This shows how Thailand elevates the male sex and gives secondary status to the female sex. And it marginalizes the LGBTIQ community. Norms of inequality lead to sexist regulations and actions, such as not allowing LGBTIQ people to become monks because being LGBTIQ is seen as a sin from a past life. Some religious followers even use physical assaults to punish LGBTIQ people.
LGBTIQ genders are different from the male and female genders that society expects, so LGBTIQ people are considered imperfections. In society’s expectations, transwomen (biological males with female gender identity) and gays seem especially different from other men. So most people often make fun of friends who are neat, shy and sensitive and act differently from the “ideal” man. They refer to transwomen with slang words like tud (ตุ๊ด) and kratoey (กระเทย). Everyone laughs at all this in the media, in performances, in schools.
A popular label is "sexual deviation” (เบี่ยงเบนทางเพศ). It stigmatizes people who do not follow the gender roles that society expects. Another label that should not be used is "alternative sex” (เพศทางเลือก). It means a person chooses a gender other than male or female as an "alternative". This alternative gender is not equal to male and female; it’s an abnormal gender choice.
Thai society is in a period of transition in terms of understanding the LGBTIQ community. But the challenge is that misperceptions remain and spread.
At my university, students who planned to join the graduation ceremony had to prepare a graduation costume. But the university regulations only allowed you to wear a costume matching your biological sex. This meant transwomen students could not wear what they wished or wear the costume that the men did. My friend brought this up on social media--change.org--and we were surprised by the reaction. Many people thought it was impolite for transgender people to wear what as they want in a public ceremony. And the university claimed that this would deviate from its tradition. This showed how society thought of LGBTIQ people as imperfect and impolite, and how society says they should not express their gender. This made us feel very unaccepted and excluded from society.
However, this story ended up well because we got support from youths at the university and Thai civil society groups, and in December 2017, the government’s Committee on Consideration of Unfair Gender Discrimination ruled that the university should allow us to wear what we want. The graduation ceremony took place in January. This episode gave me a reason to be brave and to fight unequal norms in society.
Chitsanupong Nithiwana, or “Best”, is a 23-year-old Thai transwoman. In 2017, she graduated from Chiang Mai University with first-class honors in political science. Her research study about LGBT rights was published by PolSci CMU Journal 2017. Her dream is to become an international journalist supporting LGBT rights in Thailand and South-East Asia.