Social Issues

Trans paradox in Thailand, Asia’s ‘most LGBTI-friendly’ country

By Nayara Batschke

Bangkok, Jul 6 (EFE).- In the bars, shops, banks and streets of Thailand it is common to see transgender people doing a variety of jobs, but the group is still legally discriminated against in a country that holds the title of being one of the most tolerant toward sexual diversity.

Trans people lack the right to change their name or gender on identity documents among others, although the parliament supported several proposals in June to legalize marriage and same-sex unions, initiatives that remain under debate.

Thailand is often portrayed as a “pink tourism” paradise, as many LGBTI people visit the country, where the sector accounted for 12 percent to 20 percent of the GDP before the pandemic.

However, the reality for LGBTI Thais is quite different, as they say the country currently lacks laws and public policies that guarantee equal treatment.

“LGBTI people in Thailand are still not being legally protected by the state and are not granted equality for what they are supposed to be getting as a citizen of the country,” Koko Kavindhra Tiamsai, who works for a digital food delivery platform in Bangkok, told EFE.

Although she holds a prominent position in a multinational company, Koko grew up in a typical patriarchal household in Surin province. From a young age, she said she had to learn to deal with bullying and prejudice in family, school and work.

“Having grown up as a trans person in a very patriarchal society and family was a very challenging situation. My dad was a policeman so he had a very high expectation of me having to attend the police academy and also acting like a man. So it wasn’t really a pleasant and memorable childhood for me at all,” she said.

If at first glance Thai society is more tolerant of the LGBTQ community, especially compared to other Asian countries, Koko says it is a “false image of tolerance,” attributed, among other factors, to the fact that Thais do not have an “adversarial” nature.

“Just because they don’t punch on the street, as happens in other countries, it doesn’t mean that 100 percent acceptance is there,” she said.

Currently, Thai law only recognizes male and female gender identities, while trans people cannot change their names on passports and people of the same sex cannot marry or adopt children.

“The indicator that says whether a country is tolerant or not is the existence of laws and a system that includes and supports everyone. So to say Thailand is a tolerant country with LGBTI is not true,” says Kath Khangpiboon, activist and professor at Thammasat University in Bangkok.

According to the group, Thailand’s Buddhist roots, the deep political instability in the country and the economic damage left by the Covid-19 pandemic mean the LGBTI agenda remains in the background in public debate.

The proposed marriage and equal union laws are being debated a decade after the first initiatives were presented.

“It’s this mindset that, okay, you can live with us but you cannot be on the same level as us. Lots of people are still stuck in this stage and still think that our struggles are not as important (as other subjects),” said Siratan Sittitanyawat, one of the pioneering trans women to hold a position as a diplomat in Thailand’s Foreign Affairs Ministry.

In recent years, however, the long struggle of the LGBTI community, dating back to the 1980s, has borne some fruit.

In 2015, the government approved a law that prohibits all kinds of discrimination based on gender and several initiatives on the union and marriage between people of the same sex are in the parliamentary process.

Last week, NGOs presented for the first time the draft of a gender recognition bill, which had the support of several personalities and authorities, including Bangkok Governor Chadchart Sittipunt, and should be sent to the lower house in 2023.

“It’s not about just the titles that we will be able to change. It’s about having protection at every level, such as at workplace or social benefits, regardless of the sexuality they choose to express,” Kath said.

For Siratan, despite the fact that the treatment of LGBTI people is still “quite unequal,” Thai society is increasingly aware and “ready” for better integration.

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