Social Issues

Trans students winning uniform battle in Thailand

By Gaspar Ruiz-Canela

Bangkok, Sep 4 (efe-epa).- Due to an obsolete educational regulation, a lot of transgender students in Thailand have to wear a uniform that does not match their gender identity, but now the activists seem to be winning the battle to elect their own dress inside the classrooms, at least the university level.

Siwakorn “Buzzy” Thatsanasorn has always been aware of being a woman despite being born in a man’s body, and her family has accepted it unconditionally, but at school she was forced to wear a uniform and keep short hair.

The humiliation was repeated when two years ago she enrolled in the prestigious Thammasat University in Bangkok, and had to get photographed in a male uniform and a short haircut.

“I did not question it, I decided to respect the rules,” the 20-year-old told EFE in an interview at the Rangsit campus of the university on the outskirts of the capital

Siwakorn said that the majority of the students do not wear the official uniform consisting of black skirts or pants and white shirts inside the classrooms of Thammasat, one of the most liberal universities in the country, as it is not mandatory to wear it on normal days, with exams and graduation ceremonies being the exception.

The problem was finally resolved after the university decided on 8 June this year to allow the students choose the gender of their uniforms, an initiative which was already implemented at the Chulalongkorn University last year and at the Bangkok University in 2015.

“The students can wear uniforms according to their gender identity, (…) for exams, attending classes or graduation ceremony,” said Siwakorn, dressed in a yellow dress and hat, which she prefers even over the female version of the black and white dress.

However, she admitted that it was a relief to be able to wear the women’s dress — skirt instead of pants — on the designated occasions, adding that many trans students skipped the graduation ceremony because they did not want to wear the uniform assigned to them.

The second-year Fine Arts student said that trans students still did not have the choice to wear uniforms according to their identity in primary and secondary schools, causing stress and mental harm to the minors of the community.

The LGBTQI+ community enjoys a certain degree of acceptance in Thailand — where they can be seen handling front-desk jobs in shops and even bank branches — partly due to Buddhism, which does not persecute non-heterosexual people. Although trans persons cannot get ordained as monks.

On the other hand, Thai trans people cannot change their name and gender on identity documents and are not allowed to marry, while discrimination has also been reported in some workplaces as they face stereotypes linking them to professions such as exotic dancing or prostitution.

Siwakorn, who prefers to be addressed as a woman instead of a “transsexual,” said that the struggle for the rights of the LGBTQI+ community is closely linked to the student protests that broke out in July demanding pro-democracy reforms and reduction in the powers of the military as well as the monarchy.

The student, who has taken part in some of the protests, said that the community’s rights form part of the students’ calls for ending inequality and ensuring the rights of the minorities.

“Let’s say that now the LGBTQI+ in Thailand are considered second-class citizens, as we can see in the approval of the Civil Partnership Bill,” she said, calling it an injustice as the community did not get marriage rights.

A prominent example of LGBTQI+ activism in the country was the handiwork of trans woman Saran Chuichai, who in 2013 launched a campaign against the uniform-discrimination at the Thammasat University.

After a military coup the next year, she was forced to go into self-exile in France to escape a possible prison sentence inside a male prison on charges of lèse-majesté, which carries sentences of up to 15 years in prison for criticizing the royal family

The United Nations Development Program has said that the biggest problem for the LGBTQI+ community in Thailand is the inability to register their gender identity correctly in identity documents, which limits their access to services and makes them vulnerable to discrimination.

The UN agency has made the freedom to choose uniforms in schools and universities a priority issue.

“Students seeking to wear a uniform that coincides with their gender identity are not simply being willful, as the inability to express their internal sense of self can lead to deep psychological torment,” the UNDP said in a 2018 report. EFE-EPA

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