Thai Society: A Rainbow of Diversity
Thailand’s LGBT + community is eager for the passage of the Civil Partnership bill
Recognised as one of the world’s friendliest Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender (LGBT+) destinations, Thailand should be proud of its gender diversity. Indeed, members of the LBGT+ community are not only well accepted within Thai societies, but are also recognised as talented and creative people in just about every field; whether as entrepreneurs, lawyers, filmmakers, singers, models, actors, journalists, athletes and politicians, with one even competing as a candidate for Prime Minister during the last election in 2019.
Despite a delay in promulgating the Civil Partnership bill, Thailand is among the most forward looking societies in the world when it comes to equality for LGBT+ individuals. There is a growing popularity and appetite for LGBT- themed dramas – the so-called ‘Y-series’ – among young viewers of all genders. In terms of night life, the gay-friendly nightspot Silom Soi 4 has long been and still is a magnet for Thai and expat LGBT night owls. Thai society’ has always been open and accepting of the LGBTQ community who are seen as important contributors to the colourful and diverse scene in our contemporary culture.
From a legal standpoint, Thailand made major progress in July 2020, when the cabinet approved a civil partnership bill that would legalise same-sex marriages, granting them the same legal rights as other married couples. The bill is just pending the final nod from the parliament but if this passes and the law is enacted, Thailand will be the first country in Southeast Asia to legalise same-sex unions.
In recent years, LGBT+ rights issues have been actively advocated by both government and opposition parties including the conservative Democrats, and liberal Move Forward and centre-left Kla parties. All agree in principle on the importance of equal rights for the LGBT+ community, and they also see an urgency to push for gender equality.
“In Thailand, conservative parties are not necessarily conservative in all aspects,” said Pauline Ngarmpring, a transgender politician.
Pauline, who was a Prime Minister candidate for Mahachon Party in 2019, is living evidence that Thai politicians embrace the idea of gender diversity otherwise she would not have made it as the face of her party and become the second candidate for PM who openly campaigned as a transgender in the election race. Although she didn’t win, her candidature made an impact and put LGBT issues prominently in the spotlight.
Attempts to end discrimination
Although Thailand is generally progressive on LGBT issues, barriers to achieving full equality in terms of legislation remain. LGBT+ people are very visible in Thai society and while sex reassignment surgery by qualified specialists are renowned worldwide, the country still has a lot of work to do on the legal front.
However, the issue is recognised and being addressed, and the response has been positive. The Ministry of Social Development and Human Security has made efforts to increase the rights and freedom for the LGBT community and in July 2020, under the leadership of Juti Krailerk, Minister of Social Development and Human Security, 39 government agencies and private companies including education institutions jointly inked an MoU to reaffirm their commitments to prevent gender discrimination. Under the agreement, the parties will strictly follow the guidelines of the Thai Gender Equality Act to create work, education environments or opportunities that are indiscriminative and accessible to all. Under the MoU, they will:
- Allow students or employees to dress according to their sexual orientation;
- Provide public space that is safe and friendly for the LGBT community;
- Ensure that job applications and candidate selections focus on ability and qualifications rather than gender;
- Ensure use of words, gestures and documents that are appropriate for all gender identities, that do not stigmatise or label any gender that could lead to bullying or discrimination;
- Be non-discriminate in the promotion and selection process of persons holding any positions in any agency, taking account of ability rather than gender;
- Prevent harassment or sexual harassment in the workplace;
Authorities will continue to fine tune and update the MoU to address gender inequality to its core.
The MoU demonstrates the determination of government in providing equal rights to all according to the intent of the Gender Equality Act BE 2558. As a result, society has responded with progressive changes, the LGBT+ community are able to dress according to their desired gender at universities and workplaces. A number of universities also allow LGBT+ students to dress according to their preferred orientation in classes and at the commencement ceremonies.
Thailand’s Parliament also embraces members of LGBT+ community who enjoy equal footing in terms of status with other lawmakers. Some of them also don outfits of their preferred gender identity to the Parliament.
LGBT+ members used to find it hard to get jobs outside a handful of fields such as tourism, entertainment and the media. Some still face prejudice and even abuse, prompting them to hide their sexual orientation at work. The MoU, the signatories to which include major Thai conglomerates Charoen Pokphand (CP), SCG, PTT Plc, Saha Pattana Piboon Plc, Krungsri Consumer Plc, Central Group and the Mass Rapid Transit Authority of Thailand (MRTA) and leading institutions Thammasat and Naresuan universities, will pave the way to more progressive changes and acceptance of LGBTQ issues in the general society.
“The issue of gender diversity matters and therefore everyone in society should be entitled to stand with dignity in society regardless of their sexual orientation. My wish is to see the gender quality become a norm in society,” said Juti
Legislation on Same-Sex Couples
The passage of pro-rights bills pertaining to civil partnerships of same-sex couples has promoted greater rights for those in the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender community in Thailand.
The current civil partnership draft bill, proposed by the government, covers the registration and termination of partnerships between same-sex couples and the rules for property sharing, adoption and inheritance. However, the bill doesn’t yet fully grant rights in some areas, such as changing sexual identity, tax allowance and government-related benefits as a couple before the law. They involve amendments to other laws and will thus need to be done step-by-step. But since the draft law has already been proposed, the government should now only look to moving forward and continue to close gaps in the regulations in the future. “There is no going back”, according to Nareeluc Pairchaiyapoom, Director of the International Human Rights Division at the Ministry of Justice.
Although the law has not yet provided a guarantee of full rights for LGBT+ couples, some companies have moved forward in assuring these for their own employees. In line with the employment policy of its Scandinavian parent company, telecom giant Dtac not only accepts and promotes gender diversity but also provides them with a non-discriminatory working environment. At the moment, Dtac is also working towards providing same-sex marriage welfare to their LGBT+ staff with common marriage rights, said Dtac CEO Sharad Mehrotra.
The country’s progress in the Civil Partnership bill for LGBT+ people is truly a huge step forward to ensuring LGBTQ rights and equality in Thailand. It’s only a matter of time for the passage of the bill that will grant them equal civil partnership rights and gender recognition in terms of legislation. When that comes, they can really claim the freedom and equal rights they so wholeheartedly deserve.