Many LGBT members are facing and suffering different forms of gender discrimination in their everyday lives in Thailand. The significant lack of the social, political and cultural recognition of these gender minorities affects the right of these individuals to feel safe and protected in the country and the world they live in. This research paper overviews and evaluates the situation among sexual and gender minorities in Thailand. In addition, the paper examines a background and history of the Thai LGBT movement development. The social and legal aspects as well as problems of the lives of the LGBT community members are analyzed in details. The paper is oriented on the evaluation of the educational, health-care and employment discrimination of LGBT people. It is providing the recommendations for governmental and international institutions that would help to improve the rights of gender minorities both on national and international levels.
Nowadays, the problem of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) community is very important both on national and international levels. Despite the reputation of Thailand as one of the most tolerant countries regarding the sexual minorities in Asia, there are a number of issues of violating the cases of human rights and sex/gender discrimination. Therefore, this research paper seeks to analyze, overview, and evaluate the sexual and gender minorities, their history, as well as the social and legal aspects of the LGBT community life in Thailand.
1. Sexual Minorities Background in the Thai History
For a long time, sexual minorities have been a part of the history of Thailand. It is believed that Theravada Buddhism (the most common religion in this country) has influenced the most of the attitude of the Thai people towards homosexuality. The well-known American scholar Peter Jonson has once commented concerning this issue. His comment was as follows:
whether or not Buddhism has been instrumental in influencing the development of the popular Thai notion, a very similar mixing of physical and psychological sex, gender behaviors and sexuality occurs both in the Pali terms pandaka and in the Thai term kathoey.
Moreover, the number of cases that involved deviant gender behavior have been known even in the late 14th century. The first known homosexual scandal in Thailand happened in 1819, during the monarchy of the King Rama II. The high-ranking monk Somdet (the position of the Supreme Patriarch) had some homosexual relations with his male disciples. It was considered as the biggest shameful scandal in the Thai Buddhist community of the 19th century. Besides, scientists have found out a lot of wall murals in temples that represented the presence of homosexual behavior among men and women in the country before the Rattanakosin era. Up to the 1960s, there had been only three recognized forms of sexual/gender difference (phet): a man, a woman, and the kathoey. The latter term includes transvestites, hermaphrodites, homosexuals, and transsexuals. For the term kathoey, the Thai people had a number of meanings, as kathoey thae (a true hermaphrodite), kathoey sao (a cross-dressing woman), kathoey thiam (a cross-dressing man), kathoey num (a masculine young homosexual man), and many others. In general, people did not distinguish a difference between gender and sexuality. They mainly were focused on the fact that sexuality was only the erotic preference of a person. Even more, kathoey people sometimes had the honorable status in the society. It was believed that they had the shamanic abilities. However, with the Western influence on the Thai nation, the people's attitude towards homosexuality has significantly changed, up to its criminalization. The Western culture has replaced this broad term with the words gay and lesbian. A number of social and cultural norms of conduct concerning the gender roles, sexuality, and behavior have been established. However, for the Thai sexual minorities, the foreign influence had both the negative and positive sides. From one perspective, the close contact between the Thai and Western lesbian and gay communities allowed to receive the necessary experience, knowledge, and support in the protection of the human rights and fight against the gender discrimination. From the other side, the upper-class Europeanized Thais were the biggest homophobes, as they were mostly influenced by the Western prejudice concerning the homosexuality during their visits to Europe. Officially, there were several hundred of Thai homosexual men in 1965. They formed the gay association (chomromgay) (Jackson & Sullivan, 1999, p. 3). The fastest development of the LGBT community began after the 80s. During this period, nearly 10 gay/lesbians entertainment places had worked throughout the country. Meanwhile only in 11 years there were more than one hundred different LGBT bars, discos, saunas, and others places opened. Approximately, twenty gay/lesbian oriented magazines in the Thai language and one in English were published in Thailand. As well, the Thai Ministry of Health officially proclaimed that homosexuality was not a mental illness or disorder in 2002 (from 1954, homosexuality was considered as a mental disorder). After that, in 2005, the Ministry of Defense allowed the LGBT community members to serve in the army. Moreover, the Thai Red Cross has allowed being blood donors for the people who have sexual contacts with the same sex person. Finally, the Gender Equality Act was signed by the Thailand government in 2015. It prohibited the discrimination and stigmatization of people basing on their gender status. Thailand authorities conduct their homosexual friendly politics also to attract more tourists to the country. The Thai LGBT market is considered as one of the most developed and LGBT-friendly places in Asia. However, despite the significant evolution of the Thai LGBT in the recent years, its local members still face a number of problems in the educational, health and employment spheres.
2. Social and Legal Aspects of Gender and Sex Minorities Life in Thailand
2.1. The Health Status
As a number of sociological and psychological studies show, transgender people need in average 10-15 years for a complete physical and psychological transformation. During this process, transgender people have to deal with many health-related issues. From a psychological perspective, they feel mental pressure, which leads to the attempts to commit suicide, depression, drug and alcohol abuse, etc. Deciding on a gender shift, an individual thinks that it would be easier to feel oneself better, but it is a deep mistake as the person cannot be changed. The internal conflict, arising at the stage of realization that the ones body is strange, remains.
One more important thing, which affects the health of transgender people, is hormones. Usually, these persons have to undergo hormone therapy during the whole life and in huge doses. The main purpose of this treatment is the bodys adaptation to the opposite biological sex. Traditionally, such therapy starts at least 6-12 months prior to the surgery, allowing the preparation of a patient to a postoperative period. If sex changes from male to female, a combination of drugs, containing estrogen and progestogen, is used. If it shifts from female to male, drugs with male sex hormones, often in the form of injections, are used. These hormones strongly affect the health and the mood of the individual. Willing to harmonize their bodies with their identities, many transgender people decide to pass the hormone therapy without consulting a doctor, which leads to other serious health problems. The average life duration of a transgender person is about 40 years. Such short term is caused by the way of life they lead, having a lot of chaotic sex contacts, often abusing drugs and alcohol and, of course, by a constant hormone treatment. At the same time, they are poorly serviced in the healthcare sphere, compared to the rest of the Thai population. For a long time, health problems of transgender people have been their private problem and very rarely discussed. However, today, the issue of contemporary youth with different gender identities is becoming public, more discussed, and, subsequently, urgent. Nowadays, many persons are sure that identifying oneself as a transgender is not a mental disorder. In addition, the Thai government is considering a possibility of recognition of the transgender third sex in the Constitution, without identifying them as both men and women. However, even it does not allow people to change their sex in the official documents.
LGBT individuals face a number of problems in the Thai educational sphere. There are a lot of different school regulations and curriculums that regulate the education in the academic institutions. In particular, a LGBT person often faces a misunderstanding from his\her teachers and even peers (harassment, bulling, teasing, physical abuse, etc.). According to the UNESCO research study, third of 2000 surveyed LGBT students had been physically harassed, a fourth sexually in the university. As well, the Thai authorities tried to ban to kathoeys to be schoolteachers and kindergarten teachers and gain the education in this sphere in 1997. The same year, the Rajabhat Institute (a community of college students) decided to ban the LGBT people to be admitted to the educational institutions. Even today, some school books are warning students that sexual deviations should be considered as a mental illness. People should be cautious about them. In 2008, Kamphaeng High School conducted the survey concerning the question of transgender toilets. They decided to create new special transgender toilets, when 200 students from 2,600 students identified themselves as transgender and asked for such kind of restrooms.
The majority of academic institutions require wearing uniforms for the students, basing on their sex (skirts for girls and women, and pants for boys and men). In these circumstances, there were a number of situations, when transgender men and women, who dressed opposite clothes to their sex at birth, were not allowed to enter the educational establishment during the admission, exams or graduation ceremonies. Ramkhamhaeng University was the first university in Thailand to let students dress according to their gender status during examinations in 2013. The University Presidents Council of Thailand signed a new more strict resolution that put even more barriers for transgender in 2009. Moreover, there were some cases when the teachers have told tomboy students to leave their class if they are wearing pants. It significantly violated the right for the basic education; and it forced many LGBT students to drop out school or university. The person without an appropriate education does not have a possibility to find a well-paid job. Therefore, many of them become prostitutes with all negative aspects of this work.
Transgender problems do not end after undergoing the sex change surgery. Since their previous gender is still listed in their passports, it is hard for such person to get an education, social services and even to get a job. The difficulties arise at every presentation of identity (for example, when opening a bank account or travelling abroad). The reason is that transgender appearance does not match their gender instruments. Quite often, transgender people are being looked at not like professionals, but as those ones, who have some mental problems. It seems like Thailand is tolerant to all transgender persons, but only on the outside. A closer and more precise look will give some understanding that there are too many unresolved questions and discriminations. Although Thailand keeps adopting laws, prohibiting gender-based discrimination, its legislation lacks a clear definition of gender equality. There is a little research, concerning the gender identity, conducted in the country. Nevertheless, the deeper understanding of this issue would allow resolving many problems.
The opportunities of transgender job search are mostly reduced to practically 2-3 vacancies: makeup artist, cabaret actor, and prostitute. Despite the fact that the prostitution in Thailand is officially prohibited, a big amount of transgender people is engaged in this sphere. Mostly, they are the individuals from the lower social spheres, who want to earn a lot of money as soon as possible. They want either to make a surgery or to help their families. The most beautiful of transgender persons are being sent to Europe to work in the well-known cabarets or are occupied in the high-level prostitution. Both the private and public companies often require people to wear uniforms, different for men and women; and it causes many misunderstandings. There are many examples, when transgender people did not receive their dream jobs just because they refused to wear the uniform, which contradicted their sexual identity. In Thailand, young men did not want to work hard in the fields. Therefore, sometimes, in the search for a better life, they escaped from their home towns and villages, moving to bigger cities, changing their outlook, and working in the entertainment sphere.
More recently, in Thailand, transgender people have been allowed to work as the flight attendants. As it is well-known, none of the airlines in the world have taken the transgender for this job before. There is a famous beauty contest for kathoey in Thailand, called Miss Tiffany Universe. It has been held for nearly twenty years. Many people dream to take a winning place, because this victory opens many doors in the future career. Today, some part of transgender individuals try to find some creative jobs, for example, start working as models and actors. One of such examples is Nong Poy (a famous Thai actress). There is also a prominent band, called Venus Fly Trap; and it consists of the transgender members only. In one of their interviews, the group mates stated that they wanted to inspire young boys being confused about gender. They had the desire to show that the person only needed to make a decision; and everything would be much better than it was. One of the most popular athletes, who became a woman, is Thai boxer Nong Tum. There is a movie, called Beautiful Boxer created in 2003, which tells about his plight. Nong was a champion in Thai boxing. However, after the sex reassignment surgery, he works as a model and an actress. There is also a division between transgender people with different social statuses in Thailand. Kathoey from higher layers are very wealthy, sometimes even millionaires. They do not support any relationship with street kathoey, in every way demonstratively distancing from them.
Despite the positive tendencies, there is obvious the LGBT employment discrimination in the country. One of unpleasant things transgender people have to deal with, applying for a job, is a psychological test they have to pass. This one is not offered to other applicants; and it is quite embarrassing. Transgender people have to deal with many problems, arising from the unrecognition of same sex marriages. They may face some problems in receiving health insurances and marital benefits. They are not able to apply for joint loans, etc. Overall, it is possible to make a conclusion that a LGBT theme is a taboo subject in the considerable majority of business and public institutions.
3. Recommendations for Possible Improvement of Gender Minorities Rights in Thailand
There are many recommendations for the governmental and international institutions that would help to improve the gender minorities rights:
- To promote and support Being LGBT in Asia program;
- To help to integrate gender minorities into public life;
- To improve legislation and to sign new laws and regulations to protect gender minorities rights;
- To reform the educational, health and employment system and policy;
- To promote gender equality in the society;
- To provide free judicial consultations and support to the LGBT members in case of a need;
- To invite international organizations to support, educate and promote gender minorities;
- To increase participation of LGBT community members in policy development to create legal and working mechanisms to change the public mind concerning the LGBT people;
- To support institutions of minority communities and NGO organizations that protect the humans rights of the LGBT members.
In addition, according to my point of view, it is necessary to remember that every person should have the same rights despite his\her political, racial, and religious, as well as sex\gender beliefs. I am convinced that only in a close collaboration with Thailands governmental institutions and international organizations it would be possible to overcome the shameful practice of gender discrimination not only in this country, but in the world too.
To conclude, it is necessary to state that the problem of LGBT people is crucial in the nowadays society both on global and national levels. Despite the fact that Thai authorities provide a gay/lesbian-friendly politics, there are many problems that complicate the daily life of gender minorities in Thailand. Thailand, as a country, should overcome a number of issues in the educational, health-care and employment spheres. It is necessary to follow and promote the above-mentioned recommendations today in order to change and improve the difficult lives of the LGBT community members in the future.