7 Thailand takes a step away from democracy 5/07 (non-gay story)
National Human Rights Commission of Thailand
As a result of struggles for political reform and democracy, particularly over decades the major social and academic movements in Thailand between 1996 and 1997, the 1997 Constitution was promulgated with the full guarantee of human dignity and all basic rights as well as fundamental freedoms for people.
The National Human Rights Commission of Thailand (NHRC) was established under Section 199 and 200 of the Constitution as a mechanism to guarantee the respect for human rights as stipulated therein. The 11 full-time Commissioners will be elected by the Senate from a short list of 22 people with extensive human rights experience, gender balance and pluralistic background. The Commission’s statutory term of office is 6 years, and each Commissioner shall serve for only one term.
March 29, 2007
Thailand Promises Elections This Year
by Thomas Fuller
Bangkok – Thailand’s prime minister, Surayud Chulanont, today rejected the advice of the general who put him in power, declining to declare a state of emergency in Bangkok to clamp down on anti-government protesters and instead promising to hold elections before the end of this year.
“As of now, we will not declare a state of emergency,” Mr. Surayud told reporters after meeting with General Sonthi Boonyaratglin, who led the September coup. “I gave my opinion that if the situation does not constitute an emergency that jeopardizes the stability of the country, we cannot use that law,” Mr. Surayud said.
On Wednesday, General Sonthi declared that emergency measures were necessary in Bangkok to deal with protesters who have announced numerous rallies for the coming days. After comments late Wednesday suggesting that he might side with the general, Mr. Surayud took the opposite tack. He said he still had the power to declare a state of emergency, which would suspend civil laws, but that the current situation did not merit the move.
Then he set a timetable for the return to democracy.
A referendum on the constitution currently being drafted would take place no later than September, Mr. Surayud said, and elections could be held in December. Officials mentioned Dec.16 or Dec. 23. Mr. Surayud’s comments, broadcast live on national television, seemed designed to reassure Thais that the military government was not backing away from its promises of ceding power to a democratically elected government.
Opposition to the government, although splintered, has become increasingly vocal.
A group affiliated with Thailand’s ousted prime minister, Thaksin Shinawatra, defied warnings from the military and the police today, vowing to step up its protests. Authorities said today they would close off access by the group to a parade ground. The group is largely made up of former officials of the political party that Mr. Thaksin led until the coup.
Jatuporn Promporn, a spokesman for the pro-Thaksin group, said protesters had shifted their rally, scheduled for Friday, to an area in front of the city hall. The main aim was to force the government to allow them to allow broadcasts by a satellite television station, PTV. The military fears the station will become a mouthpiece for Mr. Thaksin.
Other groups have called for a week of demonstrations starting April 5.
Supporters of Mr. Thaksin, who has remained outside the country since the coup, scored an unexpected victory in a Bangkok court today when one of Mr. Thaksin’s chief antagonists, Sondhi Limthongkul, was sentenced to two years for defaming a former member of Mr. Thaksin’s government. Mr. Sondhi, the owner of the Manager Media Group, was freed on bail of 200,000 baht, or $6,200, pending an appeal. Mr. Sondhi led tens of thousands of protesters last year against Mr. Thaksin’s government.
He was found guilty of defaming Phumtham Vechayachai, a former deputy transport minister, by falsely accusing him of being a former member of the Communist Party of Thailand and of involvement in undemocratic activity.
April 6, 2007
Organizers of Bangkok International Book Fair unable to check content of all books sold by over 800 vendors
by Anjira Assavanonda, Bangkok Post
Thailand – Red faces after porn comics ordered off shelves. A book distributor was ordered to take pornographic comic books off the shelf at the Bangkok International Book Fair yesterday following complaints from parents. Deputy Prime Minister Paiboon Wattanasiritham went to the booth of Rung Wattana Panich, which sells a variety of used books at cheap prices, and found hundreds of translated Japanese cartoon books with pornographic images inside, many showing the characters having sex.
Members of the Foundation of Family Networks lodged a complaint with the deputy prime minister when they met him at the Family Day event. They said they were shocked to find their children reading porn comics bought from the national book fair. Pranee Chaloeyjitratham, 49, said her 18-year-old son and 13-year-old daughter had bought dozens of the used comic books on Wednesday. They sold for 10 baht each, and customers buying 10 books would get one free. All the books were wrapped in plastic.
"At first I thought they were just common cartoon books until I saw my children engrossed in reading them for the whole day," said Mrs Panee. "When I interrupted, they looked upset. So I flipped over some pages after they put the books down and found this pornography inside." She had not expected such material to be sold at the national book fair, which is said to help promote reading for children.
Another parent, who did not give her name, said her seven-year-old son asked her what the characters were doing after reading one of the comics. She was shocked when he showed it to her. Thanachai Santichaikul, president of the Publishers and Booksellers Association of Thailand, the key organiser of the book fair, said he was sorry for what happened. The national book fair, which ends next Tuesday, had been held for over three decades and the problem was unprecedented. It was difficult for the organiser to check every book sold at the fair, given that there are more than 800 selling booths.
"But we made it clear to every publisher and distributor that porn books are absolutely prohibited," said Mr Thanachai. He would meet the foundation committee to discuss the problem and decide what to do with the distributor. "Legal action is left to the police, but the foundation has its own rules. If we find the mistake to be intentional, the distributor could be banned from the event next time," he said. The owner of Rung Wattana Panich was not at the booth yesterday.
A relative, Saowalak Rungthanapaiboon, said the shop sold used books which it bought in big lots from other publishers and distributors. They did not check the content of every book. "If I knew these porn comics were on shelves, I wouldn’t be working here. And I think the owner might not know either," said Ms Saowalak.
April 7, 2007
Accepted and rejected A look at the acceptance and rejection of gay people in Phuket
by Aparna Raut Desai
With the back-drop of the annual gay parade, the inimitable Phuket Pride, Phuket Post decided it was time to look at the the actual gay scenario on the island. Is there anything about Phuket beyond the bars and the go-go clubs, that makes it attractive to members of the gay community? What does Phuket have to offer to tourists and long-stay foreigners that are not here for the lurid Patong scenes? And perhaps more intererstingly, what about Phuket’s indigenous gay people? What about being gay in Phuket if you’re not on holiday?
What better place to start than at the very helm of the official gay society in Phuket, with Mr. Daniel See, the organising chairman of the Phuket Pride festival. Daniel is the face of the ( ) club just off Song Roi Pee road in Patong. Hailing from Singapore, he lived in Hawaii for seven years, working as a marketing head promoting Hawaii as a holiday destination. His job took him all over the world, before he decided to go back to Singapore, where, predictably enough, for someone who has grown accustomed to a beach paradise lifestyle, he didn’t last very long. And hence Phuket. But why not say, Bali or any other beach destination in Asia? Daniel admits to having considered running a business in Bali and other locations before coming to the conclusion that it was always really only going to be Phuket. As for why, he finds that an easy question to answer. In one word, Thais. The magnificently generous and accepting people of Thailand, that always let you be who you are, no matter what you are or are not.
All Asian countries, Daniel concedes, are culturally very rich, and each has it’s very own unique attracions. But Thailand has to be the most openly accepting of them all. Which other culture throws open it’s arms and embraces every kind of person, not just letting them be, but letting them be on their own terms? The acceptance here is complete and unconditional. "I mean just look at the katoeys" (also known as lady-boys), says Daniel. "So many of them, everywhere… this place is so open, it’s just impossible to find anywhere else." The level of freedom and right of existence is just incredible. "You know" he exclaims rhetorically, for of course I hadn’t a clue, "a lot of men here call themselves straight even if they are with a katoey partner… any place else and that wouldn’t even be possible." They would be labelled and slotted instantly.
How about gay people that come from countries where homosexuality is not taboo… does Phuket still have anything to offer them? I posed the questions to all the gay westerners I met, and the answer was a ubiquitous ‘yes’. Unlike Pattaya, where gay tourism is linked irreversibly with sex-trade, Phuket offers gays, like everyone else, a holiday or a lifestyle beyond the go-go bars and the pick-up joints. I was told repeatedly how easy and relaxed it is to be gay in Phuket. No judgements, no regiments. Phuket allows a lifestyle on par with one anywhere in the West, with a friends’ circle comprising equally of gay and straight individuals, and daily lives filled with all the fun activities that go with living on a beach destination.
Trevor and Jason, a gay couple who moved to Phuket from Australia two years ago, together with their Thai business partner set up a bar – the "Sby Corner" at the Paradise complex, Patong. Their pub caters to tourists and expats exactly like themselves, who want to be in Phuket and be able to relax and enjoy themselves without having to be forced into the transactions of the gay sex trade. With a bar staff that is entirely straight, and therefore not looking for potential "clients", customers can come here and enjoy other gay company without being hustled or harassed.
The Club One Seven Bed & Breakfast run by Daniel operates on similar principles. It’s a hotel that offers gays (and straight people, Daniel is quick to reassure me) a real holiday environment, with genuine hospitality. With an entirely straight staff here as well, it promotes itself and Phuket as a whole, as a holiday venue, and categorically not as a sex-trade spot. "That’s why we have such a lot of young gay tourists in Phuket, as compared to Pattaya, which attracts mainly an older generation of gays." Phuket is a holiday destination that transcends the sex-trade.
What higher tribute can Daniel pay to Phuket and it’s Thai people, when he says that it is in fact here, that he chose to finally come out of the closet? Was that difficult at all, I query? The reason it happened was because it was so easy, he replies. It took no effort at all, it was so natural, to just be himself. "Why am I hiding myself?" he found himself thinking. "That’s what this place and its people give you. Nobody teases you, nobody harasses you and everybody accepts you completely, for what you are." So that was that, I thought. Phuket can pretty much put itself up to be voted as the most gay friendly place in the world. Or can it? Simply because it was the logical route to follow, taking the story from the tourist/holiday scene to the local one, I asked Jason and Trevor if there was any difference at all between the foreign gays and gay Thai people. And ended up opening a right little can of worms.
Thai gay men I was informed, are far less gregarious and far more introverted than western gay men. Is this possibly because they are shy, I wondered aloud. Possibly, they demurred, but more like because they are not always comfortable or able to expose themselves for being homosexual.
Well. Hmm. Right. What????
This was the first introduction to an idea that was going to show me a radically different side to being gay in Phuket. The side that’s not on vacation. The side that was born, grew up, lives and works here. The real side, some might say. My first gay Thai meeting was with the vivacious, handsome and friendly Tara, who hails from Bangkok, but has lived in Phuket for five years now. He’s a graphic designer with company on the island, and moved to Phuket from Bangkok for the usual reasons… a stressful life, traffic, pollution and a boyfriend who lived here. So what’s it like to be gay in Phuket? Is it any different from Bangkok? It’s all good, says Tara; he doesn’t have any complaints. He feels at ease and welcomed on the island and has never faced problems with the locals or their attitudes towards homosexuals. I can’t see Tara, all charm and smiles having a problem with anyone, anywhere, really.
But different from Bangkok? Yes. Tara explains how Bangkok, as a metropolitan city, is far more open about issues such as being gay. For the locals in particular, that is. Citing the difference between his own experience of growing up in Bangkok, and that of his partner in Phuket, Tara says that he never had a problem explaining to his family that he was gay. He’d been aware of this aspect of his nature from an early age, and remembers his family as being completely accepting and supportive. His boyfriend, on the other hand, never managed to tell his family until he was 25 years of age! And even then, only because Tara moved to Phuket to be with him, and there was simply no concealing it from them anymore. And how did they take it? It wasn’t a complete disaster, chuckles Tara, but it definitely was uncomfortable for a while. “But I was very nice to them and after some time they liked me,” he grins. Why do you think the attitudes differ from Bangkok to Phuket, I ask him. Bangkok is a big city, he says, and a busy one. People there have more individual freedom within their professional, personal and social lives, simply because the community is not as small and cloistered as here. In Phuket, everyone knows everyone, and what everyone is doing. In Bangkok, people are just not as interested in other peoples’ lives. Less interference, less pressure, more freedom.
It was definitely time to meet with people indigenous to the island and get their story straight from the source. Sammy works for a public limited company in Phuket. Born, raised and bred here, he was exactly what I was looking for. A real gay Phuketian. In a refreshingly straight and frank discussion, Sammy was far from reticent about outlining the problems faced by the many gay people of Phuket. In work as well as the social arena, Sammy admits he has never been able to reveal himself completely. He’s had a range of experiences as a gay employee… from working for people who were aware and almost-accepting of his status, but encouraged him to keep a low profile on this aspect of his personality, to employers who were blatantly homophobic. He has always been aware of the stigma that comes with being gay, and the need to play his true nature down. Does this make him angry? No, he surprises me by saying, simply because he accepts what it is to be gay in Phuket, and the life that comes with it. He understands that the Thai culture, which is traditional and conservative in its outlook, has a long way to go before it could accommodate homosexuals into its fold. So how come it’s so different for tourists and foreigners that live here, I muse. Because they are not part of the culture, Sammy says, voicing my exact thoughts and, I realise ruefully, stating the obvious. Here and welcome, and part of the society… peripherally, but in no way considered part of the culture. “Thai people don’t care what foreigners do, they can be whatever they like.”
And what of his family? Sammy outlines a heart-rending story: aware of his inclinations from a very young age, he fought a battle for acceptance from the very beginning. His family never really could come to terms with him being homosexual, and spent years trying to change what he simply could not help. “They knew, they knew” Sammy looks back, “but they closed their eyes and tried to forget, tried to make it not real.” Complete denial. With time, Sammy tired of the continual battle and resorted to what has become a typical situation for gays in Phuket; a double life. He lived a continual and exhausting charade for a number of years, where his family could continue to live with the version that suited it, while Sammy contrived to keep his reality as secret as possible. And this I found, as I spoke to more and more gay Thai people, was the reality of a lot of their lives. A family in denial, a split life spent between a social charade and a personal reality. Whether gay or lesbian, Thai homosexuals struggle to find acceptance.
Speaking to a lesbian couple who chose the remain anonymous, I was told a similar story; expulsion, ostracism, rejection. All within the family. And how do they feel about this? Let down, I was told, repeatedly. As they pointed out, they’re not criminals. They’re not even part of the sex trade. They are dignified, self-respecting individuals that work for a living and contribute to the society. So why can they not be accepted for themselves?
Phuket is a society divided in its attitudes to this difficult issue. On the one hand is the famed Thai tolerance. The generous granting of dignity and acceptance to one and all. And on the other hand lies a traditional and conservative society, that has stringent rules and norms. Men and women are meant to come together and bear children. Couple raise their progeny and children grow up to be a support in their old-age. A beautiful family scenario – and we all know how strong family bonds are in Thailand – juxtaposes with the gay way of life, where progeny are not part of the plan. The two are so glaringly different, one so old and well-entrenched, the other so modern and alien, the island of Phuket has a long, long journey to make, indeed, before it affords the same freedom that it gives so generously to foreigners to their own.
Let me, however, not be too judgmental. I come from a country (India) where homosexuality is generally considered a dirty myth. Simply announcing yourself as gay may actually invite a torrent of homophobic reactions, possibly even violent. Sammy told me of the time he spent in Ireland, where it was impossible for him to get a job, simply because he was gay.
What’s holding acceptance back in Phuket has more to do with tradition than bigotry. A small, closely knit society will always be slower at adapting newer and more radical changes than a larger, more progressive one. Phuketians are just too kind and generous to intentionally disallow anyone the right to be happy. Already, I was told a few (rare, but real) accounts of families in Phuket that have embraced their gay members unconditionally. This has to be a start. I believe the Thai spirit will transcend this general inability to accept that they do indeed have homosexuals amongst their own, and that they too, deserve dignity and respect. Time will tell. In the meanwhile, for gay westerners and other gay foreigners in Phuket, life is good. And for their Thai counterparts… the battle rages on.
May 11, 2007
AIDS activists in Thailand protest U.S. decision on copyright violators
Bangkok, Thailand – AIDS activists rallied outside the U.S. embassy last week to protest Washington’s decision to place Thailand on a list of copyright violators, calling the Thai government’s move to break patents on pricey U.S. made AIDS drugs a “lifesaver.”
“The U.S. government is the devil disguised as a priest … they want to please the pharmaceutical companies who only care about maximum profit,” said Nimit Tien-udom, director of AIDS Access Foundation. “Where is the concern for the dignity of human lives that the U.S. always preach about? We are here to support the government’s decision — a lifesaver for many people living with AIDS,” Nimit said. About 30 protesters chanted and carried placards with slogans such as “Evil USA, stop threatening access to treatment in Thailand.”
They dispersed peacefully after about two hours. Meanwhile, Prime Minister Surayud Chulanont insisted on May 3 that the government would stand by its decision to break patents on three drugs, including the AIDS drugs Kaletra produced by Abbott Laboratories and Efavirenz by Merck. Both are American companies.
May 26, 2007
Activists want gay rights in new constitution
The new constitution must recognise the rights of gays, lesbians, bisexuals and the transgendered, gay rights activists urged yesterday. The equality clause in the draft constitution only endorses equal rights between men and women.
by Sanitsuda Ekachai
The new constitution must recognise the rights of gays, lesbians, bisexuals and the transgendered, gay rights activists urged yesterday. The equality clause in the draft constitution only endorses equal rights between men and women. ”There should be an additional clause to recognise diverse sexuality, which will help ease the problems of discrimination we are facing,” said Anjana Suvarnanonda, founder of Anjaree, an advocacy group of female homosexuals. The National Human Rights Commission also supports the move to amend the draft charter so the gay community is accorded the same rights as heterosexuals, said human rights commissioner Khunying Ambhorn Meesook.
Kittinan Tharamatat from Fah Si Roong (Rainbow Sky), a gay rights advocacy group, said that if the new charter recognises diverse sexuality and mandates equal rights for the gay community, various other, discriminatory laws will also have to be amended.
Rape laws, which currently protect only female victims, for example, will have to be amended to protect men, homosexuals and the transgendered too. At present, raping boys or men is legally considered to be only sexual molestation, which carries lighter punishment than that of rape. ”Rapists, regardless of the gender of their victims, are all similar animals from hell, so they deserve the same punishment,” he said.
The law, he added, must also be subsequently amended to legalise same- sex marriage, thus allowing homosexual partners to have inheritance rights. At present, when one of the partners dies, his or her money and other assets go to the family of the deceased. Job discrimination against homosexuals and the transgendered will also become illegal if the new constitution addresses the issue, he added. ”Right now we, the transgendered, have a very limited work choice. The constitutional change will help protect us against this discrimination,” said Tanyarat Jirapatpakorn, Miss Tiffany Universe 2007, a transsexual beauty queen.
Meanwhile, Chantalak Raksayoo of the Sapan Group stressed how important it was for the constitution to clearly state a specific timeframe for legal amendments to recognise diverse sexuality and gay rights. ”Otherwise such rights will exist only on paper,” she said. According to Ms Anjana, half of young people who attempted suicide in Thailand were homosexuals and transgendered people who could not put up with severe pressure and condemnation from their own families and society. In addition to legal changes, Prof Suporn Koetwang, a noted public health expert, called for better public education to rein in homophobia among the general public.
Sawing Tan-oot, a member of the National Legislative Assembly (NLA) and the Constitution Drafting Assembly, will propose the clause on gay rights be included in the draft charter. But many NLA members still do not understand the concepts of gender and diverse sexuality, he said.
May 31st 2007
Thailand takes a step away from democracy (non-gay background story)
The nine judges of Thailand’s Constitutional Tribunal took ten hours to outline in a marathon session, televised live on May 30th, the electoral-fraud cases against the country’s two main political parties (and several small ones). They explained in elaborate detail why Thai Rak Thai (TRT), the largest, was being disbanded, whereas its main opponent, the Democrat party, was cleared of all charges.
However, the elegance of their legal arguments may be lost on millions of Thais. They gave TRT sweeping election victories in 2001 and 2005 and probably still support the party and its leader, Thaksin Shinawatra.
As voters may see it, the country’s most popular party has been destroyed by a court set up by the military junta that seized power last year, claiming to be rescuing democracy. A week before the tribunal’s rulings, Thailand’s revered King Bhumibol intervened, giving warning that his realm was "close to sinking" and noting that "political parties must exist". This raised hopes that the tribunal would stop short of dissolving either main party, and punish only individual politicians. Those hopes have been dashed. In four months of hearings, the tribunal examined allegations of misbehaviour by the accused parties during a snap election Mr Thaksin had called in April last year. The Democrats and other parties boycotted the election, claiming it would be unfair.
The courts later found grounds to annul the results, after the king urged them to sort out the "mess". TRT was accused among other things of bribing small parties to take part in the election, while the Democrats were accused of inducing leaders of smaller parties to make false accusations against TRT. After the coup, the junta, led by the army chief, General Sonthi Boonyaratglin, replaced the Constitutional Court with a new tribunal, whose judges it selected, and told it to pursue the electoral-fraud cases. The junta also appointed an interim government of old soldiers and bureaucrats; and created a temporary parliament and another unelected body to write a new constitution.
The generals also set up investigations into the allegations of corruption and abuse of power by the Thaksin administration, while their interim government sought to borrow some of its policies, such as cheap health care and development funds for rural villages, which had made "Thaksinomics" so popular. However, although the corruption investigations have unearthed enough evidence to press charges, they failed to find enough of a "smoking gun" to wreck Mr Thaksin’s reputation irreparably. Meanwhile, the interim government has dithered and bungled, dragging down the economy and making Thaksinomics, for all its other flaws, look good. And Mr Thaksin, through a series of stunts such as bidding for Britain’s Manchester City football club, has ensured he is not forgotten.
This week’s judgment would appear to eliminate TRT and prevent any comeback by Mr Thaksin and his henchmen. But the generals are far from being in the clear. Lesser figures in TRT may regroup and find ways to recapture the party’s millions of votes, in the elections the junta promises to hold by the year’s end. That is if things get that far. The junta’s constitution-writing body has already backtracked on several undemocratic clauses it tried to slip into the new charter, such as permitting an unelected prime minister and allowing for a "crisis council", including military chiefs, to step in and solve political conflicts.
But other unpopular provisions–such as having the Senate appointed by judges and bureaucrats rather than elected–remain in the draft. So voters, angry at the destruction of the party many support, may reject the proposed charter in the referendum the junta is promising to hold. The mobilisation of police and soldiers ordered by the jumpy generals to head off protests, and their censorship of pro-Thaksin websites and radio stations, may not be enough to prevent rising popular unrest against the regime, despite Mr Thaksin’s call on his supporters to accept the verdict. Local newspapers had quoted one of the nine judges as saying they would "apply the spirit" of the coup-makers in making their rulings.
This, plus the severity of the punishment meted out to Mr Thaksin and his party, and the absolution of the Democrats, will only raise suspicions that the destruction of TRT was a pre-determined outcome. Hopes of a peaceful move back to democracy have dimmed. See this article with graphics and related items at http://www.economist.com/world/asia/displaystory.cfm?story_id=9265431
June 29, 2007
Gays to get equal status under new Thai charter
Bangkok(Reuters) – Writers of Thailand’s post-coup constitution agreed on Friday to give gay, lesbian, transgender and transvestite groups official status in the new charter to try to end discrimination. Along with a guarantee of equal rights for men and women, the 100-member drafting council voted unanimously to include a reference to "those of other sexual identities" in the new charter, due to be put to Thailand’s first referendum in August. "This council has already guaranteed equal rights for the disabled, so why can’t we give the same treatment to those who have sexual preferences," said charter write Chirmsak Pinthong, who sponsored the idea.
Earlier this month, the council rejected a proposal to guarantee the rights of those with various sexual orientations, saying it would create a legal status of a "third sex". Gay rights groups welcomed the inclusion, saying it would pave the way for fairer treatment. "The clause will guarantee our basic rights that have been ignored for such a long time," Natee Teerarojjanapongs of the Thai Political Gay Group told Reuters in tears. "We hope it will help end all sorts of discrimination against us," said Natee, who said he and his male partner were refused life insurance by a number of companies who viewed homosexuals as carrying a far higher risk than heterosexuals.
On the surface, Thailand appears very tolerant of homosexuality, with many openly gay celebrities. Transvestites, or "katoeys" as they are called in Thai, are commonplace in offices, schools and on television, and Bangkok is a world centre of sex-change surgery. However, the predominantly Buddhist country remains deeply conservative at heart and still had many rules and regulations discriminating against non-heterosexuals, gays activists say. Transvestites are barred from compulsory military service, but army chiefs made a small concession two years ago, branding them "physically unfit" rather than "permanently insane".
However, many cross-dressers turned away before 2005 still carry the "permanently insane" stamp on their military draft cards — documents needed for job applications. The inclusion of the gay rights in the draft constitution came a day after a Thai gay rights group launched a boycott of a Bangkok night club run by European hotel chain after bouncers refused entry to a male transvestite.
The club denied any discrimination.
Happy Endings in the Land of Smiles
As the world becomes increasingly inter-connected, I think it’s important to start highlighting global advances in sexuality. Seems like a good place to start is approx. 8k miles due West of here: Thailand. Thailand is a country that is known for it’s beautiful beaches, scrumptious food, hospitable people and sex workers. Sex work is a viable economic option for men, women and ‘lady-boys’ (mtf transsexuals). With sexuality moving out into the open, this conservative Buddhist country, has found the need to respond.
And they have.
A few sexuality-related policy changes have occurred in Thailand recently:
1) June 29th marked a huge victory for the Thai LGBT community when the government recommended adding a provision to the constitution that safeguards people of "other sexual identities" from discrimination. If adopted, this means that Thailand will become one of only four nations that have such a provision (the US is not one of those). "Other sexual identities" being identified as lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgendered people Many people credit LGBT activists Natee Theerarojnapong and Anjana Suvarnananda
2) About a week earlier, Thailand reformed their anti-rape laws to include married women and men. As summarized by the Feminist Majority Foundation (among others):
"The National Legislative Assembly of Thailand approved a new law last week that criminalizes marital rape. Previously, rape law could not be used to prosecute a husband who forced sex on his wife. This new law carries a monetary fine (40,000 baht, or $1,156) and up to 20 years in jail for offenders.
In addition, the definition of "victim" has been expanded so that man, too, can file rape charges against a woman or another man. This expansion has been applauded as a breakthrough by gay rights activists who have struggled to obtain rights and protection for gays, lesbians, and cross-dressers who are often targeted violently."
Way to show us how it’s done, Thailand.
August 12, 2007
Thailand considers law allowing transsexual to claim title of adopted gender
Bangkok, Thailand (AP) – Thailand, one of the world’s most tolerant countries toward transvestites and transsexuals, is considering a law to allow people who have had a sex change to officially change their title, reports said Sunday. The proposal which would allow transgender men or women to choose how they are addressed is being considered by the country’s National Legislative Assembly to support an anti-discrimination provision in the draft constitution, Thai newspapers reported. Wiroon Tangcharoen, an assembly member who is also rector of Srinakharinwirot University, said he supported the move, which would bring Thailand’s laws in line with those of other countries, The Nation newspaper said. No further details were available about the proposed law.
Wiroon said he did not believe the law would cause any problems in university dormitories, where students are segregated by sex, the Nation reported. Students wishing to stay with members of their adopted gender would have to produce medical certificates proving they had undergone sex-change operations, he said, "The university has nothing against male transsexual students staying in female dormitories on the campus,” he was quoted saying. Even though Thailand is widely tolerant of homosexuals, transvestites and transsexuals who have regular presence on TV, in movies and the entertainment business, many must overcome family pressure, social prejudice and domestic violence. Three years ago, faced with the problem of which bathrooms transvestite students should use, a college in the northern province of Chiang Mai designated a bathroom for exclusive use of the school’s 15 cross-dressing students.
Dubbed the Pink Lotus Bathroom, the facility at the Chiang Mai Technology School featured four stalls, but no urinals. On the door was a sign with intertwined male and female symbols. The transvestites _ who had to wear male attire at school but were allowed to sport girlie hairdos _ had annoyed female students when using the women’s bathrooms, and faced harassment in the men’s facilities.
15th August 2007
Thai government considers new trans rights
by Gemma Pritchard
Thailand, one of the world’s most tolerant countries towards transvestites and transsexuals, may soon allow people who have had a sex change to officially alter their title. A proposal which would allow transgender men or women to choose how they are addressed is being considered by the country’s National Legislative Assembly, to support an anti-discrimination provision in the draft constitution, according to AP. Wiroon Tangcharoen, an assembly member who is also rector of Srinakharinwirot University, said he supported the move and did not believe it would affect room assignments in university dormitories, where students are segregated by sex, The Nation newspaper reported.
Students wishing to live with members of their adopted gender would have to produce medical certificates proving they had undergone sex-change operations. "The university has nothing against male transsexual students staying in female dormitories on the campus," he said.
Even though Thailand is widely tolerant of gays, transvestites and transsexuals, who have regular presence on TV, in movies and the entertainment business, many face family pressure, social prejudice and domestic violence. Three years ago, a college in the northern province of Chiang Mai designated a bathroom for the exclusive use of the school’s 15 cross-dressing students. Dubbed the Pink Lotus Bathroom, the facility at the Chiang Mai Technology School featured four stalls, but no urinals. On the door was a sign with intertwined male and female symbols.
The transvestites — who had to wear male attire at school but were allowed to sport feminine hairdos — had annoyed female students when using the women’s bathrooms, and faced harassment in the men’s facilities.
September 21, 2007
Please call me "Miss," transgendered Thais say
Bangkok (AFP) – Yonlada Krerkkong Suanyot says she’s every bit a woman, except for on her identity card which identifies her as a man. Yonlada was born male but completed her sex change operation five years ago and has lived as woman for even longer. Although Thailand has a worldwide reputation as a paradise for transsexuals, with gender reassignment surgery widely available and relatively cheap, the kingdom does not allow people to officially change their gender for legal purposes. Activists are now trying to change that, proposing a new law that would allow transvestites and transsexuals to legally change their gender and adopt the title "Miss".
It’s a minor legal change with profound legal implications.
The difference between Yonlada’s appearance and the gender on official documents such as her national identity card and passport has caused her countless problems, including rejection for bank loans and refusal of jobs. "I have lost a lot of opportunities to work for good companies or even government agencies," she said. When she tried to get a bank loan to start her own business, the loan was refused because the bank thought she was using a stolen ID. "I know the bank thought I didn’t look reliable," she said. Some transsexuals also have problems travelling overseas, because they are listed as men on their passports but appear as women at the immigration counter.
Natee Teerarojjaongs, chairman of the Gay Political Group, said he had proposed the legal change to Thailand’s parliament specifically to end such discrimination. "This would clear obstacles for them working and travelling," he said. Natee is also pushing for the law to cover people who dress as the opposite sex or have undergone some surgery, as well as those who have completed their gender reassignment surgery.
Thailand is believed to have one of the largest transsexual populations in the world. Transsexuals, known locally as kathoey, have long had a place in Thai culture, with roles reserved for them in traditional festivals, in folk theatre, and even as geisha-style "companions." Kathoey are also among Thailand’s most visible cultural exports, with Vegas-style transsexual cabarets performing to audiences of thousands and popular movies about their lives playing the global film festival circuit. That history of acceptance, combined with easy access to Thailand’s top-rate hospitals, has made it relatively easy for people to undergo a sex change.
Academics estimate at least 10,000 live in Thailand, though other guesses are more than 10 times higher. Even the conservative number would mean that per capita, Thailand has many more transsexuals than most developed countries. "We estimate that only three percent of transvestites complete their sex change because the medical bills are so expensive, but we want to make sure everyone is equal and can be covered by the law," he said. There would be conditions to legally change genders, including a mandatory psychiatric evaluation and a background check, he said. Natee found a sympathetic ear in member of parliament Kanjana Silpa-archa, who heads the subcommittee on women’s affairs. "I believe people should have equal rights. Transgendered people should have the same rights as any other sex," she said. "For a person who is not happy with his sex and who lives as the opposite sex, he deserves the chance to receive what he wants."
Kanjana’s committee has taken up Natee’s proposal, but the measure still needs approval from the higher-ranking committee on women, youth and the elderly before going to the entire parliament. The current parliament was appointed by the military after last year’s coup, so Natee and Kanjana acknowledge that there’s not much time to give the bill a hearing before legislative elections on December 23. Yonlada said the current system just encourages transgendered people to break the law by getting fake IDs. She admits to bribing a Bangkok city worker to get a fake card with the title "Miss," but said that didn’t help in the long run as potential employers found her out anyway.
"If we could really have the title ‘Miss,’ it would help us live our lives more easily," she said.
November 05, 2007
Thailand’s secret history
About 2,000 books, magazines, photo albums, video tapes, movie and audio CDs relating to homosexuals fill the small room that is the country’s only library dedicated to documenting the local gay community. Called the Thai Queer Resource Centre (TQRC), it was founded by Australian scholar Assoc Prof Peter Jackson with the aim of preventing the history and voice of the Thai GLBT (gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender) community from erosion by the state.
"No official library in Thailand is collecting this material. Also, the police are out to destroy them. It’s therefore essential that the Thai GLBT community, and researchers such as myself work together to save these important records of Thai queer history,"
explained Jackson, senior fellow in Thai history at the Australian National University’s Research School of Pacific and Asian Studies.
There is a lot of interest among Thai university students in conducting research on Thailand’s gay, lesbian and transgendered community, he said, but the authorities view material that reflects the lives of the Thai GLBT community as immoral and illegal, which must be destroyed. So there is no place where students or researchers can find such historical records.
November 11, 2007
Thai crowned world’s transsexual beauty queen
Pattaya, Thailand (AFP) — Dressed in a flowing yellow gown with matching earrings, a demure Thai business student wept and embraced her rivals after being crowned the world’s most beautiful transsexual. Tanyarat Jirapatpakon was named Miss International Queen 2007 on Sunday, besting 23 stunning transsexuals who had come to the Thai beach resort of Pattaya from as far as Germany and Puerto Rico for a shot at the diamond crown. The Thai’s extravagant yet elegant costumes and dedication to environmental causes helped carry the day, taking her past runners-up Aleika Barros of Brazil and Chanel Madrigal of the Philippines. "I feel excited and so happy. Everybody enjoyed the contest and I didn’t expect anything like this," the 21-year-old said from atop her throne after winning 10,000 dollars and the title.
In a nation obsessed with beauty pageants and famous for its sexual tolerance, this elaborate contest is taken every bit as seriously as the more traditional competitions. Contestants’ costumes can cost up to one million baht (33,000 dollars), and the audience was treated to all the glitz and glam of conventional beauty pageants, complete with swimsuit and evening-wear rounds. "This is the night I have been preparing for my whole life," gushed Colombia’s Melania Armenta, a 25-year-old model. Festivities began on Saturday evening, with last year’s winner Erica Andrews performing "Mexican Aztec" — an upbeat, pulsating dance homage to her homeland complete with ancient pyramids, flashing native symbols and historic outfits.
In the costume round, Tanyarat had to compete against a butterfly, a swan and a Mercedes Benz, but the top prize in the category was given to Japan’s Beni Tsukishima for her authentic kabuki ensemble. Tanyarat’s angelic white-beaded evening wear, fit for the grandest of galas, gave way to the more salacious floral pink bikini in the swimsuit competition, showing off her shapely legs and slim figure. But she finally wooed the crowd with dedication to loftier issues. "Global warming is one of the most serious problems the world faces today," she said when asked how she helps educate people on environmental issues. "I tell them to ‘think about it’. It’s your world too," she said.
The crowd, consisting of mostly Thais and the occasional bewildered tourist, cheered loudly for the homegrown favourite but were upstaged by feverish, flag-waving Filipinos who supported four of their compatriots. Tiffany’s Show Pattaya, which runs the event and claims to be the world’s largest transsexual cabaret, said more than 25 million Thai television viewers had been expected to tune in. Known in Thailand as "kathoey," or the third gender, Thai transsexuals have slowly been leaving cabarets for mainstream success in music and other endeavours, helped in part by the popularity of beauty contests.
Participants praised Thailand for its progressive attitude towards sexuality. "There is still a lot of discrimination against people like me in the Philippines," said 24-year-old Rain Marie Madrigal, from Manila. "Thailand is like a utopia for transgender people."
November 30, 2007
New Asia Pacific Statistics Reveal an Alarming Incidence of HIV in MSM: APCOM Ready to Play a Key Role as Governments and Civil Society in the Region Ponder Urgent Strategies to Tackle the Crisis
New Delhi/Beijing/Bangkok – Today, on World AIDS Day 2007, hundreds, perhaps thousands, of men who have sex with men (MSM) will become infected with HIV in cities across the Asia Pacific, becoming the latest statistics in an almost unrecognized but ever-growing crisis that many governments in the region are only just beginning to grapple with. As these efforts take shape, the Asia Pacific Coalition on Male Sexual Health (APCOM) is offering its partnership to develop and support new strategies aimed at tackling this regional challenge. Paradoxically, it may be more challenging for APCOM to draw attention to the MSM HIV issue. The recent adjustment downwards of global HIV and AIDS figures has been construed in some quarters as an indication that the AIDS crisis has been “exaggerated” all along. However, APCOM and the stakeholders it represents are urging the Asia Pacific region, and indeed the world, not to confuse the true picture.
Most MSM who contract HIV today in city after city in the Asia Pacific region will never know they harbour the virus until they become ill with advanced symptoms. Without that knowledge, they probably will not change the very behaviours that put them, as well as their partners and loved ones, at risk. A recent survey in a major Asian capital suggested as many as 32% of MSM there are HIV positive. In other cities across the region, HIV infection rates for MSM range from estimates anywhere from 5% to 15% or 20% and higher.
“Despite MSM having higher infection rates than the general adult population, the financial investment for HIV prevention, care and support services for this marginalized group across the Asia Pacific is abysmally low in national HIV and AIDS programme planning, usually between zero and four percent,” says Shivananda Khan, APCOM Chairperson and CEO of Naz Foundation International. “Less than one in ten MSM in the region have access to any sort of HIV services, woefully short of the eight in ten that UNAIDS describes as optimal coverage necessary for high-risk groups. Is it any surprise then that we really don’t have a clear picture of the true extent of the HIV crisis affecting men who have sex with men?”
Edmund Settle, HIV/AIDS Programme Manager for UNDP China, concurs. “You’ve got these really alarming statistics of ten, 20, 30 percent HIV infection rates among MSM in some major cities, but when you ask whether this picture holds true across other urban centres, or even in suburban or rural areas, the answer’s not at all simple. It ranges from `Yes, it’s somewhat likely’ to `Well, we’re not really certain.’ Still, we do know more today than just a couple of years ago.”
That growing clarity comes from a recent review of available data, soon to be released by UNAIDS, that describes the epidemiology of HIV and sexually transmitted infections (STI), and behaviours of MSM in the Asia Pacific region that put them at considerable risk of HIV and STI. As the paper states: “Severe and established HIV epidemics are found among MSM in some countries while imminent or beginning HIV epidemics were observed in others.” The review also recommends ways to change policy and programming that would confront this challenge and help improve the situation.
“This collection of data in the upcoming review allows us to highlight more accurately than before the extent of the HIV scenario vis-à-vis MSM in our region,” according to Geoff Manthey , Regional Advisor on MSM for Asia Pacific UNAIDS Regional Support Team (RST-AP). “It also comes at a most opportune time, with the recent creation of the Asia Pacific Coalition on Male Sexual Health. We hope that the work of APCOM, and its strength in bringing together representatives from governments, the UN system, donors and NGOs side by side with affected communities will finally make the difference in creating a truly regional strategy to address the MSM HIV crisis — and yes, even though it’s an overused word or sounds like a cliché, this is a crisis, make no mistake about that.”
In 2006, a year before APCOM’s creation, JVR Prasada Rao, director of UNAIDS RST-AP, had warned that “data in Asia show that without interventions, male to male sex will become one of the main sources of new HIV infections in the region,” He added, “We are facing a public health crisis, but you would never know it from the region’s almost invisible response so far” — a fact supported by a UNAIDS report published this past August, Men who have sex with men — the missing piece in national responses to AIDS in Asia and the Pacific.
The China Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CCDC) recently stated that HIV prevention for MSM was the latest hurdle for the government’s drive to curb a fast-rising AIDS epidemic. In fact, China — the world’s most populous nation — was the first country in the region to issue a specific national framework on MSM and HIV, which calls for urgent efforts to engage civil society in a concerted effort to reach out to men who have sex with men. China recently reported that male to male sexual transmission now accounts for 12.5 percent of new HIV cases in 2007, up from 2.5 percent in 2005.
Reflecting the growing regional awareness for enhanced surveillance that incorporates epidemiology as well as sociocultural awareness, the Center for HIV/AIDS/STI (CHAS) in Laos PDR has conducted the first survey of HIV among MSM in Laos and will soon be releasing the results. As governments and health partners across the Asia Pacific wake up to the realization that national HIV prevention strategies must include a significant MSM component, APCOM and its partners stand ready to support and strengthen such approaches.
“All of these surveys, these papers, these data and statistics represent hope that our region is making a breakthrough,” says Dede Oetomo, who sits on APCOM’s interim governing board and is a noted long-time gay activist in Indonesia , a country with limited but successful and well-documented results in HIV and STI prevention among MSM. “However, the good work that’s emerged in recent times also serves as a warning that the hard work now really begins. With the multisectoral strength that APCOM provides, we are poised to finally reach out to MSM groups in a way that hasn’t been possible before. It’s an important, exciting time — full of challenges, yet full of promise. Let’s go forward now and get the work done.”
Shivananda Khan / New Delhi : +91 98392 21091 (mobile) Paul Causey / Bangkok : +66 81 984 6515 (mobile) Edmund Settle / Beijing : +86 1391 136 3025 (mobile) Geoff Manthey / Bangkok : +66 81 870 2175 (mobile)
A concept that grew out of the mounting HIV crisis in MSM populations across the Asia Pacific, APCOM was formally launched in July 2007. APCOM is a direct outcome of the Male Sexual Health and HIV in Asia and the Pacific International Consultation held in New Delhi in late 2006. This three-day consultation brought together community members, government officials, policy makers and researchers to provide an opportunity to inform and develop strategic advocacy initiatives on key policy issues concerning MSM and the transgender community.
Opened to regional and sub-regional networks, as well as national networks and individual organizations, APCOM is governed by a 19-member Governing Board comprised of community representatives from 7 Asia Pacific sub-regions: the Pacific (including New Zealand), South Asia (including Mongolia but excluding India), Greater Mekong (GMS), South East Asia (excluding GMS), Developed Asia (Japan, South Korea, Singapore, Taiwan, Hong Kong and Australia), China and India. In addition, the board will consist of representatives from the transgender community, government sector, donors and a communication advisor.
UNAIDS, UNDP and UNESCO will support APCOM as technical advisors.
A coalition of governments, UN partners, donors, NGOs and populations that are directly affected by the AIDS epidemic, APCOM’s goals are ambitious but have been meticulously planned. Through increased participation and MSM representation in regional and global bodies and conferences, APCOM will seek to scale up and increase attention to the needs of MSM in general and HIV issues in particular. Forums that APCOM has been, or will be, represented at include ASEAN ministerial meetings, ICAAP-9 and the 2008 International AIDS Conference in Mexico .
By the leveraging of technical assistance, support and mentoring to MSM HIV projects, state and national governments and to existing technical assistance facilities, as well as by identifying and assisting the development of MSM and HIV networks, APCOM will strengthen community work and help partnerships so that work can be shared and improved upon.
With the current vacuum of data on MSM and HIV in Asia (although recent surveys and reports are gradually filling some gaps), a critical role for APCOM is to assess and track — country by country — both the degree and quality of inclusion of MSM and HIV issues, and to report on national AIDS plans. All the while, APCOM will seek to promote the principles of good practice and lessons learnt to policy makers, service providers and MSM based on qualitative research and cost effective studies.
An APCOM website is being developed to serve as a focal point for information and examples of good practice, a repository of research papers with practical applications as well as publications for anyone interested in the issues of HIV and MSM, including academics, policy makers and members of the MSM community itself. The website will also be an online governance tool for APCOM’s trustees and for its members. APCOM will work with UNESCO in the creation of a companion website envisioned to be a clearing house for state-of-the-art information, BCC/IEC materials and research data on MSM and HIV (particularly in the Asia Pacific). The APCOM website, scheduled to be online in early 2008, will be located at www.msmasia.org.
APCOM’s temporary office is based in New Delhi .
Aditya Bondyopadhyay, Secretariat Coordinato
December 10, 2007
Renown gay Australian researcher, Peter Jackson, opens archive of Thai gay culture and literature
by Peter Jackson, as told to Isabel Berwick
In 1983 I was an Australian PhD student visiting Thailand to do research on Buddhism when, by chance, the first Thai-language gay magazine appeared on the newsstands. I bought it, and since then I have built up a personal collection of about 2,000 Thai gay magazines. Now, with funding from the Australian Research Council, I am developing an archive in Bangkok of gay culture and literature.
I am doing this to give something back to the Thai gay and transgender community, whose members I have been interviewing and studying for the past 25 years. I am an associate professor in Thai history at the Australian National University, and the archive will help younger gay and transgender people in Thailand, now in their 20s and 30s, who want to study their own history. The magazines are a unique record of how gay culture has developed in Thailand.
My aim is to develop the Thai Queer Resources Centre as an archive that can eventually be donated to a university in Thailand for safekeeping. There’s a rich history in these magazines, and apart from a few private collectors in Thailand, no-one has kept them. The police regularly destroy gay magazines – as supposedly pornographic – and mount raids on newsstands.
The previous political regime of Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra had conservative moral policies, and magazines and other gay businesses were often raided. Somewhat ironically, since the military coup that overthrew Thaksin in September 2006, the climate for homosexual people has improved markedly. There’s been a boom in gay businesses, including new gay magazines.
We have put ads in the gay press and on gay websites, asking people to donate magazines to our archive, and we have used the network of people working in gay rights and HIV prevention NGOs (non governmental organisations) in Thailand to get the message out. I have been stunned by the positive response, and by the sense of community history they have. So far we haven’t had to pay for any of the several hundred magazines that have been donated.
There are many people in Bangkok who collect gay magazines. One man rolled up in a taxi with three huge boxes – he had kept them in a storeroom for years. One closeted man e-mailed, saying he lived with his parents in the suburbs and they had no idea he was gay. He said it was fine to go and pick up his collection, but asked that nobody came in drag, which would have given the game away.
I now have an assistant working full-time on archiving the magazines. She’s the first transgendered academic in Thailand and it hasn’t been easy for her to get a job. I really hope she can get a teaching job in Thailand. Things are changing, slowly, and in 2005 I organised the first international conference of Asian Queer Studies in Bangkok.
We had Ford Foundation support and more than 500 registrations, 80 per cent of them from Asia. It’s encouraging, but we have a long way to go to get acceptance in Thai universities for gay, lesbian and transgender history. I wrote one of the first books on Thai gay history, 20 years ago, and I now get e-mails from many Thai students who want to study the subject, but who can’t find a supervisor in Thailand.
The archive is part of my wider research looking at capitalism and gay history in Thailand. A lot of people look at the politics of gay issues but relatively few investigate the history of the gay scene. The truth is that without these spaces – the bars and saunas, and the magazines sold and given away in those places – there would have been nowhere for gay people to meet. Businesses and entrepreneurs have been vital in the emergence of gay history, and have often been brave in the face of official opposition and police raids.
I hope I can preserve that history, and pass it on to the next generation