February 27, 2004
Thais Better Know Where Their Children Are–Curfews are back
by Seth Mydans in Bangkok
Imagine a city where bars, nightclubs and even movie theaters shut down early, where young people are off the streets by curfew, where universities stage surprise drug tests and where a woman cannot enter a restaurant without a male escort. That wouldn’t be the racy, all-night Bangkok that people like to call "fun city." But it is Bangkok – and the rest of Thailand – as imagined by powerful government reformers who have already begun to put a crimp in the fun. Nearly three years ago, they began what they call a "social order" campaign, enforcing a 2 a.m. closing time that nobody had ever bothered about and by raiding nightspots and testing customers for drugs.
To almost everyone’s surprise, the politically popular campaign has persisted despite the resistance of powerful businessmen and the complaints of Western tourists. Now the screws are beginning to tighten. On March 1, most nightclubs, bars and discos will have their closing times moved back to midnight, one of the most stringent curfews in Asia. After March 29, under another new regulation, all youngsters under 18 will have to be off the streets by 10 p.m. unless they are with their parents. This month the Interior Ministry announced a 100-fold increase in license fees that, if put into effect, is sure to put scores of restaurants, ballrooms, massage parlors and other entertainment places out of business.
With Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra intimidating the press; packing the courts, the police and the military; and all but eliminating political opposition, and with social order added to the mix, Thailand could begin to be a somewhat different place. There are those, indeed, who warn of a creeping dictatorship as the popular and powerful prime minister moves systematically to bring the country into his grip. "There is a very troubling hint of a yearning to gradually turn Thailand into a police state," wrote Pravit Rojanaphruk, a political commentator, in the English-language daily The Nation last week.
"The state is now trying to become big brother, and if this occurs without any resistance from both young and old it is not too far-fetched to imagine that the government will impose more measures dictating how people should or should not behave." Government officials are not shy about saying pretty much the same thing. "I want my children to grow up in a polite, peaceful and orderly society," said Purachai Piemsomboon, a former interior minister who instituted the crackdown, in a television interview last year.
Curiously, polite and orderly Singapore is moving in the opposite direction. Last summer the police announced that bars would be allowed to stay open around the clock and that patrons could dance on tabletops. As soon as it was started, Thailand’s campaign was widely popular, with polls showing that 70 percent of the public backed it. For the moment, Mr. Purachai, became the most popular politician in the country. "Students are reveling without a limit," he said. "Dancing is not dirty, but how they behave matters. They must not have sex in lifts or toilets. That’s pathetic." This is a time of wrenching change in Thailand as traditional social and family structures give way to the modern world. Mr. Purachai was voicing the fears of many people who see their country, and their children, running out of control. On the other hand, there are critics who say Mr. Purachai and his fellow reformers have gone a bit out of control themselves.
At one point, a police district in Bangkok, resurrecting a long-forgotten law, ordered entertainment places to turn away any women who tried to enter without a male escort. "If a girl walks alone in an isolated place police have to check on her," Mr. Purachai said, although the orders are never likely to be enforced. "This isn’t infringement but a precaution." Early last year, the police raided movie theaters in a shopping mall and ordered them to close at midnight, citing an old martial law curfew that was still on the books. "Although the law was established 30 years ago, it is still practical, especially for today’s generation, who face too many temptations," said Somchai Petprasert, a police colonel working as an adviser to the Education Ministry.
It is only a little more than a decade since Thailand was ruled by generals, and the rights and freedoms of its democracy are still fragile. It was only at the end of 1997 that these were codified in a new Constitution. Mr. Thaksin’s six-year-old government has been systematically rolling back those reforms, weakening safeguards against corruption and electoral fraud, muzzling government critics and using economic pressure to stifle the press. Public morals and social behavior may prove to be a greater challenge, though. There is a forlorn hope that the problems of a changing society can be corralled by crackdowns. "We are helping them keep their virginity," explained Nikhom Jarumanee, an Education Ministry official, when an experimental curfew was tried on Valentine’s Day two years ago. Plenty of people here think this is balderdash. The Bangkok Post, an English-language daily, summed up the mood in a sarcastic headline last week: "Lock Up the Young, This Is Thailand."
25 March 2004
The Story We Never Dreamed We Would Have to Publish
News travels fast and you may already have heard that our two offices in Bangkok were raided by Thai law enforcement authorities on Friday, 19 March 2004. Computers and administrative files were removed. Except for our female bookkeeper and and Douglas (who was at an outside meeting), everyone who was in the office at the time was detained. Virtually all of the items removed from our offices were returned later in the day.
Following a sensational news conference staged by Thai immigration police on Saturday morning, 20 March, six Thai newspapers published separate accounts of the incident. All of these stories included sweeping inaccuracies and some were filled with total fabrications. The stories claimed that a variety of very serious charges had been filed. In actuality, no charges had yet been brought against anyone at the time of the news conference.
Later on Saturday, some allegedly-obscene items were found in the home of our director Robert, who was later charged with "cooperating in the trade of obscene materials." A management trainee was charged with a work permit violation which was quickly resolved. Our partner John was also taken into custody for a work permit technicality (which was later dropped) but was subsequently charged along with Robert even though there was no evidence of any crime. He has since been released and it appears that no charges will be brought against him.
We have not seen any of the alleged evidence against Robert, so we can not comment or speculate. However, we believe that the raid on our company was entirely due to an investigation of charges against Robert, which originated at the Australian embassy in Bangkok, and that the other members of our corporate family were unfortunately swept up into this inquiry.
(Robert is a former high-ranking Australian diplomat who has lived in Southeast Asia for almost 25 years.) Robert remains in custody.
Robert has resigned from all positions he held within the company. Utopia Tours has neither been accused of nor charged with any crime whatsoever. We are open for business as usual and there has been no interruption in customer service. Our customer data remains under lock and key. Future reservations are not in jeopardy.
Those who know us personally or have been our customers know that offering positive alternatives to sex tourism is the very foundation of our business. We are not now nor have we ever been involved in prostitution, the production or distribution of pornography, or in the exploitation of children in any way. Although other companies have been tempted to use sex to attract customers, we have deliberately kept our standards high and our hands clean. Everyone knows that. To suggest that Utopia Tours has behaved in any way that is unethical or morally irresponsible is simply untrue.
April 16, 2004
Film Tells of Kickboxer Who Had Sex Change
Singapore (AP) – A film about a real-life champion Thai kickboxer who hung up his gloves to undergo a sex change operation has meant more than box-office receipts to its subject – it’s given her peace of mind. The recent Thai release of "Beautiful Boxer," a dramatic film about her life as a transvestite and transsexual, has helped people understand the tough choices she’s made in her life, former prizefighter Parinya Charoenphol said at a news conference Wednesday. "After the movie came out, it seemed like people could now understand the reasons why I made certain decisions," Parinya said through a Thai translator, referring to the sex change operation she underwent in 1999.
"They have given me a lot of encouragement," said Parinya, decked out in a white satin blouse, floral skirt and sharp-toed boots.
Parinya has been offered several acting roles and has accepted parts in four Thai television soap operas and an action movie. "Beautiful Boxer" opens in Singapore on April 29.
June 21, 2004
School gives transvestites own restroom
Bangkok, Thailand – Snubbed by both men and women, transvestite students at the Chiang Mai Technology School just wanted a restroom to call their own – and were granted their wish. Dubbed the Pink Lotus Bathroom, the facility is exclusively for the school’s 15 transvestite students and features four stalls, but no urinals. On the door hangs a sign with intertwined male and female symbols. "They would come in the morning and use the women’s bathrooms, but the women were annoyed, didn’t like it or played pranks on them," said Posaporn Promprakai, registrar of the school in Chiang Mai province, about 360 miles north of Bangkok. The transvestites – who must wear male attire at school but are allowed to sport girlie hairdos – switched to the men’s bathrooms, only to run into more trouble.
"The men teased them, chased them, and they came screaming and in tears again," Posaporn told The Associated Press. So Posaporn designated a lavatory just for them, telling the vocational school’s 1,500 students to just use their own restrooms. The transvestite bathroom opened last fall, but this week attracted the notice of local media. Gays, cross-dressers and transsexuals are generally accepted in easygoing Thai society. "We don’t support their decision to be transvestites. We are just trying to solve the problems of one group that is unhappy at school," said Posaporn. "They don’t get teased in the bathroom anymore. They’re much happier."
June 5. 2004
Thailand’s Cultural Ministry "Declares War" on Homosexuals
(English translation from the front page of today’s Thai Rath newspaper)
Cultural Ministry Irate Over Gay Civil Servants, Blaming TV Media as a Distributing Source.
The Cultural Ministry has declared an all-out war on people who have homosexual behaviors, e.g. transvestites, gays, lesbians or dykes. The Deputy Minister has announced that they will absolutely not accept these abnormal people to work in the department. The ministry has prepared to overhaul the system by wiping out civil servants and officials who are either handsome women or queenie men to set it as an example for the society. This changed value of the society is due to the broadcast of transvestite actors by the TV media, causing a fad for people to emulate. The ministry department has started an offensive campaign in disciplining homosexuals as a result of inappropriate behaviors conspicuously displayed through various media which are bad examples for the posterity, by beginning to screen its civil servants and officials.
Mr Kla Somtrakul, Deputy Cultural Minister, revealed on June 3, 2004 that the current campaign against the distribution of pornographic materials is satisfactory. Parents, guardians and students alike have begun to look into this problem caused by pornography, including other resources from the Internet. Another heart-burdening problem is that there is an inappropriate display of affection among homosexual youngsters, be it between women and women, men and men, or gay groups, katoeys, or lesbians regardless of whether they are in public places or workplaces, unashamed of the eyes of others. Also, there seems to be an increasing number of these homosexuals, partly as a result of the media that has become more accepting, especially soap operas with homosexual cast that may set a negative example for children.
The deputy cultural minister was quoted as saying that this homosexual trend has nowadays become a fashion eventuating in youngsters form cliques at various schools fighting over their lovers, the same pattern of delinquency found among university students. Female students fight over other females whereas their male counterparts get into brawls over other males. In addition, many other prostituting homosexual groups negatively affect Thai culture. These behaviors are not normal and although are considered private rights and do not cause trouble to others, they should only be expressed in private places or personal homes and necking, touching or frottage in public places such as Chatuchak park, Lumpini park or Sanam Luang park or even in educational institutes should be avoided.
Although some same-sex groups have quoted the Constitution as granting them rights, the Cultural Department cannot accept it and would like to stand on the opposite side. Mr Kla continued saying that the Cultural Department would take a serious stance on this campaign regarding homosexual behaviors. Although the Department can’t arrest homosexuals or levy any legal punishment on them the same way as other pornographic distributors, it encourages the public to keep the homosexual pandemic under control and prohibit the media from broadcasting any homosexual acts by sending a letter to every TV station for cooperation.
The Cultural Department itself will be stricter in its recruitment policy by not allowing people with homosexual behaviors to work at the department. A stricter recruiting system must be set up because in the past the behaviors of homosexual officials were not initially obvious and it took some time to know their true nature. The Cultural Department should be a role model for the society or else nobody would listen to it any longer if they themselves cultivate these people.
Love, Fantasy, Money and Betrayal– A Sad and True Report
by Martin Foreman
I’ve written about the Little Brother before, but as a bit player. This time I want to place him at the centre of the column. I met him last year shortly after I arrived in Thailand. He was 24, from the North East, good-looking in a wide-eyed innocent way, spending 10 hours a day 6 days a week working in a restaurant. His English was poor and my Thai was non-existent and with dictionaries in hand we would struggle to understand each other. We had almost nothing in common, but he was quiet and friendly and enjoyed each other’s company. He fell in love with me, and though I was flattered, I did not reciprocate – in life I want my partner to be my equal in many ways that he could never be – but the affection we felt for each other was strong enough that we began to call each other brother.
Like many other young men in Bangkok, he was desperately poor – earning 6,000 baht (£90 / $150) a month, out of which he had to pay 2,000 baht rent. That left 4,000. Sometimes he would send his parents 1,000 or more baht, leaving him with no more than 100 baht (£1.50 / $2.50) a day for travel, clothing and of course food. You can survive on such a sum in Bangkok, but only on subsistence level; the luxuries that the rest of us take for granted, such as television and holidays are something you will never have.
There are various options of course. Get a skill – but that costs money and he had already had to give up a vocational course that he could not afford. Go back to the province where you grew up and live with your parents on even life less money. Take up drug-dealing or crime. Or prostitution, formally in the go-go bars where customers pay for an hour or more of your time, or informally hanging around the parks or bars in Silom.
Not that it would have mattered if he did. I have no problem with sex work as long as both partners enter the contract with eyes open. It’s a more honest way of making a living than many others. Unfortunately some clients and pimps and bar owners exploit the young women and men who have few other options in life. And of course some young women, men and transgenders are more interested in taking the money than in giving the service they advertise. And on both sides of the counter there are people who confuse sex with emotion. But to sell yourself you need a certain kind of personality – a brashness, a liking for sex irrespective of your partner’s attractiveness and a willingness to flatter or even lie – and the LB had none of these qualities. It was a lover he wanted, not a bank account.
It took time for me to trust the LB. I’m suspicious by nature and assume that the people I meet, no matter how honest they appear, are as likely to lie as tell the truth. And like many Thais, the LB tends to be secretive and unwilling to talk about himself. But as the months passed and I got to know him and compared him with others of his generation, it became clear that he was what he seemed – a young man from the country with few skills, hoping to improve himself and not quite knowing how. In the words of my mother who met him in February, a gentle, simple soul.
I knew the stories, of course, of wallets left open and becoming suddenly lighter, of innocent-sounding stories of financial difficulties, of strong hints of poverty and "isn’t that shirt nice?" I waited for such events but they never occurred. Instead, I learnt that if the LB said he would do something he would do it, if we were to meet at a certain time, he would always be there, if I gave him money to go shopping, he gave me the change and the receipt unasked. I had friends twice his age who were less reliable. This was someone I knew I could trust.
Of course the fact I had more money than he did was part of my attraction – I paid for us both in restaurants and cinemas and paid his rent when he was out of work – but he never asked for money, was embarrassed when I gave him some, always thanked me when I did and suggested, when he knew my bank account was low, that we should stay in rather than go out, and watch television rather than a film.
As for sex – it stopped at my request when I made it clear that I was not going to spend my life with him. After that he came over twice a week; sometimes to cook and sometimes to go out together to a film or a karaoke bar. As regular readers know, it’s not my favourite form of activity, but he has a good voice and enjoys singing and I can boost my ego by reading the Thai on the screen. At the end of the evening we collapse into bed. He’s usually asleep within five minutes while I read the New Yorker or struggle, for the umpteenth time, to remember the vocabulary in Thai for Beginners.
It was his 25th birthday at the beginning of April. He went home and, after the traditional ceremony in his parents’ house, became a monk – a ritual that only rural Thai men now seem to perform. He first asked me to be there, then decided that he didn’t want his family to know he had a farang friend. They would pressure him to ask me for money – something that he didn’t want to do. So I wished him well; he returned a month later, half ashamed of his still short hair, happy and proud of the photos that showed him shaven-headed, yellow-robed and surrounded by family and neighbours.
To become a monk – something he did more for his parents than for himself, although he admitted enjoying the experience – he had had to leave the restaurant. Back in Bangkok he was jobless. I encouraged him to find part-time work that would give him time to take a course in some skill, that would improve his earning potential. He tried 7-Eleven, Tesco Lotus and every range of shop along Rama IV and Sukhumvit Roads, getting interviews in chains as disparate as opticians and sports clothing. But there are thousands of jobless young people in the city and nothing came his way. He began to get downhearted and talked of going home.
In the meantime I had helped him to set up a profile on gaydar (a dating site, for the uninformed among you). It was ideal for someone who could offer and receive affection but who did not like the bars in Silom where potential mates could be found. So he went online with pictures that were pensive and erotic and the messages began to flow. The first week he received 20 messages, but too shy or uncertain, he replied to none. Gradually and with my help – he was mostly online in my apartment at times when I was glad to push the computer aside – he learned to respond to those that interested him and click No Thanks to the rest.
His English is poor and he has little to offer except enthusiasm. But to some that is an attractive combination and to them he gave his Hotmail address. And so correspondence began with half a dozen men. Often they would proclaim their love and affection, and he – never the first to initiate such emotion – would reply in kind. I did not see all the e-mails, but he would sometimes ask my opinion of someone’s face or their letter. Always sceptical, I was torn between wanting to protect him and reluctance to malign men that I had never met. I pointed out those who only wanted sex and tried to be diplomatic about those who seemed too good – or too naive – to be true. If he asked me what to write, I would return the question: “what do you think? do you like him? do you want to meet him?” and leave him to make his own decision.
He met some men he had corresponded with, but often he canceled at the last moment. That irritated me, because it was like condemning people before meeting them, but I accepted it as part of his basically shy personality. He told me a little about those he did meet, a USAmerican and an Austrian and others whose nationality he did not remember, mostly farang, but also at least one Thai. Some obviously met him and decided that there was no spark between them; others were more interested but in his eyes they were too old or he didn’t quite trust them .
Others wrote from abroad, claiming they would be in Bangkok on a certain date. One – Barrie from Spain – hearing of his problems in finding work, claimed to send him 1,000 baht (£15); neither I nor the LB were surprised when the money never arrived. Then there was Kevin Roberts, a Brit whose e-mails became more and more romantic and who offered him 30,000 baht (£450 / $750) if the LB would spend a month as his companion and guide when he came to Thailand for a month. The LB showed me the letter and asked me if it was true; my first thought was the man was a fool if having read the LB’s e-mails he thought he would be a good translator.
I told the LB that Roberts was probably willing to give him 30,000 baht if he fell in love with him, but if they met and did not like each other, the promise would be worth no more than the cyberspace it was written on. Or Roberts would spend the month with him and then find an excuse not to pay. Or, to give him the benefit of the doubt, Roberts could have been a lonely individual genuinely looking for comfort; it would not be the first time that money was offered for companionship – until our grandparents’ day it was the foundation for most middle-class marriages. And so the LB wrote back non-committedly. He explained – several times – that he was afraid they might not like each other. Roberts reassured him. The LB pointed out that he might not be free because he was looking for work; several times Roberts mentioned a friend called Edward who had a restaurant in Bangkok and who would try to help him. Not sure what to believe, but excited at the thought that someone might be coming halfway round the world just to see him. the LB looked forward to meeting him.
And so on 16th June, carrying a large sign with Roberts’ name that I had made for him, he set off for the airport. At 4.30, 90 minutes after the plane had landed, he called to say there was no sign of the man who had wooed him and that he had not answered the Thai phone number he (Roberts) had given him. I was disappointed but not surprised and suggested he come home soon. If there was a problem and Roberts was genuine, he would telephone.
Of course, dear reader, you have guessed that not only did "Kevin Roberts" not telephone, but he did not even exist. He was not registered at the hotel where he had said he would stay and the phone number he had given was answered by a woman who spoke neither English nor Thai. The LB, depressed at the thought that someone who had said he had loved him (read the e-mails here) did not exist, did the best thing in such circumstances: got drunk on two Bacardi Breezers while watching a DVD, went to bed and fell into a deep sleep. The next day, he cursed "Roberts" a couple of times then put him out of his mind.
I, meanwhile, was curious. I sent "Roberts" an e-mail which was as pompous as I was irritated, demanding an explanation for his behaviour. The response was less reasoned than emotional, as the following extract shows (emphasis and colour as in the original, which you can read here):
" I have a feeling I know your adoptive brother better than you, he is a thief ‘did you know that’???, he also likes to extract money and play on the emotions of older men as well, I guess you enabled him to do that by teaching him the rudiments of Computers when setting him up with an E mail address, what for?? Well he thought MONEY MONEY MONEY. £, $, bahts, any currency actually.
" It was his [LB]’s greed that took him to BKK Airport, and nothing else, Read those E mails again, he is a prostitute, nothing more, nothing less."
It went on a similar vein (you can read the whole correspondence by clicking on the link above), and ended (emphasis as in the original): " I loathe the name Kevin, that’s why I chose it. I shall doubtless see him again soon. " One wonders if you are actually deluded???? but only you can seriously answer that question. " George Fred Mathew Edward David John Peter ?????? = Take your pick."
I assumed that "Roberts" was someone familiar with Thailand who had been on the receiving end of Thai deception in the past and who was taking his revenge on a stranger he had met on the internet. The correspondence continued for a couple of days. I repeated brief requests for information and received similarly unfocused replies rejoicing in the hurt that he had caused the LB (the hurt had lasted approximately 24 hours). I gave him the opportunity to apologise and donate 30,000 baht to the Thai Red Cross. I was not surprised to receive what was becoming a familiar litany, similar to a child thumbing his nose and going "nyah nyah nyah".
But I am, if nothing else, a fair man, and if someone makes accusations, no matter how ludicrous, the evidence should be looked at.
First the suggestion that the LB was only interested in MONEY, MONEY, MONEY. The reality is that "Roberts" mentioned money in one e-mail and hinted at other presents a couple of times, but in the vast majority of his e-mails, love and affection was the dominant message. And when the LB told him again and again that he needed to find work. "Roberts" repeatedly reassured him that this friend Edward would help him. In other words, the accusation of prostitution was based on the LB responding to offers of affection and help.
More than once I asked "Roberts" for his name – I did not get it – and for facts – I did not get these either. Instead the allegations got more colourful in every sense of the word: "Why not ask your adoptive brother to tell you what he does when he enters Internets cafes, similar to a cat that sits around the House all day and turns into the veritable Tiger when let out, he preys on farangs, something you allowed him to do when you set him up with those E mail accounts". I laughed at that one, the image was so incongruous, as I did when I was accused of being a "PIMP". ("Roberts" didn’t seem to understand that to be a pimp, I would actually have to receive money from the LB.)
" Roberts" had one card that he tried to play – the 1,000 baht from "Barrie" that never arrived was supposed to be proof of the LB’s greed. I doubt the money was sent, but if it was, it landed, in the hands not of the LB but of one of the office managers or several hundred tenants who share his building… Meanwhile, real evidence of the LB’s purported dishonesty and perfidy, like "Roberts"’ real name, never came.
It is theoretically possible that "Roberts" was right. I do not spend my days following the LB and out of my sight he might, Clark Kent-like, transform into a "veritable Tiger", but if he does, he is an actor on a par with the best. And so the LB could be as rapacious as "Roberts" suggests, but by the same logic, my elderly mother probably spends her days wandering the streets of Edinburgh pickpocketing from tourists and my Ex in London finances a cocaine habit through pornographic videos. Common sense – not to mention justice – tells me that if I have to choose between nine months’ evidence of my own eyes and ears – or half a dozen anonymous e-mails from someone who takes delight in hurting strangers, I know which I believe.
I tried other means of giving "Roberts" the benefit of the doubt. I shared the correspondence with friends, some of whom know the LB. Their reactions varied from mild amusement – why should "Roberts" waste so much time on being petty? – to outrage that someone could be such a <insert French accent> "bitch". But even they could be biased – after all, they are my friends. So, dear reader (and I know from past comments that not all of you will be sympathetic), I leave it to you to judge. Read the correspondence and you decide who to praise and who to blame.
I suspect, however, that most of you will react in the same as I did. We accept that there are some bastards in this world and on the internet – Thai or farang, young or old – and move on. They’re one of the inconveniences in life like a missed plane or stolen phone. Be grateful we don’t come across them too often. And some good came out of it; the LB learned not to trust people without good reason and I got a column out of the incident.
Since then, the LB has found himself a part-time job in the same restaurant chain he worked for before. His gaydar profile is still there and he continues to meet people – although he has a habit of asking to see the passports of those he is suspicious of. After all, he has nothing to hide or be ashamed of, and neither do the honest people he meets. It’s only “Roberts”, it seems, who is ashamed of both his real and fake names.
If you can be bothered, read the "Kevin Roberts" letters at click here.
July 4, 2004
Gay activists form political movement, plan talks with governor hopefuls
by Thanyaporn Kunakornpaiboonsiri, The Nation
The Homosexual Political Group of Thailand (HPGT), the first political movement for Thai gays and lesbians, will hold a series of meetings with gubernatorial contenders, asking them to make space for homosexual issues in their campaigns. The first of these meetings will be tomorrow, with massage-parlour tycoon Chuwit Kamolvisit, followed by a session with Democratic candidate Apirak Kosayodhin on Wednesday. The HPGT was officially formed last week and includes many homosexual networks such as the Lesla group, the Rainbow Sky Association of Thailand, the Sapaan group, Bangkok Rainbow and the Bangkok Gay Festival. The movement aims to improve homosexual rights in society and develop into a voice for homosexuals in the political arena.
After Natee Teerarojjanapongs announced his entry into the Senate race, many homosexual organisations banded together to support and further the gay, lesbian, bisexual and transvestite political movement. "This is not a political party. We are first of all creating a solid voting base," said Munthana Adisayathepkul, founder of the lesbian Lesla group and a key member of HPGT. She added that the Bangkok gubernatorial election would be the first test of HPGT’s influence. "I believe we could count on 300,000 votes nationwide under our network," said Munthana. She added that the movement’s political objectives included normalising the status of homosexuals by distributing factual information about the community to society.
"If we have our people in any political positions, they can be our spokespersons and give expert and accurate information to the media and the public," said Munthana. Natee said he wanted gubernatorial candidates to add homosexual issues to their policy platforms. He said he accepted that not every candidate would have comprehensive knowledge of gays and lesbians and that the public received a negative image of homosexuals from the media.
"We should take this chance to inform them," said Natee. The Senate hopeful wants Bangkok’s next governor to put homosexual representatives on governor-appointed teams, particularly those that deal with homosexual-related issues. He also wants the incoming governor to set up a library that will educate the public on gay, lesbian, bisexual and transvestite topics. Chantalak Raksayoo of the Sapaan Group said the new homosexual political movement was not just about fielding homosexual candidates in elections but also supporting candidates and political parties with homosexual-friendly policies. She admitted that the ultimate political goal of the HPGT was legal marriage certificates for homosexual couples.
"But that’s really a long-term objective, because there are a lot of Acts that still discriminate against the fundamental rights of homosexual people," she said. Kamolset Kanggerprar, secretary-general of the Rainbow Sky Association of Thailand, said that given the widespread public misapprehension he would support any candidate who understood homosexual people. Pakorn Pimton, president and organiser of the Bangkok Gay Festival, wants to see a Gay Association of Thailand set up that will give the public information about homosexuals and HIV/Aids protection. He also wants gay studies added to school curricula. But first he wants the next Bangkok governor to cooperate with the next Bangkok Gay Festival.
"The Bangkok Gay Festival is one of the world’s three best gay festivals, but it’s never received any recognition from either the authorities or the Tourist Authority of Thailand, even though it generates huge income and draws many tourists every year," said Pakorn.
July 16, 2004
World AIDS Meet Ends With Dire Warnings on Humanity’s Worst Pandemic
by Emma Ross
Bangkok – Nelson Mandela said he “cannot rest” until the world turns the tide against the HIV pandemic, as delegates concluded the biggest-ever AIDS conference Friday, highlighting the soaring infections among women and warning of explosive epidemics in Asia.
Much of the six-day conference on humanity’s worst pandemic focused on the politics of getting more life-saving anti-retroviral medicine to the millions of HIV-infected people who need it in the developing world, especially in Africa. The United States _ the most generous donor nation on AIDS _ came under intense criticism at the 15th International AIDS Conference for its drug-funding policy and for tying much of its money to programs that emphasize abstinence over the trusted HIV-blocking method of using condoms.
Democracy icon Mandela joined UN Secretary General Kofi Annan in delivering vigorous calls for more donations to UN efforts to fight the disease. Software magnate Bill Gates’s foundation and the European Union announced new grants totalling $102 million US ($135 million Cdn). Mandela, who turns 86 on Sunday, took the podium of the Friday’s closing ceremony to the ululation of women in the audience, and asked the world to: “allow me to enjoy my retirement by showing that you can rise to the challenge.” “I cannot rest until I am certain that the global response is sufficient to turn the tide of the epidemic,” Mandela said. “History will surely judge us harshly if we do not respond with all the energy and resources that we can bring to bear in the fight against HIV/AIDS,” the former South African president said.
This year’s conference, drawing nearly 20,000 scientists, policy-makers, HIV-infected people and their advocates, not only boosted awareness of HIV but raised the accountability of world leaders, said Mechai Viravaidya, the most prominent AIDS campaigner in host country Thailand. “The message is clear: Leaders watch out. We are going to come after you. The media and the people who are involved are going to say, `What’s your commitment?”’ Mechai said. “How can you afford to let your people become sick and die in larger numbers than by so-called enemies in wars?”
The most-anticipated breakthrough on AIDS _ a vaccine _ remained elusive. Experts called for urgent work and more funding on alternatives for prevention in the interim, including HIV-killing gels to protect women who lack the power to insist their sex partners use condoms. “Gender inequality is driving new infections among women and girls like never before,” Irene Khan, secretary general of Amnesty International, told the last plenary session of the conference. An estimated 38 million people are infected with HIV, 25 million of them in sub-Saharan Africa. Experts say nearly half of all people with HIV now are women, and their infection rates in many regions are climbing much faster than men’s. In the Caribbean, for example, 70 per cent of new infections are in women.
In Asia, 7.2 million people are infected, and epidemiologists at the conference warned that much of the region faces a critical watershed with infections spreading from injecting drug users to sex workers. Prostitution is considered the main engine of spread for Asia, many experts said, warning that epidemics could explode unless condom use is boosted. "Now, hopefully, the painful lessons that we have learned will put us in better stead for the Asian experience,” said Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of U.S. National Institute for Allergy and Infectious Diseases.
Since the last AIDS conference in Barcelona, Spain, in 2002, the number of people being treated for the disease has doubled in the developing world to 440,000. In that same time span, six million people died from the virus and 10 million more became infected, WHO figures show.
The next conference is to be held in Toronto in 2006.
Only about seven per cent of the six million people in poor countries who urgently need anti-retroviral treatment are getting it, and there has been no overall improvement in the proportion of people getting treatment and prevention versus the total number infected, the United Nations says. "We are all going to walk away from this meeting knowing that we have a long way to go with regard to access, because the countries that have the greatest need still have the least access,” Fauci said. U.S. President George W. Bush in 2002 launched a $15 billion US AIDS-fighting plan, mainly directed toward 14 countries in Africa and the Caribbean, plus Vietnam. Critics say the United States should instead give much of that money to the UN-sponsored Global Fund, which reaches out to 128 countries.
The U.S. money comes with strings attached _ one-third of the money earmarked for prevention goes to abstinence-first programs. Also, the money can currently only buy brand name drugs, made by companies in rich countries, shutting out cheaper generic medicines from countries such as India, Brazil and Thailand. Global Fund money can go toward generic drugs. Activists launched daily protests against U.S. President George W. Bush’s stance on AIDS, shouting slogans such as "Bush lies. Condoms save lives.”
30 July 2004
Thai group launches <absurd> bid to stop Singapore from snatching its pink dollars
Bangkok– Thailand’s gay community has launched a political lobby group to try and stop the kingdom’s title as Asia’s pink tourism capital being snatched by Singapore. Thailand boasts Asia’s largest annual Mardi-Gras festival, as well as the most vibrant and open gay club scene and annual gay beauty pageant. However, wedged between conservative Malaysia and Indonesia, Singapore has been forging a reputation as the new Asian hot spot for gay holiday-makers. The island state has experienced a boom in gay clubs following a change in attitude towards the pink dollar in the late 1990s.
Ms Munthana Adisayathepkul, the head of Thailand’s leading lesbian group and a key member of the Homosexual Political Group of Thailand (HPGT), said Singapore had become a dangerous competitor to Thailand. "Singapore is trying to make itself the centre of gays and lesbians in Asia … and we are trying to get the government to support us fight this shift," she said. Prominent Thai gay activist, Mr Natee Teerarojjanapongs – the first openly gay Thai to run for a senate seat – said government support would be crucial if Thailand is to remain as Asia’s key holiday destination for homosexuals.
"If we want to be a gay paradise, the government has to support gay groups as it will draw a lot of tourists and income to the country," he said. Mr Natee also said it is the kingdom’s fundamental atmosphere of tolerance, not just mega-events, which still sets it apart from other Asian destinations. "Even though they (Singapore) have strong laws they want to trade on the success that comes with staging a famous gay parade," he said. The bars and cafes in Bangkok’s bustling and neon-lit gay entertainment area are packed with tourists enjoying the city’s unbridled gay night life, but operators say they are far from complacent."It is possible that Singapore will be the next gay capital as it is more open to gays," said Mr Panuwat Jaykong, the manager of Telephone, one of Bangkok’s best known bars. "The number of Singaporean and Hong Kong visitors has fallen by 20 to 30 per cent over the past few months after the Thai government said it did not support gays’ activities," he said.
A spokesman for Asia’s largest and oldest gay holiday firm, Utopia Tours, also said it was the lack of government support rather than the allure of Singapore that is the main threat to the industry. But the head of Bangkok’s gay festival, Mr Pakorn Pimton, rejected the need for official support. "They do not have to support us – just don’t ban us," he said. "Singapore as Asia’s gay capital? Forget it. Their parade and other activities are still far behind Thailand," he said.
Sex: Younger and More often in Thailand
by Martin Foreman
Chiang Rai, Thailand: Way up at the northern tip of Thailand, where it leans against Laos and Burma and where you can follow the Mekong a few miles upstream into China, lies the rural province of Chiang Rai. Narrow roads wind over rolling green hills where only a few years ago opium was the primary cash crop. Most of the harvest has moved over the border into Burma but here and there relics remain, like the expensive houses scattered amongst villages, faded posters from the Thai government’s War on Drugs and the Opium Museum in the town of Sop Ruak, which both honours and denigrates the world’s most famous drug.
Chiang Rai is one of the six provinces that comprise Upper Northern Thailand. Two hundred kilometres to the south lies Chiang Mai, for centuries the capital of the kingdom of Lan Na (“A Million Ricefields”) which was only fully integrated into Thailand in the last century. To the foreigner’s eye, the differences between the Upper North and the rest of Thailand are minimal, but to the native they are keenly felt, from local traditions to local dialect, local artisanship to local diet. And do not forget the few thousand members of hill-tribes, frequently denied Thai citizenship, who survive at subsistence level or as marionettes for tourists to buy souvenirs from and photograph.
One difference between Lan Na and the rest of country – a difference that may be impression as much as hard fact – is a more relaxed attitude towards sex. Statistics are not available but there is enough anecdotal evidence to suggest that in the Upper North in the mid twentieth century sex between unmarried couples was no great shame and sex between two young men was a more or less acceptable, if seldom discussed, pastime. Such sex appears to have been integrated into daily life; with gay bars and venues non-existent, men would meet and establish friendships and partnerships in parks, in friends’ homes, in schools and in the streets.
But where sex is concerned, life is never simple and for women there was a darker side to this frivolity. In the dirt-poor villages and paddy-fields a daughter could be as much a hindrance as a help. When brothel-owners from Bangkok offered parents substantial – in their eyes – sums of money if their daughter came and worked for them, many parents could not refuse. And while some went willingly, others, some as young as twelve, were sold as slaves whose virginity was highly prized, and who, once that virginity was taken, could then be forced to serve several men a day.
Despite protests by women’s rights groups and others, the situation was slow to change. In 1984 a fire in a Bangkok brothel claimed the lives of several young women who were chained to their beds, and by the end of that decade it was clear that sex work was a major conduit for HIV. These issues fuelled hard-hitting campaigns against child prostitution, trafficking and AIDS, altering the face of female sex work in Thailand. Today there are fewer brothels, few, if any, women who have been sold into the sex trade and far fewer children abused.
Meanwhile, research began into male behaviour. One of the focuses was the army, which began to survey its recruits’ sexual lives. All Thai men are eligible to be drafted, but most of those who end up in uniform are from the poorer and less educated sectors of society – including the Upper North. Although results varied, it appeared that in that part of Thailand at least one in ten soldiers in their early twenties had had sex with another man.
High rates of HIV infection (between six and twenty-seven percent) were also revealed, both among soldiers who had had sex with men and among male sex workers in Chiang Mai. Unfortunately, this information did not catalyse widespread information campaigns for men who have sex with men in the region – or anywhere else in Thailand – and even today little information on HIV/AIDS is targeted at gay men.
But not only army recruits had experience. A 1999 survey of over 1,700 students between the ages of 15 and 21 in Chiang Rai showed that nine percent of the young men and eleven percent of the young women identified themselves as homo- or bisexual. It also confirmed that homo- / bisexual youths tended to have had more partners than their heterosexual counterparts – partners who were mostly of a similar age to themselves. Furthermore, there appeared to be much less pressure on them to "perform" with women than with the previous generation, for whom a girlfriend or a visit to a brothel was almost an imperative rite of passage.
These figures suggest that young men are becoming sexually active earlier. Meanwhile, anecdotal evidence suggests other change. Thirty years ago in Chiang Mai, a friend tells me, young heterosexual men went to public parks to have sex with men because their girlfriends were virgins and they could not afford to pay a woman. Today, at least one in every two Thai girls under twenty has sexual experience, which would suggest that fewer young heterosexual men would seek sex with men. Nevertheless some still head for the parks, not from physical need but to make money for such "necessities" as a mobile phone or to pay off gambling debts.
The Chiang Rai survey also reveals that one in four homo- / bisexual youths had been subject at least once to sexual coercion – and of these almost forty percent had been raped. Compared to their heterosexual counterparts, twice as many reported occasionally feeling lonely and a smaller percentage considered they had someone in their family they could talk to. But on other issues there was little difference between the two, suggesting that most young gay men in the far north of Thailand are at ease with themselves and their lives.
But if sexual mores in the Upper North really were once more relaxed than in the rest of Thailand, that no longer seems to be a case. Recent surveys show that in many parts of the country the age of first sex among teenagers of both sexes is continuing to fall. There are reports of partner-swapping and voluntary prostitution by girls as well as boys and Thai gay internet sites are buzzing with the photos and words of teenagers advertising themselves and seeking partners and attention.
The libertarian in me accepts these changes, but the educator is more cautious. With little awareness of the risks of infection and pregnancy, not to mention the emotional maturity to deal with the consequences of raging hormones, sexually active teenagers in Thailand and elsewhere may be risking too much too early in their lives.
In a survey last year of Bangkok men who are sexually active with other men, seventeen percent were HIV-positive – and the highest rates of infection were among 18 to 22 year olds. Experimentation is inevitable, but unless the physical and psychological implications of sex are fully understood, the best balance between freedom and restraint, between knowledge and innocence, between joy and regret, is unlikely to be found.
Martin Foreman is a Bangkok-based writer of fact, fiction and opinion. He tries not to get the three confused. He can be contacted at: email@example.com
December 28, 2004
Phuket, popular with gay tourists from Australia, North America and Europe, struck by a tidal wave
Bangkok – The death toll could reach upwards of 200,000 in the aftermath of a massive tidal wave that swept across southeastern Asia (December 26) triggered by the biggest earthquake to hit the planet in more than 40 years. The quake, which measured 9.0, was centered off the coast of Indonesia’s Sumatra island. The tsunamis which followed swept across the region striking Sri Lanka, India and Thailand. The Thai resort island of Phuket, popular with gay tourists from Australia, North America and Europe, was struck by a tidal wave taller than some skyscrapers.
The unofficial death toll has been placed at more than a thousand but could go much higher. Area hospitals report that many hundreds people were injured. Phuket Island is called the pearl of Southern Thailand with its sun drenched beaches. This is the height of the tourist season and hotels and gay guest houses were filled. The dead and injured include gay Australians, Americans, Canadians, and several Europeans although their home countries have not been disclosed by police.
Phuket Gazette reporter Woody Leonard said that as the beach was crowded when the giant wave struck without warning.
" People were running from the beach as fast as they could. The beach is devastated … There were a lot of people on the beach, [and they were] swept away by the wave,” he reported. Buildings along the beach were toppled and swept into the sea. The damage extended well inland, and officials expect to recover more bodies as the rubble is cleared away. The airport has reopened, but only to give emergency workers access to the island. Tourism to the region has been cancelled. Anyone holding reservations to visit Phuket is advised to contact their travel agency.
January 4, 2005
Thailand’s gayest resort–Patong Beach–not so gay this New Year’s
A candle-lit ceremony to mourn the dead marked the beginning of a somber new year on the Thai island of Phuket, reports BBC News. Emotions were raw, many were in tears. One Thai woman cried: "I want to say to all the country, we are so sorry, for we cannot control this thing." It was all in marked contrast to the usual scenes here at this time of year, where gay revelers from around the would normally pack Phuket’s Patong Beach, dubbed by many as the gayest resort area in Asia.
But it is hard to celebrate when you’re surrounded by the death and destruction wrought by the Indian Ocean tsunami. Although most Thais would save their celebrations for Chinese New Year in February, December 31 is usually a fairly riotous evening in Phuket. But this year the government has canceled all official celebrations, and many hotels and bars are using their parties to raise funds for relief efforts. More than 5,100 people are reported dead in Phuket, nearly half of them foreign tourists, and nearly 3,800 are still missing.
In Land Built for Tourists, Only Thais Are Left (background story)
January 2, 2005
by Seth Mydans
Nam Khem, Thailand, Jan. 1 – This empty door frame, standing alone without a wall, is where her sister struggled for her life against the rising water before she drowned. This pile of broken masonry is where her 13-year-old son held his grandmother afloat until her eyes grew as round as a foreigner’s and she died. This jumble of debris is where Chanjira Sangkarak herself ran, stumbling, from the house until the wave dragged her, shaking her like a beast would its prey, down to the ocean floor. When she bobbed to the surface, she found herself embracing a board filled with nails, and soon a blue plastic tray emerged beside her. She clung to them for the next 10 hours, she said, watching her neighbors sink below the surface one after another, until she reached the shore.
Hundreds of foreigners died here in southern Thailand when giant waves crashed ashore a week ago, along with thousands of Thais. The difference for the survivors is that the foreigners have mostly departed to recover in the clean sheets and fresh air of their home countries. Many Thais, like Ms. Chanjira, have no homes left to return to; only piles of wreckage that are, for many of them, the graves of their relatives. Along more than 10 miles of beachfront here on the coast of the Andaman Sea, huge resort hotels stand in ruins, their rooms and patios and spas and cabanas shattered and empty. This little fishing village is shattered, too, with only a few broken buildings still standing, but it is not empty.
Dazed residents like Ms. Chanjira sit in the rubble, breathing in a stench of mold and putrefaction, waiting, without real hope, for the bodies of lost relatives to emerge. Here and there, under piles of cement and tin roofing and coagulated clothing, the smell grows stronger, like a marker on a map suggesting the location of a buried father or sister or child. On Saturday, workers set up giant pumps and began to drain foul water from a mine shaft behind Ms. Chanjira’s house. In another village not far away, several cars and a tour bus had already been recovered from a mine shaft, along with dozens of bodies.
"That pile of debris over there, that’s where my house was," said Samphan Thongsamak, 74, a bill collector for an electric company. His mobile telephone began playing the Macarena, but he ignored it. "I go and dig around every day. I have nothing else to do." In the town center of nearby Khao Lac, tents and a feeding center have been set up for displaced people. Aid has flowed in from private groups around the country but there seems to be little coordination or long-term planning for recovery. There is no body count here in Nam Khem, which was home to about 6,000 permanent residents. Thawip Sayhui, 47, a fish farmer whose wife was caught by the wave as she tried to flee in a pickup truck, estimated that as many as half the population had been lost, like her.
For the past week, volunteers have been carting away bodies without keeping records and residents have trekked from temple to temple, peering into grotesque and swollen faces in the hope of recognizing a relative. Ms. Chanjira, 39, a fish trader whose husband is a fisherman, found her mother’s body and joined an assembly line of fast-forward Buddhist rituals and round-the-clock cremations that sent almost constant towers of black smoke into the sky here. Three other relatives are still missing, although her husband and children survived. Just down the road from her house is the scrap heap that once was the home of Pichit Sittisangwanthai, 45, who made his living serving foreign tourists. He almost died along with them, as many Thai hotel workers did.
Mr. Pichit was a masseur, and on the day of the disaster he was as usual on the beach with the sunbathers. When he saw the tide receding, leaving fish flapping on the seabed, he knew what was about to happen. "Big wave!" he shouted in English as he ran down the beach, waving his arms in the air, "Oh, big wave!" "I kept running and shouting to the foreigners," he said, "but I think they didn’t believe me. They went closer to the water to look." He seized two small blond children and ran up a hillside; their family followed him. And then the wave came rolling up the beach in a rising spiral and everybody ran. "It was every man for himself," Mr. Pichit said. "Some 10-wheel trucks just raced up the hill, knocking down people and motorbikes.
Some people escaped the water but then were knocked down by the trucks." By this time, Ms. Chanjira was in the grip of the waves, gulping oily seawater and paddling hard to avoid the logs and boats and debris that were colliding around her. " I thought I was dead," she said. "I tried to send telepathic messages to my brother and relatives, ‘Come and save me,’ but apparently that didn’t work. "I cursed the higher powers. ‘I’ve done so many things to help people in my life and now nobody is helping me,’ " she said, "and right at that moment the blue plastic tray floated up.
It was probably sent to me." At last the waves that had seized her tossed her back onto land and she crawled up the beach. It was dark and the landscape was littered with debris and bodies. The air was thick with the smell of death. Usually, Ms. Chanjira said, she is afraid of ghosts. "But now I wasn’t afraid," she said. "I wasn’t afraid of ghosts and I wasn’t afraid of the dead because I was dead already, too, and I had survived." In the darkness a friend from town pulled up in a car and offered her a ride. "Wait here and I’ll come right back for you," said the friend. Ms. Chanjira lay down on the ground, placed her head on her blue plastic tray and fell asleep.
3 January 2005
No risk to visit Phuket or Patong–Beaches cleared after three days
Thailand is one of many countries affected by the Tsunami natural disaster. In the morning hours of 26 December 2004 Patong was hit. What we went through was horrible but far less than what happened in Indonesia, Sri Lanka or even the disaster in Kao-Lak, Thailand. There is no risk to visit Phuket or Patong. The beach here was cleared after 3 days. The beach road is open for traffic and 80% of the bars on Bangla Road Bars are now open again. The pictures you see in the media is not what you see in reality here.
Please observe that only the beach road area was damaged by the tsunami. The Paradise Complex area has never been in any danger. The flood of water did reach up to the Rath-U-Thit road but the flood was totally gone after a couple of hours. There is no risk of epidemic. The Infrasturcture did not fail. We have electricity, water, food, clothes. Phones and Internet have been working all the time. Connect Guesthouse is fully functional and we can receive new reservation by Internet on-line at www.beachpatong.com/connect or by email to firstname.lastname@example.org or fax +66-76-340957 or by phone +66-76-294195.
How can we help
We get many questions about how to help people in the Patong area: If you want to help us in Patong, do not cancel your trip to Patong, instead book a flight to come here and visit us. Money you spend locally is a real form of aid to recovery. Yes we have had a nature disaster here but survivors need to work and we can still give you a very pleasant holiday in Patong. Welcome to Phuket, still one of the best tourist destinations in the world. Life is getting back to normal very quickly again.
Please do not cancel your tour to Patong. Now more than ever we need your support and you will feel more welcome than ever before.
Our hearts and minds are with those who have lost their lives and we send our condolences to their familys and friends.
January 4, 2005
Profiles: Group Providing Services for Male Commercial Sex Workers
The Bangkok Post on Tuesday profiled Swing, a not-for-profit group that provides services — including education about condom use — to male commercial sex workers in Bangkok.
Thailand. Swing, which receives most of its funding from Family Health International, is the first organization to focus on Thailand’s approximately 4,000 male commercial sex workers, according to Surang Janyam, the group’s director, the Post reports. At its office in Bangkok’s "infamous" Patpong district, Swing offers English classes, Internet access and places to nap and shower, and soon the group also will provide exercise equipment and medical assistance.
Although Thai society has become "more tolerant" of female commercial sex workers, it is "less accepting" of male commercial sex workers, according to the Post. "People look down on them because they think they are lazy, that they are terrible people," Surang said. Male commercial sex workers also have experienced stigma in doctor’s offices and sometimes avoid being treated for sexually transmitted diseases if a doctor or nurse makes them feel uncomfortable, according to the Post. Swing has begun establishing relationships with doctors in order to make "appropriate referrals" for its clients, and the group hopes to have its own in-house physician this year, according to the Post
March 15, 2005
Thai Gay Resort Recovers From Tsunami Disaster–Phuket Gay Festival scheduled
by Peter Hacker 365Gay.com Asia Bureau Chief
Phuket, Thailand – Walking along the famed Patong Beach on Thailand’s Phuket Island you might never know that only a few months earlier it had been hit by one of the worst tidal waves in history. The beach umbrellas are up. The lounge chairs are all in a line. And, the tourists have returned. Now the resort is turning its attention to gay pride. The annual Phuket Gay Festival was postponed in the aftermath of the killer tsunami. It’s now scheduled for April 7 – 10. The festival, which has gained an international reputation in just six years, will feature street parties with performances from the local clubs mixed with information about gay health and HIV prevention.
There will also be the hugely popular gay volleyball tournament on the beach and a Gay day trip to Kai Island for everyone up for a day of fun in the sun. The Grand Finale will be the Big Parade which will start on Sunday at with a variety of floats. That Phuket has gotten back on its feet so quickly after the disaster is a tribute to Thai ingenuity. The government quickly organized volunteer workers from throughout the country in a massive cleanup campaign.
Of all the countries affected by the December 16 tsunami Thailand has been the quickest to recover. Nearly 300,000 people died when the giant tidal wave swept over the region. Most the deaths were in Sri Lanka, India, and Indonesia. At least 40 members of the Sri Lankan gay organization Companions on a Journey were killed. Recently officials in Singapore blamed gay pride for an increase in HIV, but in Thailand the health authorities work with the gay community to promote HIV prevention.
Web: Phuket Gay Festival
Delayed Thai Pride event unveiled
15 March, 2005
by Ben Townley, Gay.com UK
Details of Thailand’s largest Gay Pride event have finally been unveiled, after organisers made the decision to delay the celebrations in light of last year’s tsunami disaster. The event will now take place from the 7th-10th April 2005, with a more muted approach to festivities expected. More than 300,000 people are thought to have died in the Boxing Day disaster, with countries across South East Asia and east Africa being deluged by tidal waves. Thailand was one of the worst hit, with a large section of its coastal region decimated and thousands killed and swept out to sea.
Organisers say they are now ready to host the event, and are encouraging overseas visitors to return. Specifically, they are looking to welcome Singapore’s gay community, which was accused of spreading HIV through Pride events by the country’s government last week. A spokesperson said that organisers of the festival and leaders of the gay community work closely with local hospitals and health care providers in a bid to stamp out HIV.
"Here in Thailand the health authorities work together with the gay community, assured that the best HIV prevention is through information and cooperation," a spokesperson said. "The gay pride committee hope to see many people from Singapore this year as the gay pride there has run in to trouble with the local authorities claiming that this kind of festivities spreads HIV."
Other events at the festival will include a parade and sporting tournaments. In January this year, the festival’s chair was keen to invite visitors back to the country, a firm favourite of lesbian and gay tourists, despite the disaster. "The best thing that people who care about Phuket and Patong could do, is continue to come here," Khun Daeng said. "Don’t change your plans."
"The festival organisers acknowledged that there will be a different feeling for the 2005 event, and want to make it a festival of renewal and remembrance for Phuket, with all areas of the Phuket communities invited and welcome to participate," organisers said in a statement at the time. "The festival has always had a large crossover audience, not just gays, and this year want to make it even more welcoming and positive in this respect.
April 24, 2005
After the Tsunami, Rebuilding Paradise–Nearly four months after giant waves swept more than 5,300 people to their deaths along the country’s southern coast, the island of Phuket – the crown jewel of Thailand’s beach resorts – has patched and pasted itself together
by Seth Mydans
Every morning as the sky brightens over the Andaman Sea, workers in Phuket, Thailand, set out perfect lines of white plastic lounge chairs along the soft sand, punctuated by furled umbrellas ready to be opened as the sun begins to burn. Vendors arrive with their ice-cold water, coconuts and soft drinks. Masseuses spread their straw mats under the palm trees. Jet Ski operators gather by their polished machines.
The peanut sellers, the manicurists, the boy with his book of temporary tattoos and the man who balances a basket of fruit on his head all take their usual places along the beach. And then, to the soft caress of the surf, they wait. As the day grows hot enough for mad dogs and Western beachgoers, a few vacationers arrive, by ones, by twos, taking their places here and there along the empty rows of lounge chairs and unopened umbrellas.
Nearly four months after giant waves swept more than 5,300 people to their deaths along the country’s southern coast, the island of Phuket – the crown jewel of Thailand’s beach resorts – has patched and pasted itself together. An aftershock on March 28 caused a brief scare among those who felt it, but hotels, restaurants, businesses and cruise operators say it has had virtually no long-term impact on bookings and arrivals.
Nevertheless, seismologists say the fault line that caused the original earthquake is still active and it is impossible to predict whether and when further shocks might follow or whether they might cause tsunami waves. Along the main shopping streets, a few workers still hammer and drill, and some vendors hang their wares in front of damaged shops. But Phuket today is almost as good as new.
"It’s 99 percent operational now," Simon J. Hand, a Phuket resident who is associate editor of Asia-Pacific Tropical Homes magazine, said in late March. "At its worst, it was 90 percent operational. Patong Beach is the main tourist trap, and the wave hit everything along the shorefront road. But 150 yards farther up, even the next day, you wouldn’t have known anything happened."
All that is missing now, people on Phuket say, is the tourists. Hotels that had been booked to capacity for January were able to fill just 7 to 10 percent of their rooms, Suwalai Pinpradub, director of the Tourism Authority of Thailand in Phuket, said in a telephone interview. Before the tsunami, she said, about 300,000 tourists visited Phuket each month, both from within Thailand and abroad.
International arrivals at the Phuket airport fell to 13,042 in January from 111,609 in January 2004, immigration figures show. The numbers rose in February, to 37,813, still far below the 114,903 in 2004. The tsunami destroyed about 40 percent of the 53,000 hotel rooms in six southern provinces, according to the Tourism Authority. The authority cut its forecast for visitors to Thailand this year to 12 million from 13.5 million, a major blow considering that tourism produces about 6 percent of the country’s gross domestic product.
Like Bali in Indonesia, Phuket is a tropical island that once relied on farming and fishing but now has one main industry – tourism. And like Bali after the devastating terrorist bombing in October 2002, Phuket has discovered how fragile an economy tourism can be. But it is a self-renewing one, with an endless potential supply of visitors, just as the sea is still filled with grouper, squid and shrimp for the fishermen who lost their boats to the waves.
The number of international arrivals has begun to rebound, reaching 33,855 in the first three weeks of March even as the peak season began to wane. For all of March 2004, there were 82,028 international arrivals. Hotel occupancy in Phuket has grown to about 40 percent, at a time when occupancy is usually 70 to 80 percent.
For some people, this is the time to visit. The beaches and the water are cleaner than they have been in years and the beach road in Patong is no longer one unending traffic jam. "It’s better," Enzo Sare said as he relaxed on the beach. A retired army captain on his eighth visit from Italy with his family, he added: "Yes, I am an egoist. Less traffic, fewer people; very nice. Of course, it’s a disaster for the people working on the beach."
Misconceptions are keeping visitors away now, both local people and visitors say. They blame television reports that show the utter devastation of places like Aceh in Indonesia while giving voice reports about Phuket. "People say: ‘How can you go to Thailand? It’s dangerous,’ " said Louis Bronner, general manager of Mom Tri’s Boathouse hotel. "Weeks after the tsunami they still think there are bodies floating, fish contaminated, don’t drink the water, you can get cholera, typhoid, crazy things like this."
Even in Bangkok, about 500 miles to the north, hotel Web sites carry tsunami updates that state what should be obvious: "The Bangkok region has not been affected."
Indeed, most of Phuket was far less devastated than the newly opened coastal resorts of Khao Lak about 40 miles to the north, where the Tourism Authority says 80 percent of the structures were destroyed. Almost none of them are operating now. Huge resort complexes, some of them still under construction when the waves hit, are vast dirt lots, their vegetation scraped away, their buildings in ruins, many of their workers and guests swept out to sea.
In Phuket, though, as construction crews continue their work, most hotels are open, or are soon to reopen. Restaurants andbars have been cleaned and remodeled. Tour operators sit ready beside signboards showing beaches and islands that are, for the moment, as pristine and secluded as their photographs.
Shops are restocked with everything from sarongs to souvenirs to sun block. Entrepreneurs have produced commemorative T-shirts, like one that offers a reminder of the shocks tourism has survived there in recent years: "Patong Beach, Phuket, Thailand," reads the T-shirt, which comes in orange, red, black, white or purple. "2001 Bomb Alert, 2002 SARS, 2003 Bird Flu, 2004 Tsunami. What’s Next?"
When the tsunami struck Thailand’s Andaman coastline on Dec. 26, the tourist season was at its peak and hotels were full. Then came what some people call the second tsunami – the devastation of the livelihoods of the people who live here. "No tourists, no work, no money, big problem," said a guide, Jakrin Samakkee. Not Arunsi Kongon, a masseuse, nor Akani Jigaksorn, a tattoo tout, nor Chari Promden, who ushers people to beach chairs, had had a customer during one recent week. Curbsides were lined with motorcycles for rent. The bright red minivan taxis that once choked the beachfront road were parked and idle.
When a young man came to buy a bottle of water from Urai Chaiyen, who has sold drinks there for 20 years, she did not have enough money to change a 1,000-baht note, about $25. As occupancy has dropped, some hotels are giving their employees only three weeks’ pay for a month’s work. Others have sent their workers out to troll the beaches with fliers offering deep cuts in rates.
Even without customers, many of the beach workers come here because, as a lifeguard, Somkid Koernoon, said, "It is our second home."
The harsh truth, though, is that even in the best of scenarios, they will not start earning real money until the next peak season, more than six months from now.
The hardships of the Thai people seemed to be on the minds of visitors who sat in the lounge chairs along the beach.
"That’s the reason we came now," said Gordon Brind, 51, who was there in late March on vacation with his family from Britain. "We were here last year and we decided to come again after the tsunami. Everyone was donating in the U.K. to tsunami funds, and in other countries, too, I’m sure. But the main part of it, really, is that they must have work to live." Pierre Alain, 46, on a visit from Switzerland, said: "I think one must come, because tourism is one of the first resources of Thailand. One must come to help. It’s fine here. It’s normal. It’s magnificent."
Bill Harrison, 61, a relief worker who has spent many months here and knows Phuket well, suggested that one reason to visit is to witness history. "I’m not sure what to emphasize," he said, "to persuade people to come: because the people here need it, or come because it’s great, or come as a traveler, not a tourist."
He said a visitor now has the opportunity "to watch an event in history, watching how a place picks itself up and gets started over again, and you’re part of it, too, because these people need the income." Some potential visitors held back, particularly in the early days, out of a sense that it would be unseemly to splash in the surf in a place of death and mourning.
"You do think about that," Mr. Brind said, as he sat in the shade of one of the few unfurled umbrellas along Patong Beach. "It’s sad when you look out at the sea and how it looks now and you think of all the death out there. It’s on your mind." But Jussi Rautiainen, who was on the beach with his wife and two daughters from Finland, said tragedy did not mean a place had to close down for business.
"If that was the thinking, people wouldn’t go to New York either after the attack on the World Trade Center," he said. "That didn’t stop us from going to New York. You continue on. It’s the only way to see the world."
In Thailand, where people really do smile as advertised, the welcome in Phuket is as warm and generous as ever. But for the workers on the beach, it is hard to forget the day after Christmas. They talked of terror, sleeplessness and a constant fear that the next incoming wave could take their lives.
"I’m afraid," said Chulin Promdeng, 42, a masseuse. "I’m so afraid of another tsunami. For 15 days, I didn’t sleep. I keep looking for another tsunami."
Ram Battarai, 27, who owns a tailor shop, remembers the wave as "a slap, a very quick slap and within the slap all the shops are flat and the water is filled with cars and people and everything." Now, he said: "It’s very difficult to keep your mind well. You must keep thinking. If you let your mind free, many things come into it."
Mr. Somkid, the lifeguard, explains over and over, why he was unable to save the bathers on the beach. "At that moment, we choked," he said. "We had never seen anything like that before. When we saw the water go far away, we knew something was wrong but we didn’t know what it was. Then we saw the water coming very quickly toward us." Next time, he said – next time he would know what was happening and what to do.
Sakino Natoto, 27, a tour operator, was sitting just across the road from the beach when the wave crashed in. It flushed her into the basement of a department store, then around and around as it carried her with it to the top floor. Battered and cut, she returned that week to her desk by the side of the road and she was there late last month, calling out: "Hello, sir! Tour information! How are you? Sawaddi Ca! Welcome, sir!"
"If it is possible," she told a reporter who sat down beside her, "please tell everybody to come to Phuket. It is safe now. Because this was a natural disaster, not, how can I say it, not Iraq – boom, boom, boom, boom." She added: "You know, I am very lucky. In the last year, my husband left me for another lady, my leg was broken in a motorcycle accident and now we have the tsunami. My mother says, ‘Sakino, you are very lucky!’
"Please tell everyone to come here, for happiness, for business and to change my luck."
Seth Mydans is acorrespondent for The International Herald Tribune in Bangkok.
June 10, 2005
Singapore’s ‘Nation Party’ moved to November 4-6 in Phuket, Thailand
Asia’s largest gay party announces new venue and dates after Singapore authorities reject permit
Asia’s largest gay and lesbian network, Fridae.com, will hold its signature Nation party — dubbed a "festival of international proportions" by Time Asia — in Phuket, Thailand from November 4th through 6th, 2005. Singapore authorities in April rejected an application to hold Nation, Asia’s most acclaimed gay and lesbian party, which had been held annually since 2001 in the city-state to celebrate the country’s National Day in August. In a faxed reply, the Singapore police turned down the license citing the event to be "contrary to public interest."
Fridae regrets the Licensing Division’s rejection of Nation’s license. "We are disappointed that the authorities have deemed a National Day celebration by Singapore’s gay citizens as being ‘contrary to public interest’ when it had previously been approved for four years without incident," said Dr Stuart Koe, Chief Executive Officer. "This is a direct contradiction to previous calls for embracing of diversity." Despite the Singapore government’s attempt to curtail the public space enjoyed by gay Singaporeans and residents, organizers hope for the international gay and lesbian community to come together in creating a new "Nation" — free from discrimination and welcoming of all.
" The Nation party is evolving with the circumstances," said Dr Koe, "and we hope for it to be truly an event where gays and lesbians from all over the world can come together and celebrate their diversity and take pride in their community." For the first time, the three day event will see gay party organizers from four Asian cities (Hong Kong, Kuala Lumpur, Taipei and Tokyo) involved in co-hosting eight parties to be held back to back over the weekend. The last Nation party held in Singapore in August 2004 attracted an attendance of over 8,000 party revelers, of which 40 percent were international visitors. Tourist revenue generated over the three-day event was estimated to be close to US$6 million, based on unreleased data collected by an independent market research company at Nation in 2003.
Since 2001, the Nation parties had grown tremendously and garnered international media attention with extensive coverage by news agencies and leading publications including The Wall Street Journal, Far Eastern Economic Review, The Sydney Morning Herald, The Advocate, Time magazine and BBC radio. Nation V is sponsored by Fortune 100 global communications leader Motorola for the second consecutive year and Subaru for the third. The carmaker is a well-known pioneer corporate sponsor of gay and lesbian athletic and community events in the United States and is represented by Motor Image in Thailand, Singapore, Malaysia, Indonesia, Hong Kong and the Philippines.
July 7, 2005
First international conference on Asia’s gay communities begins in Thailand
Bangkok, Thailand — Scholars, activists and artists opened the first-ever regional conference on Asia’s gay, lesbian and transgender communities on Thursday in Bangkok, tackling issues from discrimination to how films portray transsexuals. More than 500 delegates from East Asia and other countries, including Israel, Pakistan and the United States, came for the three-day event, said Thaninnit Pithaksinakon, the conference’s public relations manager. About 50-100 delegates had initially been expected, Thaninnit said.
" Gay, lesbian and transgendered Asia has arrived. It is here and it is real," declared Peter A. Jackson, an Asian history fellow at the Australian National University and a co-organizer of the event. " This is a phenomenal and historical gathering," said Josephine Cheun-Juei Ho, a feminist scholar and head of the Center for the Study of Sexualities at Taiwan’s National Central University. Jackson said more gay, lesbian and transgender Asians have been coming forward in recent years, with an increasing number of non-governmental organizations, films and businesses focusing on them. " However, absolutely everywhere across Asia, they’re still seen as second-class citizens," Jackson said.
Experts at the conference plan to discuss the social stigma attached to the communities, as well as legal discrimination and the way gays and transsexuals are portrayed in Asian cinema and literature. They also expect to discuss promoting legal recognition for sex changes. The meeting was jointly organized by the Australia-based non-governmental organization AsiaPacifiQueer Network and the Office of Human Rights Studies and Social Development at Thailand’s Mahidol University. Although Thailand is a conservative Buddhist society, homosexuality and cross-dressing are widely tolerated. (AP)
Thai world boxing champion knocked out in gay porn scandal
by Vitaya Saeng-Aroon
Thai police raid newsstands and seize thousands of porn movies and magazines, some featuring four-time boxing champion Sirimongkol Singwancha among other male celebrities. Four-time boxing champion Sirimongkol Singwancha has come to realise that his most spectacular performance was not in the ring with his boxing gloves and punches, but in a seductive underground gay magazine that showed every inch of him. From the top: a sample cover of Heat magazine, boxing champion Sirimongkol Singwancha and Somjate Sa-ard.
Sirimongkol’s nude images were supposedly a secret to his boxing fans and general public until last week. A special police task force raided newsstands in a famous outdoor shopping area in northern Bangkok. Thousands of porn magazines and movies catering to both straight and gay audiences were seized. The boxer was among one of the celebrity models featured in the magazines.
The police’s raid was prompted by complaints that several newsstands in the Chatuchak area sold pornography and was visited frequently by teenagers. Sopon Petsawang, an MP from the government ruling party Thai Rak Thai and a former boxer himself, was quoted as saying that as far as he was aware, only transvestites or transgenders read the magazines, and expressed sadness that an increasing number of divorced women and older women are viewing them as well.
Sirimongkol’s full frontal images were accidentally found in Heat, a magazine reputed to feature celebrities and out-of-job movie stars as well as look-alikes. Other familiar faces in various magazine titles include Chinese-looking Somjate Sa-ard, and former muscled TV host Yuth Thongcharoen. It is understood that while some of the models were not in pornographic shots, the local media reports did not distinguish between those who posed nude and semi-nude. Some observers criticised the press for misleading their readers into thinking that the celebrities mentioned in the news were photographed with their private parts exposed.
Some of the images used in the magazines are up to a decade old. Charoenthong said his photographs were taken some 10 years ago. “I was in underwear and I asked permission from my senior. Everyone knew I was in the magazine,” said Charoenthong, now a trainer and owner of a boxing camp. He said after the news broke out, his family was in trouble. His wife is now afraid to meet others in fear of being questioned. In Sirimongkol’s case, Heat featured him two years ago. To readers who frequently read the magazines or visited gay pornographic web sites, Sirimongkol’s nude images did not come as a surprise as his photographs had been circulating for several years.
Two years ago, Sirimongkol, apart from being crowned world champion by several well-known boxing institutions, he also gained attention for appearing in a swimsuit in Lips, a leading local women’s magazine with a large gay male readership. The bi-monthly magazine put him on its front cover together with a sexy female model in its March 2003 issue. It marked the first time that a boxer who looked local (called Nah Baan Baan in Thai) was featured in an upscale fashion and lifestyle magazine. The magazine won praise for its creativity and Sirimongkol became known as the most muscular and handsome Thai boxer. Sirimongkol said he did not expect that his full frontal nudity shot would be included in the magazine. He claimed that the staff simply asked him to pose “for fun and for them to view in privacy.”
In the plastic-wrapped Heat magazine which costs about Bt500 (approx US$12), the boxer’s images included a number of photographs which showed his erect penis. Sirimongkol said he was paid about Bt200,000 (approx US$4,800) for the photo set.
No records for how many copies being printed.
“I regret (it) and I’d like to apologise to everyone. I’m very stressed now and sometimes losing sleep. I hope that I would be forgiven for what I had done,” said Sirimongkol. His promoter also called for sympathy for the boxer and said he would still support Sirimongkol for his next boxing fight to be held next year in a competition for a World Boxing Champion title. Investigation into the cases is underway. Police said people involved with producing the pornography face jail term up to three years and a Bt6,000 fine.
July 29, 2005
Thai boxer convicted on “obscenity” charges, police clampdown on porn sites
Thai police clampdown and blacklist Thai pornographic sites; owners and operators face prison terms and/or fines.
by News Editor
Champion boxer Sirimongkol Singwancha was convicted and sentenced by a district court on Tuesday for taking part in publicising obscenity. Champion boxer Sirimongkol Singwancha fined Bt4,000. A recent police raid on newsstands led the boxer’s full frontal images to be found in Heat, a magazine reputed to feature nude images targeted at gay men. In light of his cooperation with the investigation, the court reduced his fine from Bt6,000 fine to Bt4,000, and suspended his six-month jail term for two years on the condition of good behaviour during the suspension period.
In an interview with a local publication, Sirimongkol said he was paid about Bt200,000 (approx US$4,800) for the photo set. In related news, The Bangkok Post reported last week that the Crime Suppression Division (CSD) has blacklisted about 20 Thai-language websites featuring lewd pictures and offering pornographic video CDs for sale. The CSD is said to have expanded its investigation to identify and arrest owners and operators of the web sites. A newly formed 15-member information and computer-related crime division will also look for ways to prevent porn video clips being downloaded on mobile phones. CSD commander Vinai Thongsong said that his team has already blacklisted 20 locally run sites. Foreign sites would however be exempt as they were not subject to Thailand’s Criminal Code.
New regulations include requiring buyers of pornographic movie VCDs to register via the Internet and pay for the goods in advance through bank accounts specified by the webmasters. The CSD added that offenders who are caught selling pornographic products through their web sites could be arrested and charged with conspiring to sell lewd materials under article 287 of the Criminal Code – an offence punishable by a three-year prison term and/or a fine of BT6,000.
August 10, 2005
by 365Gay.com Newscenter Staff
Bangkok,Thailand on Wednesday removed restrictions on gays and transsexuals serving in the military. Thailand has a draft but gays and transsexuals have been barred from serving under the "mental disorder" exemption. All Thai men at the age of 20 are required by law to register to serve. Recruits are selected through a lottery system, but each year thousands of LGBT draftees are rejected. Wednesday the military announced that it was removing homosexuality and transgenderism from its list of mental disorders following years of complaints from the LGBT community that the ban was discriminatory. The military said that the change was part of a program to keep up with a changing society.
"The existing conscription law has been promulgated since 1954, when there were few homosexuals and transvestites, but society is changing very fast, so the army is in the process of amending the law and omitting those words from the certificate," said Lt. Gen. Arthorn Lohitkul, director general of the Army Reserve Command. The campaign to amend the requirements for conscription was launched by LGBT civil activist Natee Theerarojnaphong.
"No employer wants to hire anyone with a record of mental disorder to work in his company," Natee said, adding that people with mental disorders are also unable to make certain legal agreements. A celebrity Thai-style kickboxer who underwent surgery to become a woman, Parinya Charoenphol, complained on local television after being exempt from the military. "The words ‘mental disorder’ marked on the certificate seriously affects our lives," said Parinya. Thailand is a Buddhist country where homosexuals, transvestites and transsexuals are largely tolerated. Gay and transvestite actors play key roles in Thai movies and television soap operas.
The change was hailed in the US by gays fighting for inclusion in the military. "Neither sexual orientation nor gender identity has any impact on a service member’s ability to get the job done," Steve Ralls, a spokesperson for the Servicemembers Legal Defense Network told 365Gay.com "The United States armed forces should follow the Thai military’s example and place qualification above prejudice. Our armed forces should end to the military’s unfair discrimination against lesbian, gay bisexual and transgender military personnel.”
A bill is pending in Congress to repeal the military’s ban and allow lesbian and gay Americans the opportunity to serve openly. A study done by the Government Accountability Office shows that more than 10,000 service members have been discharged over the last 10 years under "don’t ask, don’t tell".
August 28, 2005
Gay’s In Thailand Mirror American Counterparts In Spending
by 365Gay.com Newscenter Staff
Bangkok – The first study of gay spending power in Thailand shows that the LGBT community is fueling an economic upturn in the Asian nation. The study, done by the Bangkok research company Nano Search, found that gay consumers enjoyed 25 per cent to 30 per cent more disposable income than heterosexuals. Although it did not put a dollar value on that disposable income it said that gays favor name brands and prefer luxury items.
The study also found that Thai companies are quickly realizing the power of the gay community with products specifically targeted at gays, developing cosmetics, apparel, movies, magazines and mobile phones aimed at the LGBT market. “From our survey, we have seen tremendous potential in this gay product segment,” Teerasak Wongpiya, a business consultant for Nano Search told The Nation newspaper. “Gay people have generated a dramatic demand for products serving this ‘rainbow gender’.”
Nano Search also says that many companies are now actively seeking out gays to work for them. Gay employees, " who often have distinct views on design, fashion and creativity, are able to create better value for products of the companies they work for," Nano found. It also discovered that in many cases gays are so highly prized companies pay them higher wages. Similar studies in the US have also found gays have greater spending power than the general public. It is estimated that the spending power of American gays is approximately $514 billion annually.
November 4, 2005
Thailand wins as Singapore’s brief gay fling grinds to a halt
by Connie Levett Correspondent in Bangkok
When South-East Asia’s largest gay party, Nation ’05, kicks off today in Phuket, Thailand, it will officially mark the end of Singapore’s flirtation with the pink dollar. For four years, Singapore dallied with a more liberal policy towards gay lifestyles, warmed by the money that flowed from it and emboldened by research that showed cities with an active gay community were more creative, productive societies. However, the rise of the new Prime Minister, Lee Hsien Loong, has been accompanied by a waning of government support for the gay population.
" The Prime Minister, in his own words, has said the gay community should not oppress others in Singapore," said Nation ’05’s organiser, Stuart Koe, a Singaporean who runs South-East Asia’s largest gay web portal, Fridae.com. " The Government decided it didn’t want gay parties in Singapore. They said it was contrary to the conservative mainstream and there would be a number of people who would find something like that very offensive."
The Prime Minister made the comments to Singapore’s Foreign Correspondents Association on October 6. "We were surprised they would take such a strong stand," Mr Koe said. "The party had been held without incident and has been an economic success."
In the years after 2001, the Nation party on Singapore’s Sentosa island grew from a small gathering to a dance party attracting up to 8000 guests and generating $A8 million for the Singapore economy.
The first inkling of change came when organisers were refused a licence to host a smaller Christmas party last December. " It seems to be coming right from the top," Mr Koe said. " There seems to be a media gag order on any gay issues in the newspapers. Letters are no longer getting into the press. Before, it had been a topic of discussion."
Mr Koe said there would be strong negative repercussions for Singapore. "One very tangible consequence was Warwick University in the UK [which] was recently granted a licence to set up a campus in Singapore but the faculty and students voted not to," Mr Koe said. "One of the reasons cited was Singapore’s stance against the gay community. They felt there was no freedom of speech.
" The Prime Minister said it was not homophobia, but they had to be sensitive to people who find gay people offensive." Singapore’s loss has been Thailand’s gain. "Singapore has a ways to go in maturing as a society, where Thailand has a long history culturally [of accepting gay lifestyles]," he said.
Phuket will host the three-day party, from today to Sunday, at eight venues with DJs and artists from the US, Thailand, Australia, Japan, Malaysia, Singapore, New Zealand and Hong Kong. " It will be smaller, cozier – 1000 to 1500 people – because there is no domestic Singapore crowd," Mr Koe said. "Everyone is a tourist, but we are sold out."
Thailand registers first official gay association–Rainbow Sky Association
Thailand’s first officially registered gay association, a private non-profit organization working for a better quality of life for, and the sexual health issues of, Thailand’s gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender communities.
5/F Panjaphat Bld,
1 Patpong Rd, Suriyawong,
Tel 02-632-6957, 02-632-6958
English language assistance: 01-341-4591
28 October to 5 November, 2006
Join Gay Pride Festival Parade November 5
The Pride Festival Committee would like to invite anybody interested in the GLBT community to join the upcoming Pride Parade on the afternoon of this Sunday, November 5th. Interested parties should please confirm with Khun Tai: 081-566-0189, as soon as possible, to let us know you wish to be in the parade. Sponsors of the Pride Festival may join the parade for free, as well as all NGO’s. Non-sponsors are welcome to join the parade, but if you are a non-sponsor, commercial enterprise and wish to in anyway promote your business in the parade, you need to pay a fee of Baht 2,500 (inform Khun Tai when you call him of your desire to promote your business).
Each parade marching contingent should meet at the intersection of Narathiwat Road and Silom Road at 2:00 p.m. sharp. Each contingent will be drawing their positions in the Parade. Late comers will line up after everyone else. The parade is to start at 4:00 p.m. sharp, as per instructions from the police department. The parade is expected to complete around 6:30 p.m.
Other events include:
‘ When Conscription Certificate assigns us as Insane People’, on November 1, 2006, at National Human Rights Committee Office.
Details at: http://www.pridefestival.org/forum/index.php/topic,84.0.html
White Night Party
At Dick’s Cafe’ Bangkok, Soi Pratoochai, Suriwong Road
Details at: http://www.pridefestival.org/forum/index.php/topic,85.0.html
November 26, 2006
Thai AIDS survivors ostracized
by Seth Mydans International Herald Tribune
Lop Buri, Thailand – Thailand’s primary AIDS hospice at a Buddhist temple here, once a place of certain death, is now becoming overcrowded by the living – people whose lives have been saved by medication but who are rejected by their families or neighbors. Already an international leader in programs for prevention of HIV infection, Thailand has over the past year become a pioneer in distributing low- cost antiretroviral drugs, which are available to all who need them for less than $1 a treatment. At the same time, though, Thailand has made little headway in easing a harsh stigma that was fed by its successful campaign against the horrors of the disease. As more people are living longer, more are becoming outcasts in a family-based society where it is difficult to blend into the crowd.
Since the onset of the AIDS epidemic, Thailand has been on the front lines, first in the 1980s, when it was hit hard, and then in the 1990s, when it became a model of prevention with public education campaigns. Illustrating what experts say could be one of the next challenges as low- cost treatments spread around the world, the AIDS temple and a small satellite village have become, in effect, a new sort of leper colony.
"This is our new problem," said the temple’s abbot, Alongkot Dikkapanyo, 53, who founded the hospice 14 years ago. "What should we do with a healthy person who is rejected by their family and can’t work? This will be a big burden on society in the future."
In a special annex, the temple stores thousands of white cotton sacks of cremated remains that were never claimed by relatives. Cremations are fewer now, and in their place, hundreds of homeless survivors wander the grounds, sweeping the footpaths, doing their laundry and helping to care for the sick. Thailand’s successes in both prevention and treatment have brought with them another, perhaps predictable problem: the loss of a sense of urgency that has caused a slackening of prevention campaigns and the beginnings of a rise in new infections. In addition, experts say about 5 percent of drug recipients each year will develop a resistance and need to switch to much more expensive "second line" drug treatments, which are covered by patents and will strain the government’s budget for cheap medications.
Since the epidemic arrived in Thailand in 1984, 1 million people have been infected and 400,000 have died. In a report on AIDS in Thailand, published in August, the World Bank estimated that without the vigorous prevention program, a total of 7.7 million people would have become infected. Fewer than 17,000 new infections are expected this year, said Patrick Brenny, the Thailand country coordinator for Unaids, the United Nations agency dealing with AIDS. That compares with 143,000 new infections in 1990, according to the World Bank. The drug distribution program will save still more lives. The bank estimated that the medications are now reaching 80,000 people, or 90 percent of those who need them, although other estimates say the percentage is somewhat lower. That number compares with about 5,000 people who were receiving the treatments just two years ago.
The infection rate in Thailand peaked in 1994, the report said, with 4 percent of military conscripts testing positive for the virus. The infection rate has been cut to about 1.4 percent, but Brenny said this figure is less meaningful now that many more people are surviving, adding to the overall total. Some of these numbers have apparently begun to climb again as the epidemic has become a lower priority for the government.
"Public education has basically fallen asleep at the wheel," said Mechai Viravaidya, who heads the privately run Population and Community Development Association and has been the driving force behind the country’s dramatic success in combating the disease. "HIV infections are going up, I believe 30 percent more than before," he said. "Mostly it’s young people who are asking, ‘Is AIDS still around? There was talk about it before but now there’s nothing.’" The World Bank study also noted that the effect of past campaigns is waning and that risky behavior is increasing. Quoting a recent survey, it said that only one in four male army conscripts reported using a condom with nonregular female partners who are not sex workers.
As a result, Thailand faces the need for two seemingly contradictory campaigns, one to re-educate the public about the horrors of the disease, the other to reassure it that infected people are not dangerous to be around. The two programs – prevention and treatment – are closely linked, the World Bank said. The distribution of low-cost medicine has been made possible by the saving, through prevention, of an estimated $18.6 billion in potential medical costs. "Prevention efforts allowed Thailand to become one of the few developing countries giving life-prolonging antiretroviral therapy to people living with HIV," the bank report said.
Some of the results can be seen here at the Phra Baht Nam Phu Temple, 120 kilometers, or 75 miles, north of Bangkok, where families still sometimes drop off a dying relative, then drive away, never to return. The intensive-care ward is now treating 33 patients, some of them dying, some growing healthier with medication. At the same time, the sprawling temple grounds and its village annex are home to more than 500 people who are living with AIDS. Ninety percent of patients who come here survive, the abbot said. But he also said 90 percent of these survivors are unable to return to their homes or to find a place to live where nobody knows them.
"In the past they would come here and die and we would cremate them," he said – some 10,000 cremations over the years. The new ones may really stay a long time, a lifetime," he said. "If they stay here, they are happier. They are with friends. We understand each other. Nobody discriminates against each other."
The discrimination is just a short walk away through the temple grounds, among the visitors who come here to worship and the vendors who sell them food and souvenirs. Patients here say that the vendors have a rule for them – "You touch it, you buy it," sometimes accompanied by a shout of, "Stand back! Don’t touch anything!" When patients wander close to the temple visitors, they say, people back away from them "like we are some kind of alien." An official with Unaids in Geneva said she did not know whether colonies like this had yet formed in other developing countries, where drug distribution programs are mostly much weaker, and long-term survival less common.
But the official, Purnima Mane, said in a telephone interview that discrimination against those who survive on medication was similarly driving people into lives of isolation. "In Africa, for example, with access to treatment more available and people already isolated from their families," she said, "they would find it difficult to suddenly find a home back with their families just because they look healthy." In Brazil, which she said was another leader in the distribution of low-cost medication, survivors have formed self-help networks.
The latest concern in Thailand is the challenge of providing the more expensive second-line treatments, which could make it difficult to maintain the universal medical coverage now available for patients. Though Thailand has saved billions of dollars through its pioneering policies, one result has been a greater financial burden on the AIDS temple here. In the long run, it is a much more expensive proposition to live than to die.
"The sick patients cost much more per day, of course," the abbot said, sitting in his rust-brown robe before a large statue of Buddha. "But generally they would just stay for a month or so and die."
It is good news that lives are being saved now, he said. "But long term, the person who is healthy costs more. He lives longer, he eats more, and he keeps on living and eating.
November 27, 2006
Bangkok’s MSM HIV explosion –a precursor for Asia’s mega-cities?
by Don Baxter
Don Baxter, the Executive Director of AFAO, writes about the astonishing increases in HIV seroprevalence among Thai gay men and MSM, and asks if the Thai capital is merely the precursor for similar HIV catastrophes among the MSM communities of Asia’s other mega-cities? Part 1 of 2. The last five years have seen astonishing – arguably catastrophic – increases in HIV seroprevalence among Thai gay men and men who have sex with men (MSM). HIV seroprevalence has risen from less than 10 percent early this decade to more than 28 percent by mid-decade.
Major questions of international significance arise:
· How could increases as dramatic as these happen in a country with a previously successful HIV prevention response?
· Is Bangkok merely the precursor for similar HIV catastrophes among the MSM communities of Asia’s other mega-cities?
· What can the world learn from Thailand’s experience in these dramatic increases?
A complex series of factors is involved in analysing why these increases happened – but arguably they add up to Bangkok being a tragic case study of how an effective ‘enabling environment’ for a national HIV response can be inadvertently dismantled – with catastrophic results.
Bangkok has a large MSM community. Low-range estimates place it between 150,000 and 300,000 . There are more than 35 MSM saunas and sex venues in Bangkok alone and the majority of these cater to the “Thai-with-Thai” market – that is, not to foreigners. That there was alarming HIV seroprevalence rates among Thai MSM became clear in mid-2003 when a large-scale seroprevalence study was conducted by the Thai Ministry of Public Health (MoPH)-U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Collaboration . The Collaboration set out to ensure the study covered a wide cross-section of Bangkok MSM by working in partnership with Bangkok’s main MSM community organisation, Rainbow Sky Association of Thailand.
The study revealed a startling 17 percent HIV seroprevalence among Bangkok MSM. As more than 1,100 men were interviewed there is little doubt of the validity of the results. Previously it had been widely assumed that HIV among Thai MSM was predominantly among Thai men who prefer sex with white foreigners. This study, however, excluded Thai men who prefer sex with white foreigners as far as possible. The 17 percent figure was so much higher than expected that initial reactions were disbelief and scepticism.
The government was reluctant to release the data for fear that it would reflect badly on Thailand’s response to HIV. It was eventually released publicly – but certainly not promoted: neither among the MSM community or more widely.
In 2005, a follow-up survey was conducted and its scope was extended to include male sex workers in Bangkok and to two locations outside of Bangkok – Chiangmai and Phuket. These results were even more alarming. HIV seroprevalence among Bangkok MSM had jumped to 28 percent in just two years, while 15 percent of MSM in Chiang Mai were infected. This rate of increase is unprecedented outside of injecting drug use (IDU) populations (e.g., such as is currently occurring in Eastern Europe). Again scepticism reigned initially – but dissipated when similar indicative data from the Thai Red Cross Anonymous Clinic and the Silom Community Clinic corroborated a figure in the 25-30 percent range.
Bangkok had shot to top of the world league for MSM HIV seroprevalence! Inner Sydney, for instance, has only about 15 per cent MSM seroprevalence and San Francisco, one of the cities with the highest rates of HIV among MSM, is around 26-27 percent. The rapidity of these increases strongly suggested that Bangkok has been suffering an “epidemic of acute HIV infection” over the last five years. That is, rapid rates of transmission arising largely from newly-infected – and therefore highly-infectious – men. Many major Western cities experienced similar such epidemics in the late 1970s and early 1980s – before any of us were aware such a thing could be happening.
How could this be happening in Bangkok now – and why has an effective response been so long in coming?
There are some major contextual factors impacting on the Bangkok’s lack of response to the rising HIV epidemic. These factors need to be understood within the context of Thailand’s culture and particularly its approach to sex and sexuality.
Thai culture and sex between men
Thai culture around sexuality and gender is quite unique – and its nuances frequently misinterpreted by Westerners. For instance, Thai culture frowns upon any overt, public displays of affection, whether between heterosexual people or others such as MSM, but – paradoxically for many Westerners – it is a society very accepting of different sexual practices as long as they are undertaken away from public view. The sex industry thrives – every provincial town has at least a couple of brothels. Thai culture also condones a role for katoey (femininised gay men who usually adopt a transgender role). Sex between men has never been illegal or condemned as sinful by the main religion (Buddhism).
However, any sex, whether it is with a sex worker, sex between men or male-female sex, is private. To talk in public, openly and directly about sex publicly risks losing face. The concept of face and the resulting shame is extremely powerful, a concept that is not well understood by those from Western cultures. But despite these apparent contradictions, many Thai people see sex positively – as a casual, enjoyable recreation – not an activity burdened with all the moral baggage and tension within which Westerners cloak it. Its chief purpose is pleasure. But it’s seldom talked about.
With this cultural setting it is not surprising that Thailand had an early, rapid, sexual-transmission-driven HIV epidemic. And given that overall cultural context, it is particularly admirable that the “100%-Condom Use for Commercial Sex” campaign of the early 1990s dramatically turned around Thailand’s high rates of HIV infection among its general population, including MSM.
Changes in the Thai political environment The foundations for the current explosive HIV epidemic among MSM were laid following a change in government in 2001. The new government, under (then) Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, began implementing its campaign promised “Social Order Campaign”, initiated by Interior Minister Purachai Piamsomboon, aiming to rid Thailand of its reputation for prostitution and return society to ‘Thai traditional values’. This wide-ranging program included a range of measures to force the early closure of bars in both tourist areas and other areas, the now notorious ‘elimination’ of drug dealers, on-the–spot surprise urine testing for drug use, no access to any entertainment venue for those under 21 and a crack-down on the sex industry.
Some of the subsequent police raids on MSM sex venues and prostitution were highly publicised.
Under the Social Order Campaign, police in effect had the power to harass, threaten with closure and extract bribes from the owners/managers of sex venues. This harassment effectively forced the removal of condoms at MSM sex on premises venues because, although sex between men is not illegal in Thailand, prostitution is illegal and a condom can be used as evidence of prostitution, either in a sex venue or being carried by a person in certain public places, for instance a park or particular streets or lanes at night. One consequence of the simultaneous early bar and venue closures was the subsequent intense concentration of young men – ‘primed for action’ – moving on to parks or to the few sex venues operating illegally after hours.. Rather than reducing ‘illicit’ behaviour, the Social Order Campaign’s composite effect was in fact to concentrate and intensify opportunities for sexual encounters – but force it into environments where condoms were even less likely to be available or used.
Heterosexual sex venues were better able to cope with the police bribery and threats of closure as their revenue base is larger and more flexible. They charge a fee for every sexual transaction and so are more easily able to increase revenue to cope with increased bribes. Most MSM sex premises, in comparison, charge only an entry fee, leading to a much smaller cash flow and less financial flexibility to pay enhanced bribes. Their managers had to remove the condoms or face immediate closure. In some countries the health ministry has been able to intervene in such situations and ensure government policy did not allow such direct undermining of HIV prevention programs. In Thailand however, as in many Asian countries, the Interior Ministry is much more powerful than the Public Health Ministry. In the context of the government’s Social Order Campaign the Thai Ministry of Public Health faced major hurdles in attempting to change both the Interior Ministry policy and the practises of local police on the ground.
Paralysis – or prejudice – at the Ministry of Public Health The results in mid-2005 of the second MSM HIV Seroprevalence study – showing the dramatic increase from 17 percent to 28 percent – should have provided an excellent opportunity for a rapid and powerful intervention by the government. Unfortunately, at this critical moment Prime Minister Thaksin changed the Minister of Public Health, installing a Minister with a reform agenda – not necessarily a bad thing in itself – who promptly removed several of the Ministry department heads and rotated all of the others.
This, and the ensuing public furore it caused, appeared to paralyse the upper echelons of the Ministry at precisely the time that decisive action was needed to intervene in the MSM HIV epidemic. However, this paralysis was selective: during this period the Ministry was able to design and move to implementation of some very strong and far-reaching limitations on the sale and availability of tobacco and of alcohol. Perhaps it was more prejudice than paralysis that effectively prevented a bold and vigorous response from the Ministry’s most senior levels. The Ministerial situation was not resolved until late 2005, so for six critical months little progress was made on addressing what can now be seen as the HIV crisis that it was. The subsequent and continuing government and political turmoil in Thailand remains a problem in developing an effective response, though not as debilitating as the previous episode: the Thai civil service has an honorable record of managing the country’s affairs effectively through times of extended political uncertainty.
Focus shift in Thailand’s HIV response
Thailand had successfully reversed HIV infection rates in the early and mid-1990s. During the late ‘90s and through this decade, the primary focus of the Thai response shifted to access of HIV treatments. To its outstanding credit the Thai government, through the Ministry of Public Health, developed and rolled out an access to HIV treatments program in 800 hospitals across the country, working in partnership with PLWHA organisations. Among low and middle income countries, only Brazil can claim similar success. And this was done notwithstanding the country’s financial constraints in the years following the Thai baht crash of 1997.
But there was a price to be paid. In retrospect it is now clear that the treatments access program pre-occupied the government’s policy and financial focus, and, with no additional funds provided to the AIDS budget, prevention education inevitably declined, a decline unfortunately intensified by the tone and programs instituted under the Social Order Campaign. And ironically, as the economy recovered from the Thai baht crash over the last four years, Thailand has now come to be seen as a country with an “economy in transition”, which has effectively reduced the willingness of international donors and NGOs to provide assistance to Thailand. Donor governments such as Australia, the UK and the US have reduced funding or ceased altogether!
In part 2 to be published tomorrow, Baxter discusses the Thai National AIDS Strategy and MSM, the gay community’s response and the future of Bangkok – and elsewhere in Asia. The article was first published in HIV Australia, vol 5., no 2. and is reproduced with permission.
Don Baxter is the honorary Regional Coordinator of APCASO (Asia Pacific Council of AIDS Service
Organisations) and the Executive Director of AFAO (Australian Federation of AIDS Organisations). The views expressed in this article are his own.
December 31, 2006
Surfacing For Lesbians, the Party Never Stopped in Bangkok
by Megan Cossey
On the night of Sept. 19, military leaders in Thailand suspended the constitution, seized control of Bangkok and imposed martial law. Someone forgot to tell the lesbians. Several nights after the nonviolent coup, a crush of cheering women crowded around the stage at Shela, a lesbian nightclub near the city’s major downtown park, Lumpini, where a popular singer, Palmy, was performing. Fans crammed the balcony, imported whiskey was flowing at every table and a lone tom, local slang for a butch lesbian, was dancing by herself behind the pool table.
Coup or not, it was just another night out for Bangkok’s puying rak puying, or women who love women. Five years ago, this scene would have been unthinkable. Lesbians either met each other at non-gay establishments or through word-of-mouth parties and restaurants. But thanks to the rapidly expanding Thai Internet, and a growing number of younger, more self-possessed lesbians, two nightclubs and several weekly parties catering exclusively to lesbians have opened in Bangkok in the past two years. The grandmother of lesbian parties is Lesla, held every Saturday at the Chit Chat Club, a hangar-sized beer hall in Bangkok’s sprawling northern outskirts (Soi 85, Lad Phrao Road; 66-089-218-9119 or 66-2-618-7191 or 7192; www.lesla.com). If you show up after 11 p.m., you might find Munthana Adisayathepkul, the party’s exuberant organizer, at the top of the balcony, throwing stuffed toys to the masses below. The hours are 10 p.m. to 1 a.m., with a 200-baht cover charge (less than $6 at 36 baht to the U.S. dollar) that gets you a bottle of Heineken.
While Lesla is still going strong, smaller bars have opened in the more convenient downtown area. Shela (106 Lang Suan; 66-2-254-6463, www.shelacorner.com) is among the most popular, and its candlelit, modern décor attracts a sophisticated 30s-and-over crowd. It’s hours are 7 p.m. to 2 a.m., with no cover. Younger lesbians, meanwhile, are heading to Zeta (29 Royal City Avenue; 66-2-203-1043 or 1044; www.zetabangkok.com). It’s at the slightly uncool end of Royal City Avenue, but don’t tell that to the trendy 20-somethings who cram the smoke-filled room to split a bottle of whiskey and flirt. To keep things going, the house band, Mister Sister, plays Western and Thai pop music. Hours are 10 p.m. to 2 a.m., with no cover.
The new lesbian scene isn’t limited to bars and clubs. Zub Zip (674 Soi 101, Lad Phrao Road; 66-081-734-2759), an airy restaurant in northern Bangkok, opened in October and caters to older toms and dees, femme lesbians. The owner, Priyanan Bupa, greets visitors with a motherly smile, Chinese-Thai fusion food and, at least on a recent visit, fresh oranges. Two hundred baht will get you a heaping plate of Hong Kong noodles and a large bottle of Singha beer. And the party keeps growing. Numerous Web sites have popped up to help local lesbians and travelers stay current. Among the best is in English, the Lesbian Guide to Bangkok (www.bangkoklesbian.com). The Web site’s creator, Caitlyn Webster, 27, arrived from New York City a year ago with her girlfriend, Jett Charnchoochai.
“In New York, everyone has to be cool,” Ms. Webster said. “Here, they’re just being cute.”