November 7, 2000
Lesbian group plans campaign in schools To boost awareness and understanding
by Amornrat Mahitthirook
Lesbian group Anjaree plans to launch an awareness campaign in schools to promote a better understanding of homosexuals in society. Chantarak Raksayu, the group’s co-ordinator, said a better understanding >from teachers and parents would be a major step towards winning social acceptance for gays and lesbians. It is estimated that about 10% of the population, or about six million people, are homosexual.
Ms Chantarak, better known as Meena among group members, was speaking at Lady Party 2000 on Saturday which drew more than 400 Thai and foreign lesbians, including actress Venus Meewan. However, Ms Chantarak also expressed concern the group might not receive the co-operation it needed from the educational institutes. "Homosexuals exist in every age group, but most of those who declare themselves homosexual are teenagers," she said. The women-only annual party was held from 1pm to midnight at the Hera Club, on Ratchadaphisek road.
It was organised to raise funds to support the group’s human rights work and this year’s function featured something different. It started with the afternoon session from 1pm to 3pm which featured an exhibition about the group, video presentation and sale of products. From 7pm to midnight, it featured stage entertainment, a fancy dress contest, Miss Popular contest and dance with the highlight being a special show by The Derivative Duo from the US.
Ms Chantarak said the group has been promoting human rights among male and female homosexuals through seminars. It receieves funding from the international NGO Astea, the Public Health Ministry and the general public. Ms Chantarak said a large number of female homosexuals in the North were found to be underprivileged. The Anjaree group, founded by Anchana Suwannanont and human rights activists in 1986, has more than 1,000 members nationwide but few want to be identified as lesbians.
Amporn Boontan, a group member, said Anjaree was not seeking to promote homosexuality. "We are not encouraging homosexuality. What we are asking here is some understanding. "Are they wrong? They can contribute to society and can live happily like anybody else," she said. Thongdee Tom, (an assumed name) said she and her lover planned to spend the rest of their lives together. Ms Thongdee, 29, who is a government official, said their relationship was accepted by the families of both sides. "Love is a matter between two people, no matter what sex you are," she said. "Sexual preference shouldn’t be used to judge anyone."
14 April 2001
Open-minded discussion better than heated argument, seminar told
by Anjira Assavanonda
Society should not get into a heated argument over homosexuality, because it has too little understanding of the issues involved, a psychiatrist said yesterday. Udomsilp Srisaengnam said people should be more open-minded and not allow emotions to sensationalise and cloud the issue. "Actually, a gay or lesbian is no different from us. They are just ordinary people who favour the same sex," he said. He was speaking at a seminar, "Homosexuality: different and inventive points of view".
Interior Minister Purachai Piemsomboon stirred heated debate recently when he suggested gay couples should also be allowed to register their marriage. Chantalak Raksayoo, co-ordinator of Anjaree Group, said there was a long-standing social stigma against homosexuality in Thailand, and it made many gays afraid to come out of the closet. "Even many of our members do not dare to come out publicly," she said.
"One of the lesbians who won the Miss Anjaree award at our Women’s Night Party phoned me the next morning, saying she would like to kill herself because her photo had been published in the newspapers and she had been criticised by neighbours. "She asked society to reduce prejudice against homosexuals. There was nothing wrong with them. She was happy to love people of the same sex. Senator Montri Sinthawichai offered a different opinion. A child rights activist who has worked with many abused children, Mr Montri said homosexuality among children had become an aggravating problem and hard to control. Children were confused about "love" and "sex".
"Many teenage girls who date the same sex do not really experience love. Sometimes it’s all about sex and they become addicted to it," Mr Montri said. Many girls who were in the sex trade had become homosexuals. They try to have sex with other girls, and need more than one partner, he said. He believed most homosexuals had been scarred by some terrible experiences in their lives. There were three groups of homosexual children, he said. The first were those who had been abused by people close to them, such as being raped by their fathers. The second were children raised conservatively by parents who do not want them to date too soon.
The third group were those who had tended to admire the same sex since they were young. "I don’t think it’s right for these children to become like this. These children have mental problems, and they should be given the choice of receiving treatment," said Mr Montri. Many children copied the homosexual behaviour of their friends, and become addicted. The situation was worrying because homosexuality was spreading from university to secondary and even primary school students.
Mr Udomsilp said homosexual behaviour could be imprinted on children’s minds if they experience it at a certain stage of their development. Trying to play down strong arguement in the forum, he said homosexuality was a delicate issue, and there was no agreement on the real causes. "Homosexuality has long existed in the world and there’s no need to be serious about it. What must be discussed is whether a relationship can fit comfortably into society at the moment." Homosexuality was regarded worldwide as neither a disease, mental disorder nor emotional problem. There was no need for homosexuals to be treated, unless they had other complicated problems such as being depressed, suicidal or drug addicted.
April 1, 2001
Thailand crowns Most Beautiful Gay Man in Miss Tiffany contest
Pattaya, Thailand (AFP) – Thailand crowned an unemployed college graduate the Most Beautiful Gay Man in Thailand Sunday at the dazzling conclusion of the Miss Tiffany’s Universe 2001 contest in the seaside resort of Pattaya. In the annual contest fashioned after the Miss World beauty pageant, 51 contestants strutted their stuff in pursuit of the title and prizes including 100,000 baht (2,227 dollars) in cash and an 80,000 baht (1,781 dollars) diamond necklace.
During his reign, 25-year-old Piyathida Sakulthai will travel to Los Angeles to represent Thailand at the Queen of the Universe contest, where two of his predecessors have won the title of Most Beautiful Gay Man on Earth. The pageant combined the shimmering dresses and poised strides of a beauty contest with demands for equal rights and protection for the "third sex" — gays and transexuals.
In the final round of the contest, ten finalists were questioned by a panel of judges and given 30 seconds to answer. One contestant, Pathomtrom Thanatat, a university student who won the second runner-up title, called on Thai authorities to ammend the law to protect gay rights, drawing cheers from the 1,000-strong audience. He said gays are not treated fairly by Thai courts, and that if gays were to file rape charges, they would be rejected by the court. Pathomtrom added that he is well aware of the treatment gays face at the hands of the law because he is the son of a police officer.
Finalists fielded questions about how gays might be accepted by their families, society and themselves. The chairman of the contest, Seri Wongmonga, a prominent academic and publicist who openly declared himself gay years ago, said Piyathida won the contest on the merits of "his unique facial features and beautiful complexion." "The winner was not so outstanding during the question and answer, but the judges selected him as a winner for his beauty," he said. After his coronation, Piyathida said: "I am so glad to win this title. I won because I am confident." He also revealed that he had had a sex change a few years ago, but that it would not disqualify him from competing in Los Angeles for the Queen of the Universe title. The Miss Tiffany show organizers said that the contest was intended to promote greater understanding about homosexuality in families and society, not copycat homosexual behavior.
March 30, 2001
Safe sex play staged in jail
by Anjira Assavanonda
In a bid to prevent the spread of HIV/Aids among prisoners, eight members of the Bangkok Gay Group staged a play for gay inmates yesterday on how to protect themselves from the virus. The show was performed at the Bangkok Remand Prison which houses around 7,000 male prisoners, including 100 gay and transvestite inmates. Pakorn Pimpthon, who led the cast, said the play reflected the group’s dream of stopping HIV transmission across the world. The group also organises the annual Bangkok Gay Festival on Silom Road. The drama conveyed the message anyone contracting HIV should not spread it to others.
It also promoted safe sex through the use of condoms. Mr Pakorn said one of his friends, an ex-inmate, told him many prisoners have sex together to ease stress. More than 50 gay prisoners were allowed to watch the show. "We just encouraged them to fight for their rights and prove they are not social burdens," Mr Pakorn said. The group said they were proud to help educate and advise gays on how to prevent HIV transmission. Cast member Tun Suphakul said he wanted the rights of gay people to be socially accepted. Mr Tun said he had an elder brother who died of Aids, after serving a one-and-a-half-year jail term.
He said he did not understand why condoms are banned in prisons. The group earlier proposed to distribute condoms to the convicts, but the idea was later rejected. Mr Tun said: "The officials told us condoms are always banned since it would encourage some ‘abnormal behaviour.’ This reflects that homosexuality is unaccepted." The Bangkok Gay group also plans to perform the play at other venues, including Lumpini Park and juvenile detention centres.
November 11, 2001
The Crackdown on Gay Bars in Bangkok: Summer, 2001
by Pierre Tourneau
On Monday, July 23rd, 2001, two plain-clothes police officers visited Dream Boy Bar, a gay host bar on Suriwong Road, close to the famous Patpong nightclub area, in the main business district of Bangkok. A large, well-run gay host bar has operated at this site for perhaps twenty years, with over 40 go-go boys. The result of the police visit was a quick change in the two nightly shows, held at 10:30 and 12:30. That night there would be no nudity. The big cock show and the sex show were cancelled. Go-go dancing continued. As before, a customer could pay the off-fee to the bar and have one of the hosts go with him.
The incident was unusual, but not very serious. The bar was not closed. No one was arrested. Many customers would not have realized that anything had happened.
This event occurred in "week one" of an unprecedented series of police actions aimed at the gay host bars. At one point six gay bars in the central Suriwong-Patpong area were closed. Sex shows involving nudity ended. Even go-go dancing in briefs stopped at certain bars. In week two all bars, straight and gay, were ordered to close by 2 a.m., and told to bar the entry of any customers under 20. This was the beginning of the very well-publicized "social order" campaign of Interior Minister Purachai Piumsombun, concerned with closing hours, underage patrons and drugs. Beginning in week three, all thirteen small gay host bars in the more distant Saphan Khwai area were closed. By week six, the targeting of the gay bars was over, but Purachai’s crusade for a new moral "social order," reining in all entertainment venues, continued, publicly endorsed by Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra.
Moral concerns had featured in the English language papers in the months before these crackdowns. In the first half of 2001 stories about young people using drugs in discos, the imposition of the death penalty against drug dealers, the ending of royal pardons for drug dealers, and the scandal of young female students selling sex to pay tuition or buy luxuries featured prominently in the English language Bangkok newspapers.
The two English language Bangkok newspapers had no stories on the actions against gay bars. The first news that anything unusual was happening came in curt notes on new closing hours for all bars in Bernard Trink’s weekly column "Nite Owl" in the Bangkok Post, a long-running newsy column about the heterosexual bar scene. By late August the English language papers gave full coverage to the crackdown on the bars, with news stories, pictures, investigative reporting, editorials and editorial cartoons. The newspaper stories made no mention of gay venues or the six-week crackdown on gay bars. When a news story named DJ Station as the subject of a raid, it was not identified as a gay disco. The gay story, as far as the English language print media was concerned, remained in the closet, unnoticed, unmentioned, unacknowledged.
It was probably a coincidence that the six-week crackdown on gay bars overlapped with the beginnings of the general "social order" crackdown on all entertainment venues. It seems likely that the gay crackdown was a reaction to television exposes that ran in July. In contrast, the general crackdown clearly came directly from Interior Minister Purachai Piumsombun.
In an editorial the English-language newspaper The Nation identified the problems with previous crackdowns.
Most of the anti-vice campaigns in the past were launched with much fanfare and then fizzled out without anyone noticing. Several factors contributed to the failure to enforce the law governing entertainment venues closing at 2am, and keeping underage minors out of these places.
It is an open secret that virtually all operators in the entertainment businesses bribe police to turn a blind eye to their violations of the law, including admitting underage minors and staying open beyond the 2am closing time. Many corrupt police are also paid to look the other way when more sinister activities, such as prostitution and peddling of illicit drugs, take place in these venues.
The six-week crackdown on gay bars was launched with no "fanfare," but certainly "fizzled out." The separate "social order" crackdown on all bars had "much fanfare." By mid-November, 2001, it still showed no signs of fizzling out, though for the newspapers it was now an old story. It is leading to new legislation which will allow the zoning of entertainment venues and other control measures.
The Television Stories
In late July, iTV ran a series of five reports about the gay host bars on an investigative program that airs after the evening television news. The series was promoted by television spots that showed the gymnastic sex show in the Boys of Bangkok bar: two young men engaged in anal sex and swinging from overhead bars. Reporters used a hidden camera to get the footage. One of the iTV episodes gave inflated estimates of the amount of money a young man could make working in the bars, leading one bar owner to joke that bus tickets to Bangkok immediately sold out in the north-east. One episode talked of instances of customers being robbed by hosts, actually a very rare occurrence. Channel 9 did its own expose, copying the iTV initiative.
iTV is owned by Shin Corporation, which itself is 53% owned by members of Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra’s family. This led some people to think the programs were linked to government policy. A series of stories in the English language press over the summer of 2001 have accused the government of attempting to control the media. In a story sharply critical of Thaksin, the Far Eastern Economic Review commented that Shin Corporation…bought and effectively muzzled the country’s only independent television station iTV, just in time to assure favourable election coverage.
The television programs created a scandal. What was discretely private, though in full view for those who wished to see
it, was now, at least temporarily, very public. The shows dealt with the gay bar scene and preceded the police actions.
Thaksin And Purachai
The government of Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra came to office in February, 2001 with a clear majority of seats in parliament and a commitment to combating drugs, vice and illegal businesses. Through the year Thaksin remained a very popular leader, a new phenomenon in Thailand’s normally fractious political scene. In spite of his popularity, he was regularly criticized in English language publications, including the Bangkok Post, The Nation, the Far Eastern Economic Review and the Asian Wall Street Journal. He was frequently critical of media coverage of his governments’ actions. Both Prime Minister Thaksin and Interior Minister Purachai Piumsombun have backgrounds in the police. They met and became close friends at the Police Academy.
Thaksin studied criminal justice in the United States, gaining a doctorate. He went into business and became a telecommunications multimillionaire. Purachai obtained a doctorate in criminology from Florida State University and, after heading security at the Police Academy, became a senior lecturer at the National Institute of Development Administration, subsequently becoming Dean of the Faculty of Political Science, and twice the Rector. Under his administration the Institute opened evening PhD courses and eight new campuses in the provinces. After 14 years at the Institute, he left in 1996 to become the running mate of Major General Chamlong Srimuang for Mayor of Bangkok.
Chamlong, a charismatic, strictly religious political activist, and former Mayor of Bangkok, had formed the Palang Dharma Party and brought Thaksin into its leadership. Neither Chamlong nor Purachai were elected in 1996. Purachai then worked for two years for Shin Corporation, responsible for research and development. In 1998 Purachai became Secretary-General of Thaksin’s new Thai Rak Thai party, a position he continued to hold after the election that brought the party to national power. Purachai said that as interior minister "it is my mission to fight three wars: drugs, corruption, and poverty." He is a novice politician, prone to give lectures and treat others in a condescending manner. He is close to the Prime Minister and has a reputation for not being corrupt.
Purachai has been very concerned with entertainment venues. In June the Venue Operators Association chairman Somyos Suthangkul lobbied Purachai to extend closing hours to 5 a.m. instead of 2 a.m. He was sharply rebuffed. Purachai told Somyos that he should strive to boost the service and image of entertainment places because countries such as China had already protested that their government officials had been taken to watch sex shows at night-entertainment places while on a visit to Thailand.
"Its very humiliating. We should allow no more sex shows to exist," Purachai said. The government will strictly enforce laws against offensive entertainment venues in an effort to deter children from taking illegal drugs and engaging in prostitution, Purachai said. Slightly later, the head of the government’s Tourism Authority of Thailand spoke against sex tourism. Pradech said that TAT’s strategies included the promotion of Thailand as a family destination, encouraging more female visitors, the development of cultural tourism and the launching of campaigns to deter tourists from visiting the country for sexual purposes of any kinds.
Under Purachai the Interior Ministry developed plans to zone the entertainment areas, concerned with the proliferation of night-time venues throughout Bangkok, including in residential areas. The Bangkok Municipal Administration initially identified six areas as entertainment zones, but the government is in the process of approving only three. When the areas are zoned under new legislation, opening hours can be extended for venues in the zones. Existing bars outside the zones will not be closed, but will have to close at 2 a.m. New bars will only be possible in the zones.
The Nation ran a front-page story on August 20th under the headline "Purachai vows to erase social ills." In it, Purachai set out a highly moralistic and conservative agenda. The story was based on an interview for The Nation News Talk program on Channel 9. Interior Minister Purachai Piumsombun says he will give a new face to the country within four years by eradicating the spread of illicit drugs, prostitution and casual sex among children.
Purachai said he would erase social ills and create an orderly society for quality people to live in. He said a good country should be one where children stayed at home with their parents at night and only a few people visited the appropriate entertainment venues in designated areas. "People must show their identity cards to prove that they are legally mature before they enter night-time places, even those where no sex shows are allowed," Purachai said.
According to him, the idea of regulating society emerged at a workshop chaired by Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra in Chiang Rai last March. The Interior Ministry then swiftly enforced laws against entertainment venues that opened beyond the authorized time of 2am. It will also launch a new version of the Entertainment Venues Act to better monitor nightclubs. When the amended act becomes effective, it will restrict the night-time entertainment places to certain designated areas and bar such venues from operating near temples and schools. "All kinds of entertainment venues, including karaoke lounges, will have to seek approval on a year-to-year basis if they want to open past midnight," he said.
Purachai says these measures will enable officials to check that no underage children are allowed there. He added this was crucial because these places generally encouraged drug abuse and prostitution. "It breaks my heart to see young females aged between 12 and 13 enter the flesh trade in the desperate hope of paying for their nocturnal activities," he said. Preventative measures must be taken to prevent children from falling prey to profit-making businesses, adding that these valuable children had to be protected.He also wished to bring back the Thai lady of what he called "the good old days", who maintained modesty and valued the importance of virginity.
"Thai ladies in the old time would never walk so close to their boyfriends like modern girls are now doing," he said, adding that families and schools should play a key role in inculcating good values in children. Bernard Trink commented: "we have a leader in high places determined to end sin…"
In April, 2001, Purachai said that legally recognizing gay marriages might be a good thing. The comment was made in the context of requiring unmarried individuals, specifically mistresses, to make declarations of their wealth in the investigation of possible corruption on the part of their partners. The lesbian group Anjaree "handed the Minister a note thanking him for his statement…" After all, Purachai had publicly recognized that stable same-sex couples existed. His recognition of this fact suggests that he is not homophobic. It would seem to follow that his campaigns are honestly aimed only at corruption, gambling, drugs, youth and late night venues. His espousal of "family values" may not have an anti-homosexual subtext.
Some observers fear that there is an anti-homosexual agenda in the governments crackdown. There was the six-week crackdown on gay bars, but there is no public information linking that campaign to Purachai. After the crackdown on the gay bars ended, gay and straight venues have been treated equally. A local observer reported a police statement on television suggesting the stopping of male prostitution because it was "unusual," while saying that heterosexual prostitution could not realistically be ended. But the English language Bangkok papers have had no statements by politicians or officials indicating a specific campaign against gay venues or male prostitution as part of the general crackdown.
What Happened To The Gay Bars?
Week One – July 23rd to July 29th:
The most visible gay host bars, and those with the most sensational shows, are located in the Suriwong-Patpong area. There are eight gay host bars on Soi Duangthawee, off Suriwong Road. On the other side of Suriwong are three more bars, Jupiter, Dream Boy and Screw Boy. In these bars sex shows and shows involving nudity, with exceptions, stopped in week one.
Week Two – July 30th to August 5th:
On Wednesday, August 1st, the police closed Future Boys bar. By Friday, August 3rd, six bars were closed. Two small bars nearby on Rama IV Road, My Way and Up 2 continued to have go-go dancing on August 3rd, though My Way had discretely turned off its exterior sign.
The bars of the BBB Group (Boys of Bangkok, Blue Star and Dream Boy) were not closed. They stopped any shows with full nudity, limiting performances to go-go dancing in briefs and amusing shows. While it was commonplace for the gay host bars not to be licensed, the BBB Group had gone to the trouble and expense of ensuring that their bars were licensed (perhaps in reaction to the Thaksin governments stated concerns with vice and illegal businesses). Licensing does not allow sex shows or late openings. The BBB bars continued to operate even when neighboring bars were closed.
The oldest continuously operating gay host bar, Twilight, operated on Sunday, August 5th as if nothing had changed – go-go dancing, nudity and a sex show. A few blocks up Suriwong towards the river, on side streets, are five bars. On August 5th one of the oldest bars, Super Lex, had go-go dancing and a solo masturbation show. That evening the large and popular Tawan muscle man bar was effectively closed. A customer could buy a drink, but there were no shows, no go-go dancing and no customers. A few boys were around, in street clothes. Across the street, the small Tomahawk bar was operating as usual with go-go dancing.
There are thirteen small gay host bars in the more distant Saphan Khwai area. Only one of the bars had ever had a show involving sex and only a few had go-go dancing. In week two go-go dancing was stopped. On Sunday, August 5th, Aladdin bar was closed. Apache Boy and Charmming were effectively closed, though a customer could buy a drink if he wanted. Some bars maintained their previous pattern of having hosts seated in the bar in street clothes. One bar said that a customer could order a drink and talk to the boys, but he would not be able to "off" any boy.
Police began requiring drug tests of patrons in some venues. On August 2nd police raided the straight Q Bar, subjecting 200 patrons to urine drug tests. Stories of compulsory urine drug tests became a regular feature in the newspapers.
Week Three – August 6th to August 12th:
On Monday, August 6th, as if nothing had happened, Screw Boy Bar, just off Suriwong, was open again with go-go dancing. There was no nudity and no show. Then abruptly at 9:30 the bar closed. Apparently police had raided a previously closed bar on Soi Dungthawee, either New Man or X-Treme, and taken some hosts to the police station.
When police appear in these situations, they are in plain clothes, and much of the control is actually exercised through telephone calls. No uniformed police were visible on Soi Duangthawee over the next hour or so.
After 10:00 all the gay bars in the Suriwong-Patpong-Dungthawee area had closed. The BBB Group bars were closed. Twilight was closed. Dicks Café, with no hosts and no show, was the only gay venue still operating on Soi Dungthawee.
Then the farang owner of the BBB bars reopened his bars. Customers started drifting back in, confused over what was going on. The hosts were now in street clothes. Drinks were available. There was no go-go dancing and no shows. At Blue Star, instead of paying an "off", a customer could buy the host a "special drink" for 300 Baht. The "drink" could be consumed anywhere.
That week Tawan bar reinvented itself. It now had a Thai boxing show and karaoke. There was no go-go dancing. A good number of hosts were available, dressed in street clothes. Business was terrible. On August 7th Tomahawk Bar had go-go dancing, the boys in Dream Boy were in street clothes, and Twilight was closed.
On August 8th, the BBB bars had go-go dancing, and shows, but no nudity. Twilight was open. Future Boys, closed since the 3rd, was open. The hosts were in street clothes. There was no go-go dancing and no show. It closed at 11:30. The BBB Group closed at 12:30.
On Friday, August 10th, Screw Boy, New Man, X-Treme and Classic2 were still closed. Other bars were open with go-go dancing. Future Boys was open with go-go dancing and shows that involved no nudity. One standard bar show involves hosts dancing under black lights, with their bodies painted. That night one boy had the letters iTV written on his back, surrounded by the outline of a large foot. Rising from his shorts was the outline of a hand, giving iTV the finger.
That evening Interior Minister Purachai inspected several entertainment districts along with the city police chief and 30 officers. Purachai was reported to be "furious" when he found a venue on Soi Patpong, the heterosexual Muzic Café, open after 2 a.m. As a result, according to the newspaper account, he ordered the police superintendent of the Bangrak police station to be transferred and investigated. The article, based on information given to the paper by the authorities, made little sense. The transfer was an extreme act if all that was involved was a breach of the closing law by one bar. In retrospect it is clear that the event marked the beginning of Purachai’s public campaigns over closing hours, drugs and minors.
The Bangkok Post story included these sentences:
Pol Lt-Gen Anan called a meeting of the chiefs of all city stations yesterday to stress Mr Purachai’s strict anti-drugs policy. The interior minister did not want entertainment venues to become havens of vice. Several venues were thought to sell drugs and allow entry to underage patrons. The [anonymous] source [for the story] said Pol Lt-Gen Anan showed the chiefs a videotape of gambling dens and entertainment venues and told them they would be removed if illegal activities were not stopped.
Purachai, it is said, "kept a low profile" as long as the Prime Minister was awaiting a ruling from the Constitutional Court on his assets concealment case. Thaksin could have been required to step down and Purachai was the most likely person to replace him. With Thaksin’s acquittal, Purachai "saw no barrier to his crusade for a new social order." A general crackdown on straight and gay bars, focused on drugs, underage patrons and closing hours had begun.
As a result of raids on August 10th, the gay disco DJ Station and the straight Music Bar were closed for a few weeks. Uniformed police began to check ids on weekends at the entrance to Silom Soi 4, the small side street with Telephone and Balcony Bars, and Sphinx restaurant, all gay venues.
Sunday, August 12th, was the Queen’s birthday. Such royal events get extensive public recognition in Thailand. Amazingly, all bars were closed, straight and gay. The only time such general closures have occurred in the past has been on the most important Buddhist religious holiday (and even that closure has not been strictly enforced in recent years). Dick’s Café remained open. The popular Telephone and Balcony bars, off Silom road, close to Patpong, with no shows and no hosts, were closed.
Touts were urging gay tourists to visit a "new" gay bar, on the other side of Silom. In that area, under the jurisdiction of a different police station, there are two or three small and marginal gay host bars. The Sunday closings were not the result of the Friday night inspection by the Minister of the Interior, for bar owners had been given earlier notice to close on the Queen’s birthday.
Week Four – August 13th to August 19th:
The Queen’s birthday passed. Most of the gay host bars reopened. Not all were able to resume go-go dancing. On Soi Duangthawee three or four remained closed. On Wednesday, August 15th, the police held a meeting with the owners of straight and gay bars. A new police chief for the Bangrak district was now in place. Perhaps the Sunday closings had been his signal of control. Perhaps the events marked the relatively new Thaksin governments placing of its own man in the lucrative Bangrak police office. Bar owners left the meeting feeling fairly confident that things would stabilize in two or three weeks.
Obelisk Sauna was raided on Saturday, August 18th. It is now permanently closed. On a visit on August 18th all thirteen Saphan Khwai gay bars were closed.
Week Five – August 20th to August 26th:
Things were returning to normal. Classic2nd on Soi Duangthawee, long closed, reopened with go-go dancing on Thursday, August 23rd. That night go-go dancing resumed at Tawan bar. After a disastrous twenty-two days of boys in street clothes, Tawan bar now had a "dancing license." There were still no sex shows and no nudity. Screw Boy Bar resumed go-go dancing on Friday the 24th.
Most startlingly, sex shows had resumed at Future Boys on Monday August 20th. But that only lasted five days. On Saturday August 25th, the ban on nudity resumed at Future Boys. The Saphan Khwai bars were still closed.
Purachai’s new "social order" was clearly spelled out in an interview on Friday, August 24th.
Interior Minister Purachai Piumsombum yesterday shrugged off the protests of entertainment workers and operators against having to close at 2 am, saying he would firmly enforce the operating hours limit as well as a new midnight limit for serving drinks at all night venues.
"Protest or no protest, I don’t care. But any place found to continue past closing time may be temporarily shut down and may lose its licence altogether," he said.
The impact on the Royal City Avenue straight bars was immense. Seventy-four nightspots had closed, leaving three operating. On Saturday, August 25th, Purachai led another big raid, this time on the Grand Music Hall, not a gay venue. It was found to be operating at 2:30 a.m. Of 191 patrons, nine were underage and up to 16 proved positive on drug-urine tests. Three leading police officers were ordered transferred.
Week Six – August 27th to September 2nd:
On Tuesday, August 28th, Tomahawk Bar was closed (along with New Man and X-Treme which had been closed for weeks). There were no sex shows or nudity in the bars. Future Boys hired some TV celebrities from Channel 7 to do a comedy show with fat male entertainers simulating go-go dancing and a sex show. It was very funny. The audience, including two plain-clothes police officers, loved the show.
On Friday, September 31st, the gay bars in Saphan Khwai reopened. Apache Boy never reopened. Later Alladin closed again. Name changes were required of any bars with "boy" in the name. Water Boy became Waterloo. Stax Boys became Heaven. Street Boys became Street Bar. Nowhere else were such name changes required. The bars had to close at 1 a.m. Go-go dancing resumed at some bars where it had been featured, but not at others.
Within a few days two other bars in Soi Duangthawee reopened, New Man and X-Treme. With one or two exceptions, all the bars were open again and go-go dancing was back to normal. The ban on sex shows remained in place. The police were no longer treating the gay bars differently than the straight bars.
In early October cock shows, which involve full nudity, began to reappear. By the end of October sex shows with anal intercourse had resumed at the bars where they had been featured in the past.
Some massage parlors were targeted by the police: others not. Two saunas closed: Obelisk and Colony. Sex magazines with full nudity had become much more common in the last couple of years, and some showed erections, cum and fucking. In Saphan Khwai the sex magazines were available in November from street stands, but only the covers were on display. The magazines could be ordered, and appeared from elsewhere. The same magazines were openly sold in the Patpong-Suriwong area.
What Was Going On?
The police actions against the gay host bars did not target underage prostitution. For a number of years boys under 18 have been barred from working in the bars. Police actions, as well, have stopped younger boys from hanging around Robinsons Department Store on the corner of Silom and Rama IV. The hosts in the gay bars are routinely referred to as "boys," and bar names like "Dream Boy" and "Future Boys" continue to be common in the Patpong area. The word, "boy," or "dek" in Thai, is a common term for males in a service capacity. It indicates lower status, not necessarily young age.
In their actions the police have not been targeting prostitution, as such. The actions against the gay bars have not focused on the availability of hosts. Shows were curtailed, including go-go dancing at some bars, but hosts continued to be available (except, for a period, in Saphan Khwai). The police did not show equal concern for the heterosexual bars with female hosts. Those bars operate on the same basis as the gay host bars, and often in close proximity. Go-go dancing was stopped for a couple of weeks in Screw Boy Bar, but continued at Pink Panther, a straight bar next door. One part of the story is that police gave more respect to the bars that had proper licenses. One result of the crackdown seems to be that all of the gay host bars applied for licenses.
In trying to understand where orders came from, it seems significant that local police often assured bar owners that things would be back to normal in a few days, or a couple of weeks. These assurances were unreliable. Policy was in flux, or perhaps, decisions were being made at higher levels. Another problem in understanding these events is the inconsistency between police precincts. Saphan Khwai was treated quite differently. Even the Queen’s Birthday closure was apparently not enforced on the other side of Silom, outside Bangrak precinct. The inconsistencies suggest that decisions were being made at the local level.
The best guess seems to be that the crackdown on the gay bars was a reaction to the television exposes in July. It does not seem linked to Interior Minister Purachai. The crackdown overlapped with Purachai’s "social order" campaign, which applies to both gay and straight venues.
The Social Order Campaign
The "social order" crackdown has been controversial. Under the headline "Crackdown on bars ‘will hurt tourism’," The Nation quoted some critics.
Sompop Manarangsan, a lecturer at Chulalongkorn University’s Faculty of Economics, said the night-time entertainment sector employed hundreds of thousands of people and the restrictions enforced recently might affect the employment of those workers. "We have to accept that foreign tourists like the nightlife in our country. The restriction on the hours affects tourism, which is the one important sector the government is pinning its hopes on to boost our sluggish economy," he said.
Purachai also had critics within his Thai Rak Thai party:
Interior Minister Purachai Piumsombun and Deputy Education Minister Sirikorn Maneerin yesterday faced a barrage of criticism at a Thai Rak Thai party meeting, prompting the former to walk out as a verbal attack escalated. Purachai-led raids into entertainment venues in his active bid to install a new "social order" in Bangkok were viewed as detrimental to the party’s political support base because night-spot operators would likely turn to other parties, an informed source said.
"Next time Purachai should try running as a constituency-MP candidate [rather than on the party list] – he’ll see how hard it is to woo the voters’ favour," an MP at the meeting was quoted as saying.
There was criticism, but there was also support. An opinion poll with 1,215 respondents showed 60 percent support for Purachai’s "social order" campaign. Purachai, himself, indicated his determination to continue. Interior Minister Purachai Piumsombun shrugged off mounting pressure against the clampdown on nightspots. Early closing has drawn protests from operators who claim it is bad for business. "There’s nothing unusual about it. Surely some people will make a racket because they are about the lose benefits," he said.
Mr. Purachai said the operators had exploited lax enforcement of laws for too long. They were well aware of the law governing nightspots when they joined the industry. Mr. Purachai said he had no objection to extending operating hours, but it would be considered only after zoning was in place. The minister also warned police against lax enforcement.
Opposition within Thai Rak Thai to Purahcai’s campaign was headed by another powerful figure, well connected to the Prime Minister. Sanoh Thienthong is party chief adviser to Prime Minister Thaksin. He describes himself as "the grand old man" of the party, "fully in charge" of looking after all Thai Rak Thai MPs and the person who will run the party’s next election campaign. He has often commented on Purachai’s arrogance and aloofness.
Sanoh is the leader of the Wang Nam Yen faction supported by around 70 Thai Rak Thai members of Parliament, the largest faction within the party. Sanoh publicly appealed to Prime Minister Thaksin to rein in Purachai. Purachai said he would resign first. Thaksin, after suggesting he would moderate the campaign, reversed himself and publicly endorsed the crackdown, saying that it was his idea. Sanoh backed off. An effort by constituency MPs to do a "report card" on various ministers, including Purachai, was dropped.
Purachai won unconditionally. He proceeded with the crackdown and the revision of the 1966 Entertainment Places Act, which will allow the implementation of the new zoning scheme. Sanoh, still critical of the "social order" campaign, worked to end Purachai’s tenure as Secretary-General of the Thai Rak Thai Party, and openly defied party policy on other issues as well.
The "social order" campaign has significant public support. In October, 2001, there were persistent rumors that Prime Minister Thaksin would move Purachai from the Interior Ministry post in the next cabinet shuffle. Both English language papers, always critical of Thaksin, editorialized in favor of Purachai, supporting the Minister and his "social order" campaign:
…Purachai is popular because he is doing the right thing…a prime minister cannot always sustain his credibility and authority if he sacrifices his most honest and straightforward Cabinet members. Mr. Purachai is one of the few members of the cabinet who appear to be working hard for the good of the country. He should be allowed to stay where he is, and Mr. Thaksin should be seen to be supporting him. Purachai boasted that his social order policy had greatly reduced crime rates, attributing the change to strict enforcement of closing hours.
The Gay Crackdown And The Social Order Campaign
The fights over the "social order" campaign did not involve comments on gay venues. The crackdown on gay bars lasted six weeks. Restrictions on shows lasted a few weeks longer. The on-going, general "social order" crackdown on bars, discos and massage parlors has had some effects on gay places, but the highly publicized raids on clubs have occurred at straight venues. Bars close at 2 a.m., but that is not a change for the gay host bars.
In Saphan Khwai there is a change. Bars there must close at 1 a.m. Some restrictions emerged for certain massage parlors and for the public sale of sex magazines. One host bar owner announced by email on November 10th, 2001, that things were "back to normal." He was anxious to reassure tourists. We are happy to tell you, that again you can enjoy our normal colorful shows you have been visiting during the last years.
November 28, 2001
Thailand to turn out transsexual boxer film
Bangkok – Following the success of last year’s "Iron Ladies," a film about a transvestite volleyball team, a Thai production company plans to make a film about a transsexual Thai kickboxing sensation.
Thai record firm GMM Grammy Plc and Singapore-based Spicy Apple Films will begin co-production of "Beautiful Boxer" in mid 2002, Grammy said in a statement received on Wednesday. The action drama will be based on the real-life story of 20-year-old transsexual Parinya Charoenphol, who fought since the age of 12 to earn money for his sex change operation. "Believing he’s a girl trapped in a boy’s body since childhood, Parinya…sets out to master the most masculine and lethal sport of Thai boxing to achieve his ultimate goal of total femininity," the statement said.
The shooting will be done in Thailand, Japan and Singapore with Thai, English and Japanese dialogue. Ekachai Uekrongtham, a Bangkok born Thai who founded Singapore-based theatre company ACTION Theatre, will be the producer and director of the film. "Satree Lek" or "Iron Ladies" was the second biggest grossing domestic film in Thai cinematic history and has played to packed houses in Asia.
The film is based on the true story of a transvestite volleyball team from northern Thailand that sprang from obscurity to win the 1996 men’s national volleyball championship. The movie started the first U.S. national run by a Thai film in about 30 cities, including New York, San Francisco, and Los Angeles in September.
December 24, 2001
Surgeon advocates for Thai transsexuals
One of the most popular sex-change surgeons in Thailand has urged the government to legally recognize the new gender of transsexuals, according to the Associated Press. Preecha Thiewanon, addressing a seminar last week on the behavior of men after sex changes, said that current Thai laws were unfair toward the transgendered. Men who become women are still considered men under the law, for example, and their marriages to other men are not legally sanctioned.
Thiewanon noted that at least 300 Thai transgender people are currently in marriages that aren’t legal. The surgeon has performed hundreds of sex-changed [sic] operations, mostly on men becoming women. Thailand has become popular as a destination for sex-change operations because of the low cost compared to Western countries.
Thai sauna owner jailed for procuring sex
A 26-year-old Bangkok man has been sentenced to five months in prison for procuring 27 men for a gay sex party held at his property. The owner of a Bangkok sauna has been sentenced to five months in prison on Wednesday at the Southern Bangkok Criminal Court after he was found guilty of procuring 27 Thai men for a gay sex party in August this year, according to The Nation.
Nikhon Niamthong, 26, the owner of the Colony Sauna on Soi Thong Lor had recruited 27 men from a bar in the Saphan Kwai area for Bt1,000 each as "dates" for men attending the party, according to the testimony given by a prosecution witness who worked in the sauna. The party, the witness said, was a birthday party for 56-year-old British national Richard John Duffy, who later denied the charges saying he had no knowledge of the 27 Thai men and that his British friends had organised the party as a "surprise" for him.
A team of plainclothes police, who said they acted on a tip-off, raided the party and found about 50 Thai and foreign men drinking and eating beside a swimming pool in which other men were swimming naked while some were hugging and kissing. Duffy was acquitted as the judges said that there was insufficient evidence to prove that Duffy had hired the 27 men for the party. The court however found that Nikhon had allowed the sex party to be held on his premise.
November 17, 2002
Carrying the flame at the Gay Games VI
by Daniel Gawthrop, The Nation
They may not have brought home the gold, but for Thailand’s volleyball team at the sixth international Gay Games, a bronze medal will do just fine. After all, the Poison Guys – whose name is not a reference to the players’ biting katoey wit – had never played a single game together and had only a few minutes to practice before their first match. Then, during one of the final games before the medal round, they were forced to continue with only five players after losing Singha Saijaidee to a hand injury. There was also the pressure of high expectation: as a gay volleyball team representing Thailand, the Poison Guys were instantly billed as the second coming of the "iron ladies" of Satree Lex.
Among the Sydney residents and international visitors who had seen the smash hit film by Yongyooth Thongkongtoon, those who didn’t mistake the Poison Guys for the former national champions from Lampang appeared to assume that this group of Thai volleyballers would be just as skilled and outrageous as their celluloid counterparts. "When we arrived at the airport, there were people who shouted out ‘Satree Lex! Satree Lex!’ when they saw the team," recalled one player’s boyfriend.
In fact, the Poison Guys were a loose assortment of acquaintances put together almost on a whim. "There were two of us from Bangkok, two from Pattaya, one from Frankfurt and one from Sydney – and the Sydney guy only joined us three days before the Games, when one of our other players could not come,"smiled captain Boonthiam Poovarak, who first thought of starting a team after playing with a group from Amsterdam at the gay Euro Games in Hanover last year. After opening the tournament with two losses and a win, the Poison Guys finally hit their stride on the third day of competition by winning all three of their matches.
Along the way, they attracted legions of fans with their playful on-court preening and collective shrieks of "Oo-ee!!" following every big point. By mid-week, e-mailed photos of the team were plastered all over the bars in Pattaya’s Boyztown, where Virat "Go" Tonchai and Anan Rompochee are known as two of the more flamboyant Jomtien beach volleyballers. Go’s rabbit ears and Anan’s fluttering eyelashes were a big hit in Sydney, where the crowds cheered on the Thais no matter who they were playing.
The Poison Guys only squeaked into the medal round after losing Singha, and the odds did not look good against the much larger and physically imposing Dallas players. But in the end, the Satree Lex philosophy of sanuk worked its magic once again. "The Thai team decided that they wouldn’t win, so they would just relax and have fun," said Kevin Thohinang of Bangkok. "I think the Poison Guys won because they didn’t have any stress. They just played on instinct. People loved them and laughed, because they were very charming and delightful, whereas Dallas was just trying to win."
November 17, 2002
Becoming visible at the Gay Games
by Daniel Gawthrop, The Nation
For 14 Thai athletes who travelled to Australia this month, the sixth international Gay Games offered valuable lessons about perseverance and pride. When Team Thailand’s entrance was announced over the public address system at a crowded football stadium on November 2, there was an instant roar from the 40,000 who had gathered for the opening ceremonies of the sixth international Gay Games.
There were only 14 athletes marching behind the Thai flag, their presence dwarfed by Western countries including Canada, which sent 380 participants from Vancouver alone. Thailand’s conservative, white-and-blue track suits were ironically understated next to the high-cut, red satin shorts worn by the Team Singapore. But Thailand, seen by the rest of the world as the most gay-friendly country in Asia, was making its first official appearance at the Games, which this year marked its 20th anniversary. So the warm reception was not surprising.
For the Thais marching into Aussie Stadium – some of whom had never set foot outside their own country – the impact of being greeted by wildly cheering crowds and then sitting through a spectacular show of Aboriginal dancing, a giant spewing volcano and 40,000 people singing "Happy Birthday" to pop star kd lang, was almost overwhelming. "It made me feel warm, happy, and very excited," said Pakpoom "Yuan" Pumeekiatisak, a third-year mass communications student at Chiang Mai University. "I never thought I would be part of a world class event like this. It’s not very easy to find this feeling in Thailand."
Everyone has their own reason for taking part in the Gay Games. For Yuan, 20, it was a chance to meet people from around the world. "If I didn’t come here, I would never have met my friends from Mexico," he told The Nation over breakfast on Sydney’s bustling Oxford Street. "It isn’t just the sport and the culture that’s important. It’s the power of what we share in common." Yuan won a scholarship to attend the festival after penning a one-page essay that exemplified the Games philosophy of "Participation… Inclusion… Personal Best". He also submitted a mixed media collage for an art competition on Gay Games inspiration.
For 28-year-old sprinter Anuchaa "Aud" Charoenrat of Bangkok, the Games offered a chance to honour his sister Eddy, who first inspired his interest in running. Back when they were teenagers in Ubon Ratchathani, Eddy was a champion high school sprinter for three years in a row. Aud adored his sister and was devastated when she died of Aids a few years ago. So when he first learned about the Gay Games, and found out they were coming to Sydney, he decided to enter two races and dedicate his effort to Eddy’s memory. For both races, he wore a special shirt with a photo of his sister emblazoned on the back. Aud placed sixth in the 200 metre run and missed the medal round in the 100 metre event by only 0.02 of a second – close enough to guarantee a return to the next Gay Games. "I want to go to Montreal," he said, referring to Rendezvous 2006, which will be held in Canada’s second largest city. "But I hope we can get a bigger team, more people, next time."
Aud’s not the only member of Team Thailand who wants a second chance. Kevin Thohinang, a 39-year-old furniture designer and event planner who entered the tennis competition, had to withdraw on the eve of the tournament when his left knee gave out. "Definitely, I will try to do something in Montreal – but I think it might be badminton or table tennis," laughed Kevin. "I didn’t go to Sydney just to watch." As well as the bronze medal-winning volleyball team, Team Thailand included two women who placed fourth in the Over 45 category of ballroom dancing for Latin routines of cha-cha-cha, samba and rumba; a Thai resident of Sydney who represented the Kingdom in billiards; and an Australian citizen, David Curtin, who played tennis.
Curtin, who lived in Thailand for many years, was proud to play for the Kingdom and made some of the crucial e-mail queries that allowed Team Thailand members to march together in opening ceremonies. Thailand’s presence at the Gay Games, along with that of several other countries from the region, raises the question: could the Games ever be held in a Far East Asian city? And if so, wouldn’t the logical first choice be Bangkok? Yuan would love to see that happen, but he’s sceptical. "There are thousands of lesbians and gays in Thailand, but fewer than 20 people at these Games," he said.
"First we need more acceptance in Thai society, for people to see us as normal. Then, for the Gay Games to happen in Bangkok, the government would need to improve many things to assist participants. It’s not just a social event, after all – it’s a kind of Olympics." In Kevin’s view, infrastructure won’t be such a problem: in the next eight to 12 years, he argues, there will be enough venues and a broad enough transportation network to accommodate 14,000 athletes without traffic being a problem.
But Thailand’s lack of a discernible gay culture might leave a vacuum in terms of the human resources required to stage such an event. "When it comes down to the organisation, the people who step into the front line to make it happen, that might be difficult," he says. "For something like this, the Europeans and North Americans can do it better." . Daniel Gawthrop played centre and left wing for the bronze medal-winning ice hockey team, the Vancouver Cutting Edges, at the Sydney Gay Games.
Thailand’s new Deputy Interior Minister bans people under 18 from staying outside their homes after 10pm without their parents accompanying them
Many had initially heaved a sigh of relieve when Dr Purachai Piemsomboon was removed as Thailand’s Interior Minister but many are holding their breath again as the new man at the helm is proving to be tougher. Thailand’s new Deputy Interior Minister Pracha Maleenond, who is on an even tougher social order crusade originally started by his predecessor, has announced that he agrees with city police’s plan to dust off an old law passed by one of Thailand’s past military regimes to ban people under 18 from staying outside their homes after 10pm without their parents accompanying them, reports The Bangkok Post.
While Mr Wanmuhamadnoor Matha has been appointed the new Interior Minister in October, Mr Pracha has been assigned to take over the year-old social order campaign started by the former Interior Minister Dr Purachai Piemsomboon who is now the Justice Minister. Mr Pracha is said to crack whip even harder than Dr Purachai, who is famed for starting a campaign cracking down on drugs, vice, banning anyone under 20 from entry, prohibiting the sale of alcohol after midnight and implementing the 2am closing time for nightclubs and bars.
Mr Pracha believed the law would give the Interior Ministry’s social order policy more bite as it would discourage them all the more to go out at night and added that the youths should stay at home and help their parents with housework or use their precious time to study rather than dancing, drinking and hanging out in entertainment venues.
Since his appointment, several karaoke bars and massage parlours had been shut for operating without a licence after he imposed a Strike 3 policy to revoke the operating licenses from establishments that persist in breaking the rules. Many who lobbied for Dr Purachai’s removal are probably regretting their involvement as the new interior minister has been springing surprise visits on nightspots. A typical scene at a male go-go bar Last week, the governors of Lopburi and Pathum Thani provinces were chided for not turning up after they were informed of the 3am raids conducted unannounced by Mr Pracha at nightspots under their jurisdiction.
The governors could now face disciplinary action. Mr Pracha, who has strong support from Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, said he would focus his efforts on cracking down on venues that flout closing hours, promote drugs and allow obscene performances. While crackdown was not gay specific, gay go-go bars, saunas and dance clubs including DJ Station, which had been ordered to close for a few weeks last year as a result of a police raid, have seen their share of police raids for drugs and underaged patrons in recent weeks.
Sceptics, including ordinary citizens who thought the social order campaign started by Dr Purachai a year ago was a non-starter now have second thoughts. While critics are concerned that the rigidly enforced code will seriously affect the incomes of tourist-industry workers and the tourism industry as a whole, Dr Purachai dismissed their concerns saying that tourists were more interested in Thailand’s natural beauty than its nightlife and believes the long-term benefits will outweigh the short-term costs. Currently, according to the Bangkok Metropolitan Administration, Bangkok alone has an estimated 3,000 registered nightspots, although some newspaper reports say that if unregistered ones are included, the number could be as high as 8,000.
24 December 2002
Campaign to combat prejudice–Gays and lesbians ‘not mentally ill’
by Anjira Assavanonda
Homosexual rights advocacy groups yesterday started a campaign calling on society to stop labelling lesbians and gays as people with mental problems.
To make the campaign more convincing, the groups presented to the public an academic certification issued by the Mental Health Department in January this year, confirming that a homosexual person is neither mentally ill nor has any disease. The document was issued in response to a request by Anjaree, an advocacy group for the rights of homosexuals. In the certification, the Mental Health Department says it will comply with the World Health Organisation’s diseases classification that removes "same-sex relationships" from the list of mental disorders.
This was seen as the first concrete step by the state to support the existence of homosexuals in society and to stem social prejudice and discrimination against them. The campaign, which started with a seminar yesterday, is aimed at increasing public understanding of homosexual groups so that they can live happily and openly in society. Sulaiporn Chonvilai, coordinator of Anjaree’s research project, said a lot of homosexual people suffered from social prejudices. "Homosexuals are often viewed as persons with mental or sexual disorders, as promiscuous and sex-obsessed, and fond of violence. All this is a misunderstanding," Ms Sulaiporn said. Many lesbians had phoned in or written to the Anjaree group about their troubles.
Their problems involved love relationships, feelings of isolation because nobody understood them, confusion about whether they were homosexual or not, and rejection by their families. "Actually, Anjaree Group is not a professional counsellor, but those people had no-one else to turn to. Some of them used to ask for advice from hot-line staff but the response they received was discouraging. Some counsellors told them to change or go for mental treatment," Ms Sulaiporn said. Dr Sukamol Vipaveepolakul, renowned psychiatrist and sex counsellor, said the negative perception about homosexuality had been influenced by the media.
Reports about homosexuals committing crimes or murder always attracted attention, but they created a negative image of this group. "Actually, crimes can be committed by anyone, not only by homosexuals, but heterosexual persons as well," Dr Sukamol said. Changing counsellors’ attitudes was also an important step toward solving the problem. Counsellors, in both the public and private sector, should understand there was nothing wrong with being homosexual, and that changing them was impossible. "I once met a mother who asked me to change her son who is a gay man. I told her I could not. Changing him was much more difficult than changing her attitude," Dr Sukamol said.
Peter Jackson, a researcher from the National University of Australia, said the government announcement to remove "same-sex relationship" from the list of mental disorders was a crucial step toward a positive change in society. In Australia, where steps to remove the stigma were launched 20 years ago, there had been much progress. The media had been more careful in using homosexual-related terms.
December 27, 2002
Editorial: Healthy attitudes toward homosexuals
Gay men and lesbian women struggling to find a way to break the news to their parents about their sexual orientation may find it a little easier to do so by referring to the Mental Health Department’s recent statement confirming that it is not unhealthy to be in same-sex relationships. In response to a request by a female homosexual group, Anjaree, the Mental Health Department issued a statement certifying that homosexual people do not suffer from a mental aberration and that they should be treated as normal.
The Mental Health Department refers to the widely-used listing of mental disorders – the World Health Organisation’s International Classification of Diseases 10th edition (ICD-10) – which no longer counts homosexuality among mental disorders. Such an official pronouncement by the Mental Health Department should clear the air in the public debate about the need to do away with social sanctions against people on the grounds of a different sexual orientation. Although Thai society in general has shown remarkable tolerance toward male-male and female-female relationships, the heterosexual majority continue to stigmatise homosexual men and women.
Unlike the homophobia that is common in much of the rest of the world, anti-homosexual sentiment in Thai society is relatively low key. Thanks to sustained efforts by homosexual groups to promote a better understanding about their sexuality and the support these groups provide for individual homosexual men and women, the situation has improved considerably in recent years. Homosexual men and women are becoming increasingly more visible in Thai society in all occupational and professional groups, although many more in same-sex relationships choose to keep their private lives under wraps.
Most heterosexual people have learned to become more sensitive and develop subtle ways in dealing with homosexual people without being patronising. Among homosexuals, some are content to stay "in the closet" while others have little or no inhibitions about openly displaying their different sexual orientation through their mannerisms or the way they dress. Organised homophobic practices or hate crimes against homosexuals are rare although misconceptions, myths and stereotyped views about homosexual men and women continue to be perpetuated by some quarters in the mass media. Most people find they are capable of tolerating homosexuality in their colleagues at work, in their personal friends and acquaintances, but are much less tolerant when it comes to homosexuality in their own families.
One sensitive area of concern for many parents is whether their children’s sexual inclinations can be influenced by other homosexuals or whether homosexual tendencies are biologically programmed from birth. These parental concerns are legitimate. Professional counselling services must be made available to young people who have doubts about their sexual orientation so that those who choose to follow a homosexual path can lead fulfilling personal lives – just like heterosexual teenagers may also need guidance on how to lead fulfilling relationships. The move toward more sensitivity, compassion and understanding about homosexuality should not be too difficult given the fact that Thailand is already one of the few cultures that displays much less homophobia than the great majority.
December 17, 2002
A question of relationships Pink with pride at Chula University
by Mr Maygan
It was only a few years ago, I was told, that lecturers at Chulalongkorn University were turning down students who proposed doing research on any topic related to homosexuality.
"My lecturer told me it was definitely not appropriate," a graduate student lamented. I couldn’t help but think that the rejection was a result of either Chula’s conservative policy or, perhaps, the lecturers’ own homophobia. I kept thinking that if the policy against homosexuality existed in one of the country’s most revered academic institutions, then they should consider changing their symbolic colour of pink: this is the colour that represents my queer family, so I would no longer be confused that the pink at Chula also means gay-friendly.
Meanwhile, on the banks of the Chao Phya, Chula’s counterpart Thammasat University recently made a big buzz in some newspapers. From now on, male students who prefer to do so will be allowed to dress in female uniforms. Now that’s progress: I was sure this news would come as a big relief for many transsexual or transvestite students to be themselves, right down to their appearance. Of course, such permissiveness would be unheard of at Chula, where traditionally the school is famous for being very strict about its dress code.
But things must be changing. Recently I visited Chula to see for myself. Wide-eyed and with heart pounding, I could not believe my eyes: more than a couple of men were caressing and kissing there. Well, at least onscreen they were: sitting in the huge campus auditorium, I was one of several students watching the award-winning Hong Kong movie "Bishonen". The screening was part of the Chula Academics Fair 2002, organised by the philosophy students at CU’s Arts Faculty. I probably shouldn’t mention this, but it’s a fact that needs to be reported: Chula philosophy students, apart from being intelligent, are, ahem, adorable.
Well, back to the movie. "Bishonen", supposedly meaning "beauty", is about love, romance, and the sex lives of four gorgeous men. The lead sexy character, Jet (Stephen Fung) is a call-boy who prefers to live day-by-day to make money. He finally changes his ways when he finds himself falling in love with a cop, Sam, played by the stunningly handsome Daniel Wu. Sam, however, is typical of any real-life character we would find in a homophobic society. While he has been sleeping with men, he can not get over his own internalised homophobia and never comes out to his loving parents. When his father catches him making love with Jet, Sam blames himself for disappointing his father. It is indeed overwhelmingly romantic and tragic to see how these men struggle with their relationships, including the father and Sam, and ultimately find real meaning in their lives.
However, I was less interested in the film than I was in the relationships of things and people behind the screening itself. Many questions were popping up. "How was this gay movie even selected in the first place?" "How could this be possible at Chula?" "Who was the courageous one to pick the film and (in what must have been the case) fight for it to be included in the programme?" I talked to one of the team members behind the screening.
He said the attitude towards gays was somehow changing at Chula. Since the programme was for academic purposes, the committee agreed to screen the film without any censorship, despite one juicy scene of two men making love in a shower. If I was not mistaken, it was just a year or so ago that Chula was banning such gay movies.
One thing worth mentioning is that about 70 per cent of the audience was female students. They paid lots of attention. I heard no one talking. Some gasped from time to time whenever the actors kissed or appeared to be making love. At the end of the show, there was a discussion with a guy named Suwit. I didn’t know who he really was – a hair dresser or a designer, perhaps? (His hair and dress were totally trendy.) He talked about coming out to his parents and how he was accepted by his family and friends. He shared many good insights, with open-mindedness toward both homosexuals and heterosexuals.
As I strolled off the campus on that breezy evening after sunset, somewhere in the corner of my mind I knew that Chula had finally come out.
March 8, 2003
Phuket gears up to become a gay hub
Phuket has ambitions to become a regional gay tourism and business centre, according to a gay community leader. "Phuket is probably one of the best gay destinations in the world, if you are looking for safety, sun, wonderful sandy beaches, a colourful gay community and a sparkling night life," says gay community president Punsak Saeng-chan.
Punsak calls the Phuket Gay Festival, which began four years ago, "one of the most successful and talked-about gay events in the region", adding that is second in size only to Sydney’s. Last year’s festival generated around Bt30 million from tourism, Punsak says. "The reputation of the Phuket Gay Festival continues to improve every year, and the Tourism Authority of Thailand, with its resources, can help make the event more popular worldwide," he says.
Anupap Theerarat, Southern Region director of the Tourism Authority of Thailand, says the agency has given public-relations support to the event as it views gays as a tourism niche sector. "In past years, the festival has not been in bad taste and has not offended Thai culture and customs," he says. However, Punsak adds that in his view gay bars on Patong Beach’s Soi Paradise might have reached saturation point, as there are already some 25 of them crammed together there.
Opportunities are more favourable in other businesses, such as gay hotels, spas, and massage parlours, he says. Phuket has an approximately 3,000-strong gay community, according to Punsak, who adds that – although small – it’s strong and cohesive, and is increasingly gaining local acceptance. "We have no gay mafia, as gays by nature do not like violence, and most come to Phuket and make it their home. They don’t do illegal business and siphon off money back home," he says. Phuket is known for its gay cabarets, which are popular not only amongst the gay community but amongst straight travellers and Phuket working people, Punsak says.
July 4, 2003
Thai abbot seeks crackdown on gay monks
A leading Buddhist monk in Thailand has called for rigorous screening of candidates seeking to don saffron robes because too many homosexual men were becoming monks, the Nation newspaper has reported. Phra Payom Kalayano said tighter screening was needed to prevent those with "sexual deviation" from becoming ordained. "Some homosexual monks have caused trouble in the temples," he told the English-language daily, estimating that 700 of Thailand’s 300 000 monks were gay.
Phra Khru Pimornsorakhun, secretary to Bangkok’s monastic chief, said senior monks and abbots were looking into religious laws to see what measures could be taken. "We have so far been unable to reach a conclusion," he was quoted as saying. Ambiguity surrounds the whole issue of Buddhist monks and homosexuality and existing monastic legislation does not demand that gay monks should be barred. Before ordination, Buddhist monks are simply asked whether or not they are a man. About 90 % of Thailand’s 62 million people are Buddhist. All monks are expected to refrain from sexual activity.
Utopia Announces 2003 Awards
19 October 2003
Bangkok–The 4th annual Utopia Awards, Asia’s leading gay human rights celebration, are to be handed out in a festive evening on Friday, 14 November, at Bangkok’s new Roxy Bar & Club. Utopia Awards are presented each year to men and women whose pioneering work and lives have forwarded the cause of dignity and a better life for members of the region’s gay, lesbian, bi-sexual and transgendered communities. Previous awardees have included Thai AIDS activist Natee Teerarojjanapongs and film director Yongyuth Thongkongtoon; Indonesian and Singaporean activists Dede Oetomo and Alex Au; the Pink Triangle Foundation from Malaysia; and ProGay Philippines.
Four individuals have been selected for recognition in 2003 and will be attending the public ceremony to receive their awards: Senator Jon Ungpakorn (Thailand) – for his pioneering chairmanship of the Access Foundation and his untiring use of his public position as an elected member of the Thai Senate to promote the political and public health rights of all Thai living with HIV/AIDS. Wang Ping (Taiwan) – for her persistence in keeping gay and lesbian rights at the forefront of public debate in Taiwan and for her inspiring leadership of Taiwan’s premier women’s and GLBT rights organization. Chung To (Hong Kong), for his leadership of the Chi Heng Foundation, a leading gay rights advocacy group in Hong Kong, and for his pioneering role in HIV/AIDS outreach programs in China. Parinya Jaroenphon (Thailand), whose inspiring story is to be told in the forthcoming film "Beautiful Boxer", for her exceptional courage and outspokenness for transgendered and gay people in Thailand.
The Awards are open to the public, with cocktails from 8pm and the ceremony commencing at 9pm. Roxy Bar & Club is located in Silom Soi 4, the epicenter of Bangkok’s famous Night Bazaar and entertainment district. The ceremony is timed to kick off the festive Bangkok Pride weekend, when hundreds of thousands of gays, lesbians, friends and onlookers attend the annual parade and parties celebrating Thailand’s diversity and tolerance.
This 4th annual Utopia Awards are presented by Utopia, the first and largest gay Internet portal in Asia, and co-sponsored by Roxy Bar & Club and Utopia Tours. Utopia’s website is located at http://www.utopia-asia.com and more information about Utopia may be found at http://www.utopia-asia.com/utopiais.htm For more information, please contact Utopia at <firstname.lastname@example.org>
November 17, 2003
Bangkok Gay parade draws thousands
by Yingyord Manchuvisith
The Nation Bangkok’s fifth annual Gay Pride Parade yesterday drew thousands of participants and spectators who lined the pavements along Silom and Surawong roads. Organisers said more than 10,000 people watched 10 floats representing gay and lesbian businesses and organisations parade by. The floats sported rainbow banners and slogans in Thai and English proclaiming gay pride as gay men and women dressed in cabaret and cowboy outfits danced to music. The crowds cheered and applauded as each float passed by. They came despite the traffic and lack of official support.
Last year, the parade enjoyed the Sunday closing of Silom Road as part of the city’s "Walking Street" programme, which ended on New Year’s Day. This year, marchers had to share the road with cars and busses, as police from three districts directed traffic to keep anyone from being run over. To achieve their goal, the police led the parade on motorcycles, giving the appearance of police support. That didn’t seem to bother the average cop on the beat, though. "My boss asked me to help out," said one policeman from Bang Rak district, who rode with a big smile on his face. The other districts providing police were Thung Mahamek and Pathum Wan.
The event drew tourists from places as far away as Hong Kong and Australia. "I came last month because I thought it was in October," said Cordy from Hong Kong. "I didn’t want to miss it so I came back again this weekend." "This is my second time here," said Peter A Jackson, a senior lecturer at the Australian National University. "With the street open for traffic, the taxis joined in the parade. The crowds had to be careful not to get hit by cars as they watched."
Despite its potential to attract tourists, the Tourism Authority of Thailand (TAT) has been slow to recognise the event, organisers said. The TAT spent two months pondering a request for support. "We asked them in mid-September and gave up a few days ago," said Ongart Chakardsongsak, special events chairperson for Bangkok Pride Coalition 2003. "They just never gave us an answer."
After the Mardi Gras gay parade in Sydney, Bangkok’s gay pride parade is considered the largest in the Asia-Pacific region.
Taipei started its own parade this year, while Singapore is seen as gradually relaxing its negative stance towards homosexuality. Even the city-state’s prime minister has made unexpectedly positive remarks about Singapore’s gay population. "This pride parade has great economic potential," said Douglas Thompson, co-chairman of last year’s Bangkok parade. "The TAT cannot ignore this parade’s potential to draw millions of affluent visitors. Bangkok can grow and compete with Sydney’s Mardi Gras."