Opinion: Thailand’s LGBTQ friendly image is just veneer, deep down more work needs to be done

The cabinet announced the endorsement of a same-sex civil unions bill last week with Thailand now set on becoming only the second country in Asia to embrace same-sex civil unions after Taiwan. 

A momentous feat, and perhaps something that should have happened a long time ago considering how seemingly open we are in embracing the LGBTQ community, but an important step nevertheless.

However, backlash and criticism soon followed the announcement with critics noting how the endorsement does not equate to marriage equality and does little to nothing to protect and treat members of the LGBTQ community as equals with the rest of society.

So that begs the question – is Thailand really that open?

The Kingdom of Thailand is famous for its many attractions – a sublime paradise with lush tropical beaches, smiling local faces, vibrant and delectable cuisine, rich cultural heritage, and our world-famous love of diverse entertainment.

Growing up, I have always heard of how open and exemplar we are in embracing different sexual orientations and gender identities. 

Thailand has one of the most open gay societies in Asia. Look around, everyone can fully express themselves and be completely who they are!

There is a certain element of truth to this, one I have hardly witnessed anywhere else – especially in Asia.

The LGBTQ community in Thailand are pretty much free to wholeheartedly showcase who they are and be themselves, whether through their clothing styles, haircuts, romantic decisions, gender reassignment procedures, manners of speech – every detail of their self-expression.

They are well represented in Thai entertainment – portrayed through various iconic and engaging characters in lakorns and movies with A-list celebrities such as Woody Militachinda, Janie Panung, and Aof Pongsak becoming household names.

This open culture in Thailand is also known throughout the world.

In 2017, Bangkok was ranked the second most gay-friendly city in Asia after Tel Aviv, Israel, due to its LGBTQ dating scene, nightlife, openness, and safety.

Another statistic from LGBT Capital in 2018 confirms this – Thailand, at an estimated of 4.5 million people in the country, hosts one of the largest LGBTQ communities in Asia.

Thailand is also a world leader in gender reassignment surgery, it is the country that performs the most sex reassignment surgeries in Asia.

Visitors and international friends of mine would marvel at just how unique and refreshing this whole scene is.

I can still vividly recall one time eight years ago, standing among thousands at Lady Gaga’s first ever concert in Rajmangala stadium, and watching the gay icon burst into tears, telling the crowd how moved she was to get to perform in a country so open and inclusive. Janet Mock, a trans activist and role model of mine, also underwent her first sex reassignment surgery in Thailand at just the age of 18, years before she came out to the rest of the world.

I must say that I am proud – these are great leaps we have made and puts our country ahead in many areas.

The fact that Thailand serves as a haven for the LGBTQ community and sexual minorities worldwide is something we should all be proud of. 

Thailand is attractive for many reasons, and whatever we are attracted for, we try to exemplify and exhibit.

But growing up, I also started to see this in an entirely different angle – if Thailand is really that open, then why is the LGBTQ community still not treated as equals?

Is this all just for show?

The LGBTQ community are free to entertain, showcase themselves, and walk around claiming who they are, but they’re still not treated the same.

There is hypocrisy when Thailand campaigns to promote LGBTQ tourism but still does little to protect and support its LGBTQ community and sexual minorities.

https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCulD_vbDDXYoHw40sgeky3A

We cannot call ourselves a LGBTQ haven, not when the community is still not taken seriously – whether in terms of getting hired, promoted, or being respected.

Not when LGBTQ people are represented on television but are still predominantly portrayed as the stereotypical, one-dimensional characters because that is apparently what we are so accustomed to seeing and only accepting of.

Not when Thailand still classifies their preferences into a different category in society.

Not when the LGBTQ community are still not free to claim their rights and marry who they love.

Not when most parents are still disappointed to see their kids come out.

Not until we legalize same-sex marriage.

Thailand still stands as one of the most progressive countries in the world to embrace the LGBTQ community, there is no denying in this fact and the same-sex union bill is an impressive start and a step in the right direction – but we still have a long way to go and more work needs to be done.

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