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«This report was technically reviewed by UNDP and USAID as part of the ‘Being LGBT in Asia’ initiative. It is based on the observations of the ...»

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A Participatory Review and Analysis of

the Legal and Social Environment for

Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender (LGBT)

Persons and Civil Society

Proposed citation:

UNDP, USAID (2014). Being LGBT in Asia: Thailand Country Report. Bangkok.

This report was technically reviewed by UNDP and USAID as part of the ‘Being LGBT in Asia’ initiative. It is based on the observations of the author(s) of report on the Thailand National LGBT Community Dialogue held in Bangkok in March 2013, conversations with participants and a desk review of published literature. The views and opinions in this report do not necessarily re ect o cial policy positions of the United Nations Development Programme or the United States Agency for International Development.

UNDP partners with people at all levels of society to help build nations that can withstand crisis, and drive and sustain the kind of growth that improves the quality of life for everyone. On the ground in more than 170 countries and territories, we o er global perspective and local insight to help empower lives and build resilient nations.

Copyright © UNDP 2014 United Nations Development Programme UNDP Asia-Paci c Regional Centre United Nations Service Building, 3rd Floor Rajdamnern Nok Avenue, Bangkok 10200, Thailand Email: aprc.th@undp.org Tel: +66 (0)2 304-9100 Fax: +66 (0)2 280-2700 Web: http://asia-paci c.undp.org/ Design: Sa r Soeparna/Ian Mungall/UNDP.



A Participatory Review and Analysis of the Legal and Social Environment for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender (LGBT) Persons and Civil Society CONTENTS

















–  –  –



This report documents the presentations and discussions made during the Thai National LGBT Community Dialogue held 21–22 March 2013 at the United Nations Convention Centre, Bangkok, Thailand. Additional information was gained from interviews with Dialogue participants and a desk review of published literature.

Please note that due to frequent changes in LGBT community advocacy and politics, there may be recent developments that have not have been included in this report at the time of publication.

The organizers would like to gratefully acknowledge all the participants for their participation during the Dialogue and their provision of valuable inputs for the report. A list of organizations is included in the Annex 1 of this report.

The report was written by Kanokwan Tharawan (who was also the Dialogue rapporteur) and Rashima Kwatra with contributions from Anchallee Kaewwaen. Our thanks and gratitude to Anjana Suvarnananda who facilitated the Dialogue.

Valuable comments and inputs on drafts of the report were provided by Thomas White, Deputy Director, Governance and Vulnerable Populations O ce, USAID Regional Development Mission Asia (RDMA) and Vy Lam, American Association for the Advancement of Science Fellow, USAID Washington, D.C.; and Edmund Settle, Policy Advisor and Saurav Jung Thapa, LGBT and Human Rights Technical O cer from the UNDP Asia-Paci c Regional Centre (APRC). Andy Quan was the report editor.

All photos in this report are of participants of the Thailand National LGBT Community Dialogue. They were provided by Rashima Kwatra, one of the report co-authors.

Finally, the Dialogue partners would like to recognize the outstanding contribution of Chumaporn Taengkliang, Pimsiri Petchnamrob, Prempreeda Pramoj Na Ayutthaya, Timo Ojanen, Nada Chaiyajit, Nicholas Booth and Li Zhou as well as the United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Paci c, for ensuring the Dialogue was a success.

The Thailand National LGBT Community Dialogue and national report were supported by UNDP and USAID through the regional ‘Being LGBT in Asia’ initiative. Covering eight countries – Cambodia, China, Indonesia, Mongolia, Nepal, the Philippines, Thailand and Viet Nam – this joint learning initiative aims to better understand the contexts faced by LGBT people, but it will also review the needs of LGBT organizations, the space they operate in, and their capacity to engage on human rights and policy dialogues. Furthermore, the initiative endeavors to examine laws and policies, access to justice and health services, cross-border partnerships, and the role of new technologies to support LGBT advocates.

–  –  –

BACKGROUND This report reviews the legal and social environment faced by lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) people in Thailand. It encompasses the ndings of the Thailand National LGBT Community Dialogue held in March 2013 in Bangkok, Thailand and additionally includes ndings from a desk review, additional interviews, and analysis of published literature on LGBT issues in and about Thailand.

The National Dialogue was attended by 45 participants, including representatives of LGBT organizations from throughout Thailand, the National Human Rights Commission of Thailand, donor agencies, universities, nongovernmental human rights institutions, legal aid organizations, and civil society organizations. The Dialogue was organized by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) in partnership with the United States Agency for International Development (USAID).

This report is a product of a broader initiative entitled ‘Being LGBT in Asia: A Participatory Review and Analysis of the Legal and Social Environment for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender (LGBT) Persons and Civil Society.’ Launched on Human Rights Day, 10 December 2012, ‘Being LGBT in Asia’ is a rst-of-its-kind Asia-wide learning e ort undertaken with Asian grassroots LGBT organizations and community leaders alongside UNDP and USAID.

With a focus on eight priority countries – Cambodia, China, Indonesia, Mongolia, Nepal, the Philippines, Thailand and Viet Nam – the e ort examines LGBT lived experiences from a development and rights perspective. 


‘Being LGBT in Asia’ has a number of objectives. It encourages networking between LGBT people across the region, building a knowledge baseline and developing an understanding of the capacity of LGBT organizations to engage in policy dialogue and community mobilization. Through this work, ‘Being LGBT in Asia’ promotes understanding of the inherent human rights of LGBT people and the stigma and discrimination faced regionally. It also outlines steps toward LGBT-inclusive development work for UNDP and the UN system; USAID and the US Government; and other development partners through research like this report and other social and multimedia products. Finally, this initiative highlights the views generated by LGBT participants at community dialogues, linking stakeholders who are working to enhance LGBT human rights across Asia.


THAILAND The history of homosexuality and transgender behaviours in Thailand has led to a complex and contradictory situation with the outward appearance of acceptance, and higher visibility of transgender people than in most countries, but with hostility and prejudice towards LGBT people, as well as institutionalized discrimination, still prevalent.

Incidents of gender and sexual behaviour that did not conform to heterosexual norms have been recorded as long ago as the 14th century in Thailand. Thai society in the 19th century was relatively androgynous relating to clothes and hairstyle. However, at this time, colonial Western norms of behaviour and thinking started to be adopted including the criminalization of homosexuality and sexuality being considered not a private matter but instead a part of social norms. In the 20th century, Thailand transitioned from an absolute monarchy in 1932 into a constitutional monarchy system of government. It adopted codes and concepts related to gender roles and sexuality as related to a social construction of morality. At the same time, gay communities were forming and homosexuality was becoming visible. Western expatriates contributed to this process after World War II and from the 50s and 60s, more information was available on gender and sexuality, LGBT people appeared in the media and gay-themed cultural materials such as books and lms increasingly appeared.

Today’s Thailand is contradictory. It is one where the Tourism Authority actively promotes the image of Thailand as a gay paradise but where discussions of sexuality in society are still taboo and there is limited sex education in schools. LGBT individuals tend to be more visible in urban settings than rural. LGBT people live within a society with strong pressure to be a good citizen and be lial to one’s family. This is compounded with the notion that one’s sexuality or gender must not go against accepted norms and should not bring shame to one’s self and family.

FINDINGS This report provides an overview of LGBT rights in Thailand as related broadly to laws and policies, social and cultural attitudes, and religion; and more speci cally to employment and housing, education and young people, health and well-being, family and society, media and information communication technology (ICT), and the organizational capacity of LGBT organizations.

A summary of the overall context for LGBT rights in Thailand is as follows:

National laws and policies:

–  –  –

Homosexuality is no longer considered a mental illness by the Ministry of Health; however, transsexuality is still pathologized.

A proposal to include sexual identities under the anti-discrimination clause of the 2007 constitution was rejected.

Transgender individuals cannot change their gender on identity papers.

Existing marriage laws speci cally reference only men and women, re ecting a traditional interpretation of gender and family structure.

All biological males in Thailand are required to serve in the military. However, transgender women, including any biological males who have undergone sexual reassignment surgery (SRS) or any form of surgery to physically appear more feminine, are not allowed to serve in the military. Until 2011, they were given a letter of dismissal stating ‘Permanent Mental Disorder’ as the cause. After much lobbying by the LGBT community, the letter now states the cause as “Gender Identity Disorder.” Legal and policy reform is seen as di cult both because lawmakers tend to be conservative, and because the constitution and country’s laws are seen as sacred.

Social and cultural attitudes:

Although there is no overt persecution of LGBT people, Thai society does not wholly accept sexual and gender minorities. Attitudes towards LGBT individuals can be somewhat tolerant as long as LGBT people remain within certain social con nes. Hostile attitudes may lurk below the surface of individuals and parts of society that do not express their views openly.

There is a lack of understanding about the speci c struggles and needs of LGBT people.

Arguably, the greatest and often most important struggle that a Thai LGBT individual faces is that of family acceptance. Being respectful to the wishes of one’s parents and upholding a family reputation is fundamental to how a Thai individual conducts their life, which can run counter to those with sexual orientation or gender identity that do not conform to social norms.


Religion is an important factor that contributes to Thai society’s understanding and perception of sexual orientation and gender identity. The vast majority of Thais ascribe to Theravada Buddhism. This religion does have negative views of sexual orientation and gender identity that does not conform to social norms, viewing it either as a punishment for sins in past lives, or as a lack of ability to control sexual impulses and tendencies.

Roughly ve percent of the Thai population ascribes to Islam and are largely congregated in the southern provinces. Attitudes towards LGBT people tend to be more conservative and unfavorable in these areas. There is also less visibility and less LGBT-centred businesses and activism that takes place.

This report also looked at LGBT rights in the speci c areas of employment and housing, education and young people, health and well-being, family a airs, media and information communication technology, and law, human rights and politics.

Employment and housing:

Due to the gender roles Thais are expected to play in the workplace and in society at large, there were numerous accounts of LGBT people facing discrimination in employment settings. Many LGBT people, if possible, choose to remain closeted to avoid discrimination and stigma at work. For instance, there were multiple reports of LGBT individuals being denied promotions, being red from their jobs after


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