Bangkok Pride: Meet LGBTQ+ who lead the way for equality in Thailand

Thailand is widely viewed as an LGBTQ+-friendly nation. But there are very real challenges for the LGBTQ+ community beneath the surface. Official support has been mixed, with the government promoting and capitalizing on LGBTQ+ tourism yet still not recognizing same-sex marriages. Even Pride Month, born to pay tribute to the 1969 Stonewall riots each June, has lost some of its original intent between rainbow-washing and tokenism.

We spoke to eight LGBTQ+ individuals who are fighting for equality and equity, and working to make Thailand a more inclusive place, despite the obstacles.

 

Ryan Figueiredo
Ryan Figueiredo

Ryan Figueiredo

Executive Director of the Equal Asia Foundation (He/Him)

In 2019, India-born Figueiredo formed the Equal Asia Foundation, a think tank and incubator for inclusive projects in Thailand. The work he oversees responds to critical gaps in LGBTQ+ research, advocacy, and service provisions.

What is Thailand doing right or wrong with regard to LGBTQ+ rights? 

Thailand has strong LGBTI+ organizations on the ground and they are deeply connected with other social justice movements [editor’s note: Figueiredo prefers the initialism LGBTI+]. This intersectionality is the movement’s greatest strength. What holds true for other countries also holds true for Thailand—if we are to make progress in LGBTI+ rights, we need to make sure we are supporting other social issues as well. Queer liberation is not only about our sexual orientation, gender identity, and expression; it is about our personhood.

Are we failing the LGBTQ+ community? 

I am not sure if we are failing the LGBTI+ community. Instead, I think we should ask ourselves constantly who we are leaving behind within the LGBTI+ community. If we need to make progress as a movement, we need to ensure that we are being truly inclusive from within. I am hopeful that, moving forward, we will be more inclusive of the most marginalized among us—especially those of our elders, those living with disabilities, refugees, migrants, and those who are suffering from economic hardship. We also need to do more to make sure that our transgender siblings do not experience the stigma and discrimination they do in schools, workplaces, and society in general.

What policies would you like to see put in place to support the community? 

As we come out of this pandemic, I would like to see more policies [related to] the inclusion of LGBTI+ persons and businesses in economic recovery plans. I would also like us to [address] how we respond to the long-term damage that has been done by the pandemic on our mental health and well-being.

 

Nawarat “Gres” Techarathanaprasert
Nawarat “Gres” Techarathanaprasert

Nawarat “Gres” Techarathanaprasert

Actor (He/Him)

Gres made waves when he became the first transgender man to wear the male gown at his graduation ceremony at Chulalongkorn University in 2017. 

Can you recall a moment when you felt LGBTQ+ rights were progressing in Thailand? 

That would be in 2020, when the Civil Partnership Bill draft was approved. It would make same-sex marriage legal, but straight couples and LGBTQ+ couples would not have equal rights. Then the hashtag #SayNoToPartnershipBill started trending. Even though the bill doesn’t reflect true equality, the discussion it sparked is a big step for Thailand.

How has Thailand’s attitude toward the LGBTQ+ community changed? 

More than 10 years ago, being LGBTQ+ would be something you hide. In the entertainment industry, being gay is all about gossip and distasteful headlines. I was asked numerous times when I was young if I was a tom. “Do I prefer dating girls?“ “Why don’t I wear skirts?” That was just when I was 10 years old. Fast forward 10 years, I came out as transgender and was the first few to enter graduate in the male gown. I prepared for the worst, but the feedback and commentary was mostly positive. 

How can we improve? 

The mainstream media will always play a big role. LGBTQ+ representation in films and series in Thailand still sucks, but it’s improving. I think it would be great to see a more diverse spectrum of gender, more complex characters that actually represent who LGBTQ+ people are in real life. 

After this month, the rainbow t-shirts and flags will disappear from store windows, but the less pleasant, less talked-about issues in the LGBTQ+ community will remain. Pride is not a party or just a parade: it’s a protest representing the struggle and celebration of identity. It’s not about what we do this month—it’s every day.

 

Kavindhra “Koko” Tiamsai
Kavindhra “Koko” Tiamsai

Koko Kavindhra Tiamsai

Project Manager at Unite Thailand (She/Her)

Koko is a transgender woman and Chevening scholar armed with an advanced degree in gender studies from London’s SOAS University. She aims to reform Thai society by promoting gender diversity. Koko worked on the global She Can project and was the former speech trainer for the current Miss Universe Thailand, Amanda Obdam. 

Can you recall a moment when you felt LGBTQ+ rights were progressing in Thailand? 

Despite the launch of the Gender Equality Act in 2015, and two transgender representatives elected to parliament in 2019, Thailand still fails to address gender inequality issues as a country. Trans people are still discriminated against on a daily basis and live as outcasts. I personally don’t see any cause we should be celebrating. Rather, we should call for action to create real structural change for the LGBTQ+ community.

What is Thailand doing right and wrong with regard to LGBTQ+ rights? 

Many people outside or even inside Thailand think that we are welcoming of LGBTQ+ people. Some governmental agencies have promoted LGBTQ+ tourism on behalf of the country. But if you look carefully, they are just pink-washing. Within our country, LGBTQ+ persons still don’t have equal rights compared to other cisgender citizens.

How can we improve? 

The Gender Equality Act itself is vague and leaves a lot of room for misinterpretation and discrimination. We should keep working on public policy and legal amendments to improve the rights of LGBTQ+ persons. Without legal change, I don’t think LGBTQ+ people will match the standard of living of cis-gendered people.

What policies would you like to see put in place to support the community?

I want to push for a Legal Gender Recognition Act for the trans community. Many trans are economically and socially excluded from the system—worse than what gay people are facing. And if trans people are not even recognized by the state, I don’t think we can celebrate Pride Month.

 

Parkers Argasnoum
Parkers Argasnoum

Parkers Argasnoum

Student (He/Him, They/Them)

Parkers identifies as an asexual transman and is currently studying English literature at Thammasat University. Feeling there was no proper social space for the asexual community, he created a Facebook group called “Aromantic & Asexual Exist.

Can you recall a moment when you felt LGBTQ+ rights were progressing in Thailand? 

There are more and more LGBTQIA+ events nowadays, and it’s not just happening during Pride Month anymore [editor’s note: Parkers prefers the initialism LGBTQIA+]. A lot of media talk about the LGBTQIA+ community; even if they are doing it just to gain attention, it’s still a big step because this never happened in the past. It shows that the queer community is relevant enough for society to create something for LGBTQIA+ people.

When I participate in LGBTQIA+ events, I’m surprised to see more younger people attending and new people joining each time. It’s amazing because the future is in their hands and it means they care about this community enough to check out these events whether they are a part of it themselves or not. 

How has Thailand’s attitude toward the LGBTQ+ community changed? 

I think the fact that people are comfortable with coming out as queer is the biggest sign that acceptance is growing—they feel safe enough to come out without worrying about society’s reaction. However, to me, most of the time it feels like people are forced to accept queer people. Acceptance is not as genuine as it should be. I see people who say they accept their kids being queer, but it comes with conditions—that their kids need to be successful if they are going to live openly queer or “don’t express it too much.” That’s not real acceptance; that’s just tolerance. 

How can we improve? 

I want people to simply accept differences. Being queer is just another part of being human. People don’t need to point out what every letter in LGBTQIA+ stands for. What the queer community needs is support, having people accept diversity and see us as equal human beings who deserve the same human rights.

 

Phannapast “Yoon” Taychamaythakool
Phannapast “Yoon” Taychamaythakool

Phannapast “Yoon” Taychamaythakool

Artist (She/Her)

Known for depicting personal stories through her animal characters and flower illustrations, artist and illustrator Yoon recently saw her painting “Forbidden Flower” displayed on a massive Times Square billboard as part of New York’s Cube Art Fair. She was the only Asian artist taking part in the fair. She also runs an online shop called Phannapast Universe selling lifestyle products, stationery, and fashion items.

Can you recall a moment when you felt LGBTQ+ rights were progressing in Thailand? 

If we were to be optimistic about it, people who identify as LGBTQ+ have gained greater acceptance in Thailand these days. But from my experience, the most unhappy situation was during my childhood when I couldn’t completely be myself. There were rules regarding birth gender. I am happy and appreciate that many universities are now starting to let students wear uniforms according to their own choice of gender. Some people might think that it’s a small matter, but in reality, it’s about learning who you are. Most importantly, it makes us feel proud of ourselves. 

What is Thailand doing right or wrong with regard to LGBTQ+ rights? 

The education system separates us by our gender during birth. It makes everyone look the same across uniforms, hairstyles, personalities, and behavior. From a young age, cultural values reduce the diversity of who we really are. Sometimes, it limits us to few options of what we can be and confines us to that for the rest of our lives.

TV dramas and news coverage in the past have created stereotypes for LGBTQ+ people that were very one-sided. They have influenced how people view the LGBTQ+ community. For example, in the screening process when I was donating blood, medical staff questioned if my blood was safe. And this was because I didn’t dress according to my birth gender and had no stable partner. It wasn’t based on scientific analysis. This matter alone reflects so many deeper issues the LGBTQ+ community has to deal with.

How can we improve? 

It takes time for society to improve—to educate, communicate, and break stereotypes. We see acceptance for the LGBTQ+ community in beauty-related careers or entertainment, but what about other industries? Are Thailand’s policies fully supportive of the LGBTQ+ community? These are the types of questions we need to ask. 

I think support in education and educational spaces is essential because we spend so much time at school. Open-minded educational systems would give us the freedom to choose what to do with our bodies. And it’s not only about people in LGBTQ+ community. Diversity applies to everyone. An understanding mindset comes from being a part of an equal and diverse society, not reading textbooks.

 

Shane Bhatla
Shane Bhatla

Shane Bhatla

Activist and Founder of SEEN Asia (He/Him)

Thai-Indian LGBTQ+ activist and transgender man Shane Bhatla co-founded the Student Empowerment and Equality Network (SEEN) to develop a network of schools where children could communicate freely and openly. He is also a performer and video producer and is working toward hosting queer weddings in Thailand.

Can you recall a moment when you felt LGBTQ+ rights were progressing in Thailand? 

I have a lot of moments where I genuinely feel proud of the community here and want to highlight local efforts. But the moment that did it for me was when LGBTIQ+ issues started to be discussed in schools [editor’s note: Bhatla prefers the initialism LGBTIQ+]. I think it is so important to normalize queer relationships, and teaching kids from a young age does that and has proven to improve the overall mental health of students.

What is Thailand doing right or wrong with regard to LGBTQ+ rights? 

Thailand is not the ideal place to be an LGBTIQ+ individual. However, the fact that we are now talking about queer issues socially and in a much higher political level is a good sign. If you’re a young desi queer kid, you’re not alone. I’ll be your big brother. You are special, you are incredible, you are so fabulous. Never let anyone tell you otherwise.

How can we improve?

Remember that Pride is a riot. It was started by trans women of color. We only get to celebrate pride now because of them, Sylvia Rivera and Marsha P. Johnson. But also don’t forget: we don’t get to fully celebrate until all our siblings do. The fight isn’t over.

Is it challenging to organize LGBTQ+ events in Bangkok?

I think it’s difficult to host queer events, and it’s mentally draining for me, because of the horrible comments we get from homophobic people. But overall it’s a great experience and I feel very content knowing that I can help provide a safe space for the community. I’m looking forward to hosting more events in the future.

 

Jaja Rjay Angeles Carubio, aka “Jaja The Kween”
Jaja Rjay Angeles Carubio, aka “Jaja The Kween”

Jaja Rjay Angeles Carubio, aka “Jaja The Kween”

Drag performer (He/Him)

Hailing from the Philippines, Jaja Rjay Angeles is a drag queen who found his second home in Bangkok. Jaja goes by the stage name Jaja The Kween and competed in the first season of Drag Race Thailand

Can you recall a moment when you felt LGBTQ+ rights were progressing in Thailand? 

I will never forget the time when my friend and I were going home from Maggie Choo’s after work. There was this guy from another country sitting on the [curb] outside and he said to us, “hey, suck my dick.” We defended ourselves, and most people who saw us [stood up for us]. There is no gender when you are in need of help.

What is Thailand doing right or wrong with regard to LGBTQ+ rights? How do you think we can improve? 

I think Thailand is very open-minded. I don’t see anything, in my point of view, to be improved. You are on the right track.

 

Pathavee “Amadiva” Dao-neua Thepkraiwan
Pathavee “Amadiva” Dao-neua Thepkraiwan

Pathavee “Amadiva” Dao-neua Thepkraiwan

Drag performer (He/Him)

Drag queen Pathavee Dao-neua Thepkraiwan goes by the stage name Amadiva. He competed in the first season of Drag Race Thailand and was the first queen to be a part of a double shanty and double sashay. 

Can you recall a moment when you felt LGBTQ+ rights were progressing in Thailand? 

When we [elected] an LGBTQ+ representative to parliament was definitely a moment I said finally! It was quite a bold move.

How has Thailand’s attitude toward the LGBTQ+ community changed? 

I’m in the entertainment industry, so I could say we need more [diversity] of LGBTQ+ portrayed in the media. We could have more LGBTQ+ people playing LGBTQ+ parts to begin with. Or any roles. WeHow can we improve? e come quite far, but still, there’s a long way to go. 

How can we improve? 

I know it’s Pride Month and so we [are creating] this content for you to read. Pride is not only in June [for the LGBTQ+ community]. There are people who are still struggling in this society, but we must keep on supporting each other, because at the end of the day, we are all equal.

What policies would you like to see put in place to support the community?

They tried pushing a partnership law for LGBTQ+. I think it makes no sense to write a separate law that grants us fewer rights [than straight couples]. We are pushing for a gay marriage law right now and I think it will be a great move if we can pass it. Even though I’m still single, hope is hope and love wins anyway.

This story originally appeared in BK.

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CITY: BANGKOKCATEGORY: FEATURESSUB-CATEGORIES: INTERVIEWS

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