A Filipino transgender teacher in Bangkok was recently fired from her job, allegedly because of her gender, which the Thai school claimed to not realize when they hired her.
Pet James, 25, taught English language reading and performed storytelling for Thai students in grades 1-3 at at Plearnpattana School, a private Thai school in Thawi Wattana. She seemed to be doing a good job in her first term but, on July 4, she was informed that she would be let go.
Pet told Coconuts that, in a meeting with human resources and other officials, she was informed that the reason for her elimination was the fact she was transgender and that they needed someone who would be “a good role model for the kids because our school is conservative.” Pet said the school told her she could would work until the end of the term, on July 20.
“I asked, ‘Are you terminating me because of my gender?’ They said yes. It hurt me so much, nothing like this has ever happened to me before,” Pet said in an interview at a Starbucks in the Chidlom area.
Plearnpattana School did not answer calls or return an email seeking comment.
Gender discrimination is illegal in Thailand under a law passed in 2015. “They asked me why I didn’t underline the ‘Mr.’ on my documents. Why would I do that? All my documents are legal,” said Pet.
On the day she was fired, Pet said she was called for a meeting by the school’s human resources officer and a few other key people. “They said, ‘Teacher Pet, we did not know you were a man.’ and I said ‘Yes, is that a problem?’”
It turns out it was, according to Pet.
Apparently, despite all her documents and passport identifying Pet as male, school officials did not look closely enough at them and were unaware until recently that she was transgender. “Everything, including my CV, said ‘male,” she said. The recommendation from her last school, in Nakhon Ratchasima, also described her as male.
“I was crying as I left and I told them that I love the kids… I love the school.” she said. “I don’t want to shame the school. I just want the same respect as everyone else.”
“There are other opportunities for me. But they broke a part of me. The love, the heart, the passion for teaching the children, it all went after that. Do I have to wear a sign around my neck saying, ‘I am transgender and I want to be a teacher?”
Pet, with the tribal children she used to teach as part of a government program in the Philippines.
Instead of being angry, Pet is trying to turn the experience into something positive and a way to shed light on these issues.
Since hearing the news, she has already been offered a short storytelling residency in Hanoi and gotten interest from a technical college and a prestigious international school in Bangkok for possible positions starting later this year.
Pet is also penning her first children’s book, called “Beki and I,” a story about how kids see transgender people. “Beki” is a term for a gay person in the Philippines.
“Fighting for your rights doesn’t always have to be chaos. You can also fight with your heart and your passion. I’m trying to put a little bit of that into words with the book about gender rights.”
“I could hate, it would be easy to hate, but what if I poured love on the situation? That’s what I’m doing. I will use this as an inspiration to push myself forward.”
The latest version of her CV no longer lists Pet as male, but as transgender.
“I’m proud of who I am,” she said.