Rainbow Rebels: US Embassy Bangkok flies LGBT pride despite White House ban

A rainbow flag wraps the gable of the century-old U.S. ambassador’s residence on Witthayu Road in Bangkok. Photo: U.S. Embassy Bangkok / Facebook
A rainbow flag wraps the gable of the century-old U.S. ambassador’s residence on Witthayu Road in Bangkok. Photo: U.S. Embassy Bangkok / Facebook

American diplomats to Thailand have been showing their colors by plastering the ambassador’s residence with rainbow pride despite a Trump administration ban intended to prevent such displays.

U.S. diplomats in Bangkok have joined others around the world in creatively skirting a prohibition on flying pride flags through creative means to recognize LGBT Pride Month. In Bangkok, that’s meant adorning the century-old residence located on Witthayu Road.

“We didn’t hoist the flag at the pole but, yes, we are still displaying the pride flag elsewhere in the embassy. We will also continue to hold LGBT-rights events,” embassy spokesman Thomas Montgomery told Coconuts Bangkok today.

The U.S. Consulate in Chiang Mai is also displaying the rainbow flag on their wall.

Upon being appointed the secretary of state last year, Mike Pompeo, an evangelical Christian opposed to gay marriage, ordered diplomats to obtain approval from Washington to fly rainbow flags. Though such requests were approved last year, all were denied in 2019.

It reversed a 2011 Obama-era rule that America’s outposts around the world should promote LGBT rights. State department rules at the time specified the pride flag must be small and flown lower than the national flag.

The rainbow flag ban has support from the highest levels of American power. Earlier this month, Vice President Mike Pence, who once said gay couples were a sign of “societal collapse,” told NBC News that he supported it. “When it comes to the American flagpole and American embassies and capitals around the world, one American flag flies,” he said.

Evangelical Christian leader and Trump supporter Franklin Graham tweeted his support for the ban earlier this month, saying pride flags were “offensive to Christians & millions of people…around the world.”

Rainbow rebellion

The change has made promoting equality something of a rebellious act for American diplomats worldwide, with embassies in Korea, India, Chile, Austria, Mongolia and elsewhere finding ways to evade the ban.

No flag pole, no problem seems to be the response of the diplomatic corps, who’ve been forced to get a little creative to promote LGBT rights this month.

Instead of hoisting the flag, the U.S. Embassy in New Delhi lit up its entire building in rainbow colors.

In Mongolia, the embassy proudly hung a rainbow flag from its gate.

Earlier this month, Randy Berry, ambassador to Nepal, declared his commitment to “defending human rights for all” on Twitter along with a picture of himself with the embassy staff holding up balloon letters spelling out “Pride 19.” In the background, a large rainbow flag can be seen.

In late May, the embassy in Seoul displayed the flag on the edifice of its building while ambassador Harry Harris declared LGBT rights are human rights.

Then there’s the American embassy in Vienna, which straight up ignored the order and hoisted the flag beneath the stars and stripes.

Diplomats there made their position clear last month by signing onto a statement with American missions around the world for last month’s International Day against Homophobia, Transphobia and Biphobia.

Photo: The U.S. embassy in Austria
Photo: The U.S. embassy in Austria

“In 70 countries, there are laws that criminalise private, consensual sexual relations between adults of the same sex, and we were and are alarmed by recent severely retrograde and inhumane measures brought in to target these relationships,” it said, adding that

Flying his own defiance, the former ambassador to Spain posted photos of him flying the rainbow flag alongside Old Glory back in the Obama years.

“We didn’t hang the pride on a wall, or hide inside the embassy; signaling second class status,” James Costas wrote on Instagram.

State department workers have been using the hashtag #DiplomatsforEquality to rally support.

June 28 is the anniversary of the Stonewall Riots in New York City, when the gay community rose up angrily following police raids targeting gay venues.

In Thailand, more strides toward equality have been made with the election of its first gender-queer candidate to parliament. Though advocates were disappointed it fell short of establishing marriage rights, a bill to allow civil partnerships for same-sex couples was proposed late last year.

Everything you need to know about the Thai Civil Partnership Bill (so far)

The so-called Life Partnership Bill, which would extend some rights reserved for heterosexual couples to the LGBT community, has stalled in review for the past three months.

So as we enter the last week of Pride Month, go out and celebrate, Coconauts. There is plenty to see and do, from shopping for rainbow-themed goods to seeing drag divas perform live. Check out our picks for the best pride festivities taking place.

Related stories:

Pride Across Bangkok: Where to celebrate LGBT+ diversity for this year’s festival

‘Not here for decoration’: Thai transgender MPs make history in parliament

Election history: Thailand votes first-ever genderqueer candidate into parliament

Winners of Thai trans pageant open up about HIV activism and overcoming childhood abuse

Everything you need to know about the Thai Civil Partnership Bill (so far)

Thai LGBT campaigners petition gov’t over ‘homophobic’ health education


Support Coconuts and rep your city

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Our first product is that ultimate wardrobe mainstay: the white T-shirt.

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They’re all sold exclusively at The Coconuts Shop – at a special introductory price of S$29 until Sep. 30, 2020!



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