Article published in The Funambulist 14 (November-December 2017) Toxic Atmospheres. Click here to access the rest of the issue.
Although Thailand is known as a gay paradise, LGBT rights are still hardly recognized. Most of Thai people are taught that in this world there are only two gender identities. After the 2014 coup d’état, the military government passed the Gender Equality Act of 2015, which is considered as a step in the right direction for the LGBT community, and other LGBT-related bills are currently in the process of being drafted. However, these laws are not collectively being made by the LGBT community. A popular petition failed to result in policy changes. The political crises in Thailand over the past decade have not only divided the people into two ideological camps — including within the LGBT community itself — but have also caused many people to disengage from political activities, as they view politics as a conflict they do not wish to be a part of. Likewise, this situation has resulted in an absence of a strong social movement for LGBT people.
At the end of 2013, an LGBT political party was informally set up, but because of the coup the following year, which caused every civil political activity to freeze, the project was suspended. With three years under the junta regime gone by, Thailand will finally have an election at the end of 2018, assuming it is not postponed again. But even if it does, the political situation in the country has changed dramatically since the years before the coup. The new constitution, despite being criticized for centralizing power in the hands of the few, was implemented in 2017 without being shared with the public. Along with it came a new election system which does not favor small political parties. Similarly, new laws were passed, which will make it more difficult for political parties to be established in the first place. While there are many LGBT issues that need the attention of mainstream Thai politicians, the organizers of the failed LGBT political party of 2014 now must ask themselves whether they should even attempt to continue engaging in the heavily flawed parliamentary system.
Prior to the election on 2 February 2014, which was the last general election before the coup, the Sexual Orientation, Gender Identity, and Expression (SOGIE) Rights Party was poised to become Thailand’s first LGBT political party. The idea of Pimsiri Petchnamrob and Chumaporn Taengkliang, the SOGIE Rights Party’s co-founders, was to openly acknowledge the presence of LGBT people in Thai society and offer them an alternative choice in politics. Indeed, there were only two main parties at the time, the Prachathipat Party and the Pheu Thai Party, neither of which offered policies in favor of LGBT rights. Not expecting the SOGIE Rights Party to realistically become a main player, at least in the short term, Pimsiri and Chumaporn hoped that the structure of the parliamentary system would still make it possible them to push forward laws and policies that would benefit the country’s LGBT population, or at the very least, familiarize the public with LGBT issues by prompting discussions in the Assembly and the media. Representatives would be vocal, as LGBT issues would never receive attention otherwise.