The price of inaction

While Uruguay celebrates more rights among the LGBTI community, other parts of the world are going backwards — including Thailand

Refusal to change

History, unfortunately, has a habit of repeating itself.

Back in Sep 2014, Life reported on a story about secondary school textbooks that referred to LGBTI people as sexual deviants and those "lost in gender". It was a big issue, with celebrities like Gene Kasidit sharing it on Facebook, raising awareness of the existence of such books and how anti-LGBTI discrimination persists in this country.

The textbook issue soon faded away and attention shifted to other pressing matters. The problem was more or less forgotten, left at the back of people's minds. You might have assumed, hoped or prayed that the Ministry of Education and the Office of the Basic Education Commission would have done something about it by now. But like a lot of things in this country, the issue seems to be frozen in time. Four years have flown by with little to no improvement.

Earlier this month, the exact same issue raised its ugly head when photos of current school textbooks were posted and shared online. In these textbook (which publishers can sell to the public even before seeking the ministry's approval) LGBTI people remain sexual deviants. There is even "advice" that warns students against befriending LGBTI or they will be led down the wrong path. Straight people aren't safe either. Archaic, ultra-conservative gender roles are spelt out in the texts, with some even suggesting that married women should refrain from having sexual thoughts.

Now, as in 2014, the ministry insists that textbooks can only be changed once every decade, despite obvious mistakes and discriminatory content. Isn't that too long to update and improve knowledge and information for Thai children? How many have already studied from these textbooks? How many have been troubled by them, directly or indirectly? How many have believed the discriminatory warnings? How many have acted on what they thought was accurate information? And how many more will have to go through this?

We'll have to wait and see if ministry officials take any action on the matter. Perhaps in four years, we'll still be seeing the same "academic" books in circulation. To be honest, that seems the most likely scenario. There is hope, however, in the form of 2015's Gender Equality Act, which bars gender-based discrimination. It remains to be seen to what extent this law will be taken into consideration with regards to the issue.

Road to expansion

In another part of the world, things are looking far brighter. The LGBTI community of Uruguay celebrates this month, after the nation's congress passed a law expanding the rights of transgender citizens. The law grants transgender people the right to seek gender-affirming operations and hormone treatments, which will be paid for by the state. A minimum amount of public jobs will be reserved for transgender people. A pension will also be established to compensate those who were persecuted during the military dictatorship of 1973-1985.

Uruguay is one of the most liberal countries in the Americas -- even the world -- when it comes to LGBTI rights. Transgender people are allowed to change their legal gender without hormone therapy or surgery. Intersex children are protected from invasive surgical procedures. Same-sex marriage has been legalised since 2013. The country also has anti-discrimination laws.

Stepping backward

While Uruguay is determined to expand the rights of their transgender people, elsewhere in America, things are heading in the opposite direction.

Again, the Trump administration is attempting to roll back what equality there is in the country. Recently, The New York Times reported on a leaked government memo which sought to define gender "on a biological basis that is clear, grounded in science, objective and administrable", as opposed to recognising a more fluid definition, determined by choice. There would only be male or female -- absolute and unchangeable. All would be determined by a person's sex assigned at birth.

Such a definition would erase federal recognition of about 1.4 million Americans who don't identify with the gender they were born into, according to The New York Times.

After the NYT article went public, it sparked outrage from transgender communities and allies in the US. People have since protested outside the White House and other venues, bringing with them the rainbow flag, the blue-and-pink transgender flag and signs saying "transgender rights are human rights", "we will not be erased" and more. Online, the hashtag #WontBeErased is all over social media. Many condemn the proposal by the government as needless and cruel, while others call it a step back for transgender rights in the country.

The Trump administration has had quite the track record when it comes to anti-transgender actions. As compiled by transequality.org, these include housing transgender inmates in prison facilities according to their sex at birth and attempting to introduce a ban on transgender military service.


Contact melalinm@bangkokpost.co.th for news and views of LGBTI.