Change from the outside

Change from the outside

Idahot 2015 was a step in the right direction, but there remains work to be done

Change from the outside

'If there is anybody who's against homosexuals, transsexuals or bisexuals, you can leave the area," announced event host Meesuk Jangmeesuk outside the Bangkok Art and Culture Centre (BACC).

The International Day against Homophobia, Transphobia and Biphobia (Idahot) — the annual LGBT  celebration — was held on May 17 at the BACC. Different events, both informative and entertaining, were featured throughout the week to shed light on issues faced by the Thai LGBT community.

On celebration day, people held colourful floral lights — to wave along to the entertainment as the Sun went down — while others wore newly-made shirts from a DIY stall, which supported the LGBT cause. The BACC was also lit in colours of the rainbow.

A big white banner with the words "Diversity is Beautiful" was laid on the ground for people to contribute their bit. Writings in different languages and many hand drawings were seen on the banner, which symbolised the joining of hands to move the cause forward.

To kick off the night, award-winning pianist Remi Namptep performed a solo, followed by a rendition of Whitney Houston's One Moment In Time by a transsexual and an all-boy cheerleading squad, which began the official opening ceremony.

Idahot 2015 was a result of collaboration between the Bangkok Metropolitan Administration (BMA), more than 20 UN agencies, various gender clubs and associations, and commercial partners.

"The Bangkok Metropolitan Administration is on your side," said BMA deputy governor Pusadee Tamthai.

"We need the power from everyone to create a happy community that's full of opportunity for all. If there are any problems, please tell us. Don't just wallow in misery."

Sad to say, but misery is still what many of us are facing.

The law remains unchanged. Different groups of activists are fighting for the Civil Partnership Registration Bill, which is under review. When passed, the LGBT community will attain only some of the rights enjoyed by their heterosexual peers, not all.

However, what's even more difficult to change is people's attitude towards the LGBT community. Our school textbooks still brand LGBTs as deviants, instilling wrong beliefs and discrimination in young minds.

We still call an effeminate man a "tootsie", a negative connotation, of course. And ladyboys still have to live up to their stereotypes — extravagant, spectacular and gay. Anything outside of that and the world sees you as a mutant among mutants.

The sight of pretty ladyboys, as well as some tourism campaigns, may fool many on the gender diversity issues in this country. But, are we really as gay-friendly as advertised? Are we a gay paradise?

The Thai LGBT community may seem free to express their gender identity when compared to other countries. But, beneath the pretty façade, hate and discrimination still lurk.

Signs were available for selfies. This one reads 'I like tomboys'.

And this is where Idahot should step in. As an international day against all kinds of phobia towards the community, Idahot in Thailand didn't seem to achieve much. There were different workshops, but they did not seem to educate people on the outside, even though that's where the problem lies.

At the event, there were many supporters — mostly people from the community — and tourists, who joined only to see dancing ladyboys, then walked away when the speeches began. I half expected BACC to be filled, but that didn't happen. Perhaps because it was Sunday and people had somewhere more important to be. Or perhaps gatherings are still a no-go under this government. Whatever the reasons, this year's Idahot was a quiet affair.

Small voices raised are still better than silence. Hate and discrimination are still out there. It's time to make the public see and understand that there is more to this community than just people dressed in rainbow colours.

It's a long journey ahead. While other countries — most recently Ireland — are legalising same-sex marriage, Thais are still puzzled on how a transwoman prefers women. We question why people are gay, and we also question when they don't "go gay" in the same way as everybody else.

Sexual orientation, gender identity and expression, and the fact that they don't need to conform to one another is still a new concept for most.

And perhaps these are the things that should be in our textbooks, rather than institutionalising homophobia with a deviant hypothesis.

We can still change things for the better by educating the youth. Are we already teaching them the right thing? When we do, perhaps we will finally see a concrete change in this country. And, one day, Idahot will be a wonderful day celebrated by many — not just a select few.

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