We need to fight homophobia at home
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We need to fight homophobia at home

An activist prepares placards calling for an end to discrimination against LGBT groups. (Photo by Jiraporn Kuhakan)
An activist prepares placards calling for an end to discrimination against LGBT groups. (Photo by Jiraporn Kuhakan)

As the world reels in shock and sorrow from the Orlando gay club shooting which killed at least 50 people and injured many more in Florida, some jumped to lay blame on the faith of the shooter, who was said to have been angered by the sight of two men kissing.

But truth be told, homophobia isn't the exclusive terrain of any particular religion or country. Those who think that Thailand is immune to such homophobia and violence against lesbians, gays, bisexuals and transgenders (LGBT) have been fooled by the myth of "acceptance".

In fact, local media has reported cases of violence against this group. A few years ago, a woman admitted to having her daughter's lesbian lover killed in Trat because she wanted her child to date a man.

The victim clearly was murdered because of her sexual orientation and gender identity -- she was a tom, the Thai term for a self-styled masculine lesbian.

In another case, two 17-year-old students in a lesbian relationship were found dead in Nong Khai with more than 60 stab wounds between them. Police suspected they were killed out of jealousy over their relationship.

Moreover, many lesbians are subjected to rape in order to "cure" their sexual orientation, often by their own family members -- a subject rarely discussed due to the stigma around rape and lesbianism. A father in Loei confessed to having raped his 14-year-old daughter for four years in order to stop her from socialising with tom. Worse, there is a worrying trend that this so-called corrective rape is being normalised in Thai society through the expression Kae Tom Som Dee or "fixing tom and dee" -- dee are the feminine counterpart to tom. This topic will be addressed in a seminar on June 28 at Thammasat University.

These cases are surely just the tip of an iceberg, as many more murders of Thai LGBTs are brushed aside as crimes of passion, because the concept of "hate crime" doesn't exist in the Thai legal system. The UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights identified murder, beatings, kidnappings, rape and sexual assault against LGBT people as homophobic and transphobic violence that "constitute a form of gender-based violence, driven by a desire to punish those seen as defying gender norms", and that violence against LGBT people "tends to be especially vicious compared to other bias-motivated crimes".

Therefore, if we are shocked by this senseless loss of lives in Florida, the first thing we should do is to fight the root causes of homophobia in our own backyard, where much of the medical profession still considers transgenderism as a form of mental disorder; where the predominantly "Buddhist" population believes that LGBTs are sinful for past-life adultery and therefore deserve lower status; where all junior high-school students are taught by government-approved curriculum that homosexuality constitutes sexual deviancy; and where popular TV programmes regularly caricature LGBTs as promiscuous and spreaders of HIV/Aids. A recent TV dating show even had two gay men swallowing a banana in a demeaning manner as a kind of entertainment.

The recent case of a teacher at an all-male school who was accused of having sex with students also perpetuates the prejudice, as the defendant was paraded in front of the media even before the facts of the case were fully investigated.

Whether it was rooted in homophobia or not, presuming the defendant's guilt until proven otherwise already reinforces the existing prejudice that gays are paedophiles or sexual predators, and can't be trusted as teachers. (A heterosexual teacher in a similar case, even when found guilty, will be condemned as an individual). Such prejudice paves way for similar Orlando shootings.

Therefore, if one equates religion with homophobia in the absolute, one is actually siding with the shooter by spreading the hate, albeit to a different target population. Navi Pillay, former UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, once noted: "Homophobia and transphobia are no different to sexism, misogyny, racism or xenophobia... History shows us the terrible human price of discrimination and prejudice. No one is entitled to treat a group of people as less valuable, less deserving or less worthy of respect. Each and every one of us is entitled to the same rights, to the same respect and ethical treatment, regardless of our sexual orientation or gender identity."

In fact, the Orlando massacre should be an opportunity for all of us to re-examine our own hate and prejudices against those who are different, not just by their sexual orientations or gender identities, but also their nationalities, religions, political opinions or any other statuses.

It's time we fight hate -- not with hate, but with love.

Paisarn Likhitpreechakul is board member of Foundation for SOGI Rights and Justice.

Paisarn Likhitpreechakul

SOGI Foundation board member

Paisarn Likhitpreechakul is board member of Foundation for SOGI Rights and Justice.

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