Kingdom still divided over LGBT rights
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Kingdom still divided over LGBT rights

Thailand may be making strides in legalising same-sex unions, but there's still more that needs to be achieved

The passage of pro-rights bills pertaining to civil partnerships of same-sex couples has promoted greater rights for those in the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender (LGBT+) community in Thailand, but some LGBT+ advocates are still challenging the prevalent stereotypes and discrimination still existent against the gender diverse community.

The recent approval of the government's civil partnership draft bill, and the amendment to the civil and commercial codes, bode well for same-sex couples. If ratified by parliament, Thailand will be the first country in Southeast Asia, and the second in Asia after Taiwan, to legalise same-sex unions.

Nareeluc Pairchaiyapoom, director of the International Human Rights Division at the Ministry of Justice, dismissed a rumour that the civil partnership draft bill was sent back to her agency, noting the bill is now in the first stage of passage in parliament.

"We had a very controversial discussion in the meeting with the [House] sub-committee [on July 22]," Ms Nareeluc said. "Many concerns were raised."

There are three concerns: Opposition from various groups -- including the followers of Islam; the new concept of civil partners and their rights; the lack of statistics around the LGBT+ population, she said.

Ms Nareeluc made her remarks during a forum called "Over the rainbow: Future of civil partnerships and LGBT+ rights in Thailand" held at the Foreign Correspondents' Club of Thailand (FCCT) on Sept 29.

The current civil partnership draft bill, which is proposed by the government, covers the registration and termination of same-sex couples and the rules for their property management, adoption and inheritance. However, it differs from the draft bill proposed by the opposition Move Forward Party, which aims to amend current civil and commercial codes to allow anyone to be legally wed, regardless of their sex.

Ms Nareeluc said her ministry is gradually pushing for marriage equality to avoid a backlash and give stakeholders time to amend related laws.

"That's why we've decided to go on step by step. But, it doesn't mean we will not aim for equal marriage [rights]," she said. "The bill is not yet finalised -- we hope we will be able to [guarantee] more rights."

Gender recognition stalled

This month, the cabinet was expected to deliberate the gender recognition draft bill that would allow citizens to change their officially listed gender without the need for gender reassignment surgery.

However, Chompoonute Nakornthap, the policy adviser to the Ministry of Social Development and Human Security, said the bill is now on hold because it involves other ministries.

Ms Chompoonute, who serves as the chair of the Democrat Party's task force on gender rights, said the bill would allow transgender people to be "who they are, not where you want to put them".

"Some of them recognise that they don't want to be the same gender they were born as," she said. "They are not comfortable. Even for me, don't put me in a box.

"In Thailand, they call lesbians tomboys and ladies. No, for God's sake, don't call me a tomboy," Ms Chompoonute added. "I put on lipstick. Not all tomboys put on lipstick."

She also questioned the extent of the country's acceptance of LGBT+ people until one of the bills -- civil partnership and gender recognition -- is passed.

Under the surface

Nattavud Pimpa, a lecturer at the College of Management at Mahidol University and member of the National Committee on Gender Discrimination, said the committee has received numerous complaints about gender discrimination in educational institutions and workplaces this year.

"Unfortunately, approximately 62% of cases are related to power issues among professors and university students," Mr Nattavud said.

"For example, those who identify themselves as trans women or trans men are forced to dress according to their birth gender instead of the one they identify with."

Mr Nattavud also pointed out that workers who are LGBT+ face a higher chance of unemployment amid the coronavirus outbreak, noting they are not entitled to welfare benefits like other citizens because they are considered to be without "families".

He said gender education in schools and universities can help prevent discrimination against LGBT+ people.

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