Shaking up gender ideas

Shaking up gender ideas

New push to expand rights for LGBTQ groups is stuck in outdated notions of legal sex status, writes Poramet Tangsathaporn

"Transgenders have endured so much pain alreqady from the change operations." — Chompoonute Nakorntap, Adviser to the Minister of Social Development and Human Security

The past few years have been a watershed for legislation campaigning to protect the rights of LGBTQ+ people in Thailand.

The term "LGBTQ+" stands for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer and others. The "plus" represents other sexual identities including pansexual and gender non bi-nary.

One big moment came in 2015 when the Gender Equality Act 2015 was approved in parliament. It is the only legislation for protecting LGBTQ+ rights in Thailand.

At one level, it has helped fostering equality. The law has allowed LGBTQ+ people to sue their employers for sexual discrimination in cases where such people have been fired without good reason.


The advocacy group for LGBTQ+ groups, however, is ambitious and dares to push the envelope in drafting a new law.

Two years ago, they started a campaign to draft legislation for a Gender Recognition Bill.

This bill, if passed, will help transgenders, particularly those who have had a sexual reassignment operation, to be legally recognised with his or her latest gender marker -- genitalia or sexual reproductive organs, said Chompoonute Nakorntap, adviser to the minister of social development and human security.

Ms Chompoonute is in the team that drafted the bill.

In addition, the draft also calls for more regulations to govern sex-change operations. For instance, the draft requires that an individual must be at least 18 years old to be entitled to receive a sexual reassignment operation.

Another aspect is the individual does not need the consent of psychological experts to vouch that he or she is not mentally deranged, and fit for such an operation. The bill also gives them the right to seek child custody, for instance.

She told the Bangkok Post the draft has been submitted to the Ministry of Social Development and Human Security for legal experts to scrutinise the detail.

It is unclear when it will be proposed to the cabinet or the House, adding the Covid-19 pandemic will make the process slower.

"Transgenders have endured so much pain already from the change operations. Why do they need to endure social discrimination? This legislation will give them their self-determination. Once they get their new sex marker, they will be legally recognised and protected," she added.

Ms Chompoonute said if this bill is passed, it can become a "springboard" for the LGBTQ+ group to pursue more equality.

The group also asks for the right to claim medical expenses from the state for medical complications and hormonal treatment they get after the sex-change operation.

Puncharat Taloet, 33, a staff member at the Rainbow Sky Association of Thailand Human Rights and Equality, hopes the bill is passed.

On her ID card, Puncharat is a "Mr". Yet anyone who meets Puncharat for the first time would think of her as a woman.

Preferring to call herself "Ms," Puncharat had her sexual reassignment operation years ago. Yet her ID often makes life awkward -- such as having her sit side by side with a monk.

"Also, even though I am a woman, I have Mr on my ID card, so I cannot register my marriage if I want to marry a man," she said.


Koko Tiamsai, 29, of the Policy Research Communication and Gender Studies advocacy group, argues that the proposed bill ignores the reality of transgender people.

"It is not every transgender who can afford the surgery and it does not mean every transgender wants to undergo the genital reassignment surgery," she said.

The bill used genitalia to define gender identity, she said, which was a little crude. "The law drafters should realise that genitalia cannot really define what gender people are. Gender is socially constructed, fluid and evolves."

Nada Chaiyajit, 42, an International Human Rights and SOGIESC transwoman scholar, said there is another version of the gender recognition bill. "The draft still looks at sex status in terms of male and female and overlooks intersex people and non-binary people," she said.

Ms Nada and her friends also drafted a civil society version of the bill. The draft calls for every official document to provide three gender boxes: Mr, Ms, and X (prefers no marker).

This bill allowed intersex children to choose their preferred genitalia and their gender without any medical interference. Intersex children are those with reproductive or sexual anatomy that doesn't fit female or male categories.

"Existing Thai law is ingrained in using genitalia [sexual reproductive organs] to determine someone's legal sex status with less focus on self-determination. So, we need a law that focuses on people's life and diversity," she said.

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