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Thailand: Situation and treatment of homosexuals, transsexuals and transgender persons; whether the government updated the constitution to provide rights to homosexuals, transsexuals and transgender persons (2005-2007)

Publisher Canada: Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada
Author Research Directorate, Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada, Ottawa
Publication Date 7 January 2008
Citation / Document Symbol THA102695.E
Cite as Canada: Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada, Thailand: Situation and treatment of homosexuals, transsexuals and transgender persons; whether the government updated the constitution to provide rights to homosexuals, transsexuals and transgender persons (2005-2007), 7 January 2008, THA102695.E, available at: http://www.refworld.org/docid/47d6547d28.html [accessed 29 August 2014]
DisclaimerThis is not a UNHCR publication. UNHCR is not responsible for, nor does it necessarily endorse, its content. Any views expressed are solely those of the author or publisher and do not necessarily reflect those of UNHCR, the United Nations or its Member States.

Homosexuality is legal in Thailand (AI July 2006). Gender reassignments, or sex changes, are also legal (ibid.). The country is said to be one of the world's most tolerant toward homosexuals and transsexuals (AP 12 Aug. 2007; Gay Times n.d.; IANS 8 Oct. 2007). The capital city of Bangkok is known as a "global centre" for sex change surgery (Reuters 12 Nov. 2007; ibid. 29 June 2007; IANS 8 Oct. 2007), and Thailand reportedly has one of world's largest transsexual populations (AFP 20 Sept. 2007). Homosexuals and transsexuals regularly appear in movies and on television in Thailand (AP 12 Aug. 2007; ibid. 11 Aug. 2005; IANS 8 Oct. 2007).

Large gay scenes can reportedly be found in Bangkok, Phuket, Pattaya and Chiang Mai (Gay Times n.d.; GlobalGayz.com 2007a; see also IANS 8 Oct. 2007). Bangkok is host to an annual gay pride week (GlobalGayz.com 2007b; Bloomberg 14 Nov. 2005). Phuket [southern Thailand] similarly hosts an annual gay pride parade (IANS 8 Oct. 2007). A cabaret in Pattaya [southeast of Bangkok] claims to be the largest transsexual cabaret in the world (AFP 10 Nov. 2007).

In 2005, Bangkok hosted the first international conference on Asia's gay, lesbian and transgender communities (AP 8 July 2005). In the same year, following the Indian Ocean tsunami, the Thai tourism industry reportedly targeted gay tourists to visit the country by hosting a 3-day gay festival (Bloomberg 14 Nov. 2005). In August 2007, the Trang [Southern Thailand] underwater wedding festival announced that lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender individuals were welcome to participate in wedding nuptials beginning in February 2008 (The Nation 25 Aug. 2007; ibid. 29 Aug. 2007), although several local officials indicated they would not support their inclusion in the festival (ibid.).

In November 2007, Pattaya hosted Miss International Queen 2007, a beauty pageant for transsexuals (Reuters 12 Nov. 2007; AFP 10 Nov. 2007). The pageant reportedly drew an audience of more than 1,000 (Reuters 12 Nov. 2007), while an estimated 25 million Thai watched the pageant on television (AFP 10 Nov. 2007). A Thai transsexual was crowned as the winner of the event (ibid.; Reuters 12 Nov. 2007).

Despite Thailand's apparent tolerance of non-heterosexuals, the country's largely Buddhist society is said to be "deeply conservative" and discrimination still exists (ibid. 28 June 2007; ibid. 12 Nov. 2007). In a travel review on Thailand, the London-based Gay Times online magazine states that "[t]here are pockets of homophobia [in Thailand] as in any country particularly towards gay men as this is a western concept which does not fit with traditional Thai culture" (n.d.). A 12 August 2007 Associated Press (AP) article indicates that, although homosexuals, transsexuals and transvestites are "widely" tolerated in Thailand, many face "family pressure, social prejudice and domestic violence."

In late June and early July 2007, gay rights groups called for the boycott of Novotel, a European hotel chain, after male transvestite Suthirat Simsri-Wong was refused entry into one of its Bangkok nightclubs (Reuters 28 June 2007; DPA 5 July 2007; Thai News Service 2 July 2007). Bouncers at the club reportedly denied Suthirat entry on the basis of her being "katoey" [Thai word for transvestite, transsexual or cross-dresser (Reuters 28 June 2007; Thai News Service 2 July 2007)] (Reuters 28 June 2007; DPA 5 July 2007; The Nation 6 July 2007; Thai News Service 2 July 2007). By 6 July 2007, Novotel had issued a formal apology to Suthirat (The Nation 6 July 2007; DPA 5 July 2007).

In November 2007, news sources reported that gay activists in Thailand launched a protest against American International Assurance (AIA) after it reportedly refused life insurance to a homosexual because of his "personal lifestyle" (The Gold Coast Bulletin 10 Nov. 2007; see also The Nation 21 Nov. 2007; Thai News Service 15 Nov. 2007). According to Bangkok's The Nation newspaper, in response to the protests, Thailand's Office of the Insurance Commission (OIC) and Thai Life Assurance Association are expected to issue a "certification for sexual diversity," which would ensure homosexuals' right to obtain life insurance (21 Nov. 2007). AIA denied allegations that it discriminates against homosexuals (The Gold Coast Bulletin 10 Nov. 2007; Thai News Service 15 Nov. 2007).

Changes in legislation

In 2005, the Thai military amended a law that classified transvestites, who are exempt from military service, as having a "mental disorder" (AP 11 Aug. 2005; Reuters 29 June 2007; see also Bangkok Post 1 Oct. 2007). Prior to this amendment, the military would reportedly issue certificates of exemption stamped "due to mental disorder," which impeded transvestites from finding employment (AP 11 Aug. 2005; Reuters 29 June 2007; Bangkok Post 1 Oct. 2007).

In June 2007, an Associated Press (AP) article reported that Thailand's legislature approved an anti-rape law that broadened the definition of rape victims to include both men and women (25 June 2007). Welcomed by gay rights activists in the country, the new law reportedly penalizes rapists with prison terms of 4 to 20 years and a fine of 247 to 1,227 US dollars (AP 25 June 2007).

During the same month, drafters of Thailand's "post-coup constitution" agreed to include a provision that would guarantee equal constitutional rights and protection to gay men, lesbians, transsexuals and transvestites (Reuters 29 June 2007; DPA 5 July 2007; GlobalGayz.com 2007a). The draft constitution was approved by Thai voters in a referendum in August 2007 (BBC 19 Aug. 2007; Jurist 24 Aug. 2007). Gaylanta.net, a website designed for the homosexual, lesbian, bisexual and transgender (HLBT) visitors to the Thai island of Ko Lanta, welcomed the introduction of the new Thai constitution, stating that it "marks further positive implementation of legal equality for all, regardless of ethnic origin, religious background and sexual preference or status, as emphasized within section 5" (Gaylanta.net n.d.). Section 5 of the draft constitution does not explicitly mention homosexual, lesbian, bisexual or transgender persons, but states that "[a]ll the Thai people regardless of ethnicity, sex, or religion shall receive equal protection under this Constitution" (Thailand 2007).

In 2007, news sources reported that Thailand was also considering implementing a law that would allow transsexuals to use the title of their "adopted" gender (AP 12 Aug. 2007; Bangkok Post 1 Oct. 2007; AFP 20 Sept. 2007). By October 2007, the bill had not yet been approved (Bangkok Post 1 Oct. 2007).

This Response was prepared after researching publicly accessible information currently available to the Research Directorate within time constraints. This Response is not, and does not purport to be, conclusive as to the merit of any particular claim for refugee protection. Please find below the list of additional sources consulted in researching this Information Request.

References

Agence France-Presse (AFP). 10 November 2007. "Thai Crowned World's Transsexual Beauty Queen." [Accessed 3 Dec. 2007]
_____. 20 September 2007. "Please Call Me 'Miss,' Transgendered Thais Say." [Accessed 3 Dec. 2007]

Amnesty International (AI). July 2006. Sexual Minorities and the Law: A World Survey. [Accessed 4 Dec. 2007]

Associated Press (AP). 12 August 2007. "Thailand Considers Law Allowing Transsexual to Claim Title of Adopted Gender." (The Star Online)
_____. 25 June 2007. "Gender, Gay Rights Activists Welcome Thai Law Expanding Definition of Rape." (The Advocate) [Accessed 3 Dec. 2007]
_____. 11 August 2005. "Transvestites, Exempt from Thai Military, No Longer Classified as Having 'Mental Disorder'." (The Advocate) [Accessed 3 Dec. 2007]
_____. 8 July 2005. "First International Conference on Asia's Gay Communities Begins." (The Advocate) [Accessed 3 Dec. 2007]

Bangkok Post. 1 October 2007. Sanitsuda Ekachai. "Are You Man Enough to Be a Woman? A Group of Politicians Is Drafting a Bill That Will Legally Recognise Male-to-Female Transsexuals as Women." (Factiva)

Bloomberg [New York]. 14 November 2005. "Tsunami-Hit Phuket Resorts Woo Gay Dollars Shunned by Singapore." [Accessed 3 Dec. 2007]

British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC). 19 August 2007. "Thai Voters 'Approve New Charter'." [Accessed 17 Dec. 2007]

Deutsche Presse-Agentur (DPA). 5 July 2007. "Novotel Apologizes to Thai Transvestites." (Monsters and Critics)

Gaylanta.net. n.d. "Ko Lanta – Idyllic Island Where Diversity Is Appreciated." [Accessed 17 Dec. 2007]

Gay Times [London]. N.d. "Thailand." [Accessed 3 Dec. 2007]

GlobalGayz.com. 2007a. "Gay Rights in Thailand 2007." [Accessed 3 Dec. 2007]
_____. 2007b. "Gay Thailand 2007." [Accessed 3 Dec. 2007]

The Gold Coast Bulletin [Molendinar, Australia]. 10 November 2007. "Too Risky: Insurance Company Out of the Closet on Gay Policy." (Factiva)

Indo-Asian News Service (IANS). 8 October 2007. "Tolerance on the Rise for Asia's Gays, But Laws Lag." (Factiva)

Jurist. 24 August 2007. "Thailand 2007 Constitution [Kingdom of Thailand]." (University of Pittsburgh School of Law) [Accessed 17 Dec. 2007]

The Nation [Bangkok]. 21 November 2007. "Natee Refused Medical, Says AIA." (Factiva)
_____. 29 August 2007. "Objections to Same-Sex Underwater 'Weddings'." (Factiva)
_____. 25 August 2007. "Famous Trang Dive Wedding Open to Gays." (Factiva)
_____. 6 July 2007. "Novotel Will Apologize to Transvestite." (Factiva)

Reuters. 12 November 2007. "Thai Student Crowned Queen of the Transsexuals." [Accessed 3 Dec. 2007]
_____. 29 June 2007. "Gays to Get Equal Status under New Thai Charter." [Accessed 3 Dec. 2007]
_____. 28 June 2007. "Bangkok Bar Bars Transvestite, Gays Urge Boycott." [Accessed 3 Dec. 2007]

Thailand. 2007. Draft Constitution 2007. [Accessed 17 Dec. 2007]

Thai News Service. 15 November 2007. "Thailand: Activists Want Regulators to Issue Clear Policies on Insurance for Gays." (Factiva)
_____. 2 July 2007. "Thailand: Gay-Lesbian Rights Groups Join to Boycott Novotel." (Factiva)

Additional Sources Consulted

Internet sites, including: The Advocate [Los Angeles], Anjaree, European Country of Origin Information Network (ecoi.net), Gay.com, The Gully, Human Rights Watch (HRW), International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission (IGLHRC), International Lesbian and Gay Association (ILGA), Pink News [London], SodomyLaws.org, United Kingdom Home Office, United States Department of State.

Copyright notice: This document is published with the permission of the copyright holder and producer Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada (IRB). The original version of this document may be found on the offical website of the IRB at http://www.irb-cisr.gc.ca/en/. Documents earlier than 2003 may be found only on Refworld.

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