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As the 2023 general election approaches, activists and members of civil society hope for policies that will ensure LGBTQ rights and gender equality for Thailand.

Activists, civil society members, and political party representatives gathered at the Student Christian Center in Ratchathewi on 30 March for a panel discussion on LGBTQ right policies.

On 30 March, a network of LGBTQ rights advocates and civil society organizations held a panel discussion where they invited representatives of political parties running in the upcoming election to present their LGBTQ rights policy package and answer questions from civil society members about what their plans are.

12 parties took part in the panel discussion: Move Forward Party, Phue Thai Party, Thai Sang Thai Party, Democrat Party, Commoners’ Party, United Thai Nation Party, Chart Pattana Kla Party, Puea Chart Party, Bhumjaithai Party, Equality Party, and Chartthaipattana Party.

Prachatai spoke to three civil society members about what they hope to see after the election, from marriage equality and gender recognition law to abortion access for all.

The final steps to marriage equality

Atitaya Asa

Atitaya Asa from the trans men network TEAK – Trans Empowerment said that the LGBTQ community in Thailand has long been campaigning for marriage equality in Thailand. He said that LGBTQ people also want to have a stable life with their partners like everyone else, and getting equal marriage rights would pave the way to campaigning for other rights.

MPs from the Move Forward Party previously proposed a Marriage Equality Bill, which proposes an amendment to the Civil and Commercial Code to allow marriage registration regardless of gender and raise the age at which a person can legally marry without parental consent or court permission from 17 to 18 years old. The bill passed its first reading on 15 June 2022 and was forwarded to an ad-hoc committee but was not brought back to parliament for its second and third readings in time before parliament was dissolved.

Once a new parliament has been elected and new government formed, the bill should be brought back for its remaining two readings, Atitaya said.

But beyond the marriage equality bill, Atitaya said there is also a need for a gender recognition law to ensure that trans people are recognized by law as the gender that they are, unrelated to the sex they were assigned at birth. He would like trans people to affirm their identity and change their titles on their identification documents to match who they are.

“This is important. It is affirming our bodies and our gender identity, and leads to marriage equality, because I wouldn’t want to get married while still being called ‘Miss.’ I would want to get married while also affirming my gender,” he said.

He also said that it is important that he believes in self-determination and that a gender recognition law should not involve medical certification, because not all trans people want to change their bodies and that their identities depend on how they identify themselves.

“We already know ourselves who we are,” he said. 

Atitaya also said that hormonal treatment for trans people should be included in healthcare schemes, because they do not take hormones for cosmetic purposes but to affirm their own identities and for their physical and mental wellbeing.

Improve curriculum for disabled LGBTQ people

Atcharaporn Thongchalaem

Atcharaporn Thongchalaem from the Service Workers in Group Foundation (SWING) has been working with hearing impaired LGBTQ people. She said that it is important to consider intersectional identities, such as LGBTQ sex workers, or LGBTQ people who are disabled.

From her work with the hearing impaired, she learned that they often have a hard time getting information or communicating with hearing people, especially when seeking medical treatment. She said that hospitals should be working with the Thai Telecommunication Relay Service, which can provide sign language interpreters, to ensure that a hearing-impaired person is able to communicate with medical personnel when seeking services.

She also said that she was told by a group of young hearing-impaired LGBTQ people she worked with that the curriculum in public Schools for the Deaf run by the Ministry of Education’s Special Education Bureau does not include sex education for LGBTQ people, and that Thai sign language lacks terms for identities in the LGBTQ community. This deprives them of the opportunity to know themselves and express their identities, she said, and so is something that needs to be changed.

Abortion access for all

Sulaiporn Chonvilai

Although Thailand amended its Criminal Code 2 years ago to allow abortion up to the 12th week of pregnancy, access remains difficult due to lack of information and facilities and prejudice from medical professionals, many of whom refuse to perform abortions. Meanwhile, the LGBTQ community does not think that reproductive rights is an issue related to their community.

Sulaiporn Chonvilai from the abortion advocacy group Tamtang said that, in general, people tend to think that abortion is a women’s issue, but within the LGBTQ community, there are those who are able to become pregnant and can face an unwanted pregnancy. She said that although abortion access is not really discussed among Thailand’s LGBTQ community, possibly because there are other, more urgent issues, she is sure that it is not just cisgender and heterosexual women who need access to abortion or have had one.

Often, an unwanted pregnancy for lesbians, bisexuals, and trans men is a result of sexual violence. Sulaiporn said she has met many masculine lesbians who became pregnant as a result of sexual assault, and said that parents of these young people often force them to marry their rapists to save face or to keep them from getting an abortion. Meanwhile, trans men may be in a relationship with someone who can get them pregnant, and because they identify as a gender that is different from their assigned sex, they may not think it is important to find out what type of birth control would work for them or they cannot access birth control.

For Sulaiporn, the issue is that the LGBTQ community in Thailand is new to issues of unwanted pregnancy and abortion, and so does not have information about what is happening. Discussions about health in the community are also often limited to HIV issues, while political parties proposing policies for LGBTQ people do not see issues about healthcare for LGBTQ people beyond transitioning.

Sulaiporn agrees that, if someone who identifies as part of the LGBTQ community seeks an abortion, they will have to face a double layer of prejudice – against their identity and against abortion. She also said that, for example, masculine lesbians who became pregnant as a result of sexual assault might not know what to do, while their families would rather have them give birth or marry their rapist rather than be a lesbian or get an abortion.

When asked what she would like a future government to do, Sulaiporn said she would like everyone to see that abortion access is an issue related to everyone, not just an issue for cisgender women. She also said that access to abortion has not become easier despite changes to the law, as medical professionals continue to refuse to perform abortions. Meanwhile, political parties tend not to openly discuss abortion rights because they see it as a sensitive issue that can cost them votes whether they support it or not, and do not understand what the issues are.

The Tamtang group has had discussions with the Bangkok Metropolitan Administration, Sulaiporn said, since there are no hospitals in Bangkok that will perform abortions even though it is now covered by the National Health Security Office’s Universal Care scheme. They were told that doctors are not ready.

“You don’t just come out and say that you don’t want to do it, but you say that you’re not ready, so you’re just going to help refer people,” she said, noting that referral often means that hospital employees give information on how to get an abortion at a private hospital, which means having to pay for it.

In the two years since the Criminal Code was amended, the Tamtang group found that there are only around a hundred hospitals, both public and private, that perform abortions, out of over a thousand across the country. The group also found that there are only around 40 provinces out of 77 that have a hospital or clinic that performs abortions. The hospitals that do perform abortions also set their own conditions, such as that abortions available only up to the 9th week of pregnancy, only for teenagers, or only for victims of sexual assault.

The Ministry of Public Health also has never published a list of hospitals and clinics that perform abortions, or where people can get free treatment because the NHSO is covering the cost.

If someone in Bangkok is seeking an abortion and would like it to be covered by the Universal Care scheme, they will have to go to Sing Buri, a province 2 hours away, where the closest hospital is.

Sulaiporn said that political parties tend to propose to increase budgets or welfare, but no one is working on changing the mindset of medical professionals. There is already a system in place and no need for more money. What is needed now is to make sure that medical professionals follow the law so that the existing system functions, and to make sure that people won’t have to travel across provinces to get an abortion.

“What we get from political parties’ policies are only external things,” she said. “I want to hear that they will change prejudice, whether about patriarchy, about rules which are a result of the prejudice of administrators, or the prejudice which means hospitals refuse to perform abortions. How are they going to do it? Are you going to force the doctors? You can’t force them. You just keep saying that you will hand out this, and here are the medications. You don’t need to do that. You just need to change attitudes, which is difficult, and I don’t know if they see it.”

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