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While women have long been considered “ornamental,” with the media and the public mainly focusing on their looks or how they dress and act, LGBTQ representation is nearly non-existent. They are subject to the same fate and even worse. A watershed moment for the community came in the last election when 3 self-identified LGBTQ people won MP seats.

In male-dominated Thai politics, women MPs amounted to only 15.4% with 73 women among 474 total members in 2022 according to iLaw. Of that number, the three self-identified LGBTQ MPs made up only 0.63%.

Last month, however, another win for the Thai LGBTQ community was chalked up when Move Forward’s Paramee “Juang” Waichongcharoen, a transwoman and party list MP candidate was elected. Having spent most of her life working in education, the MP designate is tasked with steering the party’s education policy. She will also work with other LGBTQ MPs designate to advocate for gender-inclusive policies.

Growing up in a run-down neighbourhood near Wat Soi Thong in Bang Sue, Paramee realized from a young age the importance of education as a tool for betterment in life. She enrolled in Chulalongkorn University to follow her dream of becoming a teacher.

The transwoman later learned that in a university that prided itself in traditionalism with its deep connections with royalty and elitism, its students were expected to dress in uniforms and conform to certain norms and values. Transgender students had to dress and act according to their biological sex. That experience has haunted her to this day.

Although the university has relaxed many of its strict rules in recent years, a conservative agenda prevails, especially in some faculties that attach themselves to institutionalism. These include the Faculty of Education where Paramee studied.

Although the Faculty is known by insiders to have hosted countless LGBTQ students throughout its existence, some faculty members still insist that students dress according to their biological sex and behave accordingly. The tradition was prevalent in Paramee’s day when she had to wear a short hair wig. The rule was recently repealed in 2020 after a transgender student filed an appeal to the governing body.

That sums up the fate of transgender students who wish to pursue a typical career trajectory in education. If you want to be a teacher in the Thai system, you either cut your hair and dress like a man or you are shown the door.

As much as she wanted to be a teacher, she also wanted to live truthfully to who she was. She couldn’t bear wearing short hair and men’s clothes.

Therefore, in 1993 when she graduated with a Bachelor of Education degree, and most of her peers went on to become career teachers, she chose to reject the traditional route and instead became a tutor and private teacher. For 27 years now, she has made a living teaching social sciences to high school students around Thailand.

Having lived through the painful experience of hiding who she was, she hopes she can advocate for a more tolerant education system in which people of all genders can live according to their chosen lifestyle without being discriminated against.

Thai society may seem open to the existence of LGBTQ, but discrimination still permeates certain realms of life, especially in the professional sphere. Living truthfully about who you are might mean being closed off from some opportunities. There are choices one must sacrifice to live as oneself.

“A transwoman who becomes a civil servant cannot dress as a woman. It is still like this in a number of ministries, not just in the Ministry of Education. You cannot dress as a woman right away. You must interview in men's clothes and hair. Dress as a man. With a wig. … You must look for room to manoeuvre, how open-minded your supervisor is,” she pointed out.

“Your life is like buying a lottery ticket.”

However, she knows big changes need to start small. At the minimum, LGBTQ should be able to dress as they please without facing resistance, she said. To make this a reality, she will start with the law, studying rules and regulations for opportunities for adjustment and gradually effect changes.

“I will push with other MPs for equality. Not just in the state sector, the private sector sometimes does not dare give LGBT in big conservative organizations the ability to display the gender they choose,” said Paramee.

The Move Forward Party tasked Paramee, along with two other MPs, with overseeing education policies. She stated that she is adamant about advocating for a more equal education where people can receive quality education no matter where they are. In her role as an MP, she will also help steer gender-inclusive policies with other MPs from the LGBTQ community. Besides the same-sex marriage bill, she aims to advocate for transpeople to be able to use titles according to their gender.

Although the prospect of a fully inclusive society is grim, she believes it will gradually change through dialogue and open discussion. Paramee wishes to see a more inclusive society where people are more understanding of gender differences.

“I want to create understanding. Don’t stereotype. I want to come out and speak up to create an understanding of gender diversity,” she said.

Paramee believes LGBTQ participation in politics is key to making society more inclusive. She encourages LGBTQ who wish to participate in politics to do so.

Though considered a veteran in Thai education, Paramee is relatively new to politics. She’s learning to navigate this challenging environment. But she has braced herself for impact, knowing that there will be people who don’t accept her differences.

“I believe in principle. If what I do is right in principle, I don’t care what anyone says. You can criticise me if I do something wrong, but you cannot censure my life choices, because that is my right,” the MP designate said.

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