From King to commoners, Thais express sympathy after Orlando

1_US EMBASSY BKKThailand’s King and Queen sent a letter of condolences to President Barack Obama concerning the tragic events in Orlando, Florida, last week and hundreds of people gathered outside of the United States embassy in Bangkok for a candlelight vigil and show of support that moved the U.S. ambassador to the point of holding back tears.

“I did not expect this, it’s very beautiful and heartfelt. Both gestures mean a lot to the American people,” Ambassador Glyn Davies said about the letter from the royal family and the vigil. “I tried so hard not to cry,” he added, calling the letter from Their Majesties “very touching.”

From the King to commoners, Thais were shocked and saddened by the terrorist attack at Pulse nightclub in Florida last week that left 49 people dead and over 50 wounded, mostly from the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender (LGBT) community. The American-born gunman had expressed hatred of LGBTs and pledged allegiance to Islamic State in a phone call to police before he was killed.

“The Queen and I are deeply distressed by reports of the brutal shooting at the nightclub in Orlando, resulting in senseless deaths and injuries of so many innocent people,” His Majesty King Bhumibol wrote in a letter to President Obama.

“We wish to express to Your Excellency and particularly the bereaved families our deep sympathy and condolences for their irreparable loss caused by this shocking incident,’’ King Bhumibol wrote.

On Monday evening, a crowd gathered outside the white concrete walls of the U.S. embassy on Wireless Road in Bangkok, hanging the rainbow flags that symbolize LGBT identity and lighting candles on the pavement. They carried handmade placards with messages such as “love is a human right” and “love cannot be silenced.”

Ambassador Davies and staff emerged from behind the gates and joined in the vigil as people prayed and sang.

“We are distraught by what happened in Orlando,” Paisarn Likhitpreechakul, who organized the vigil, told the Bangkok Post newspaper. “We are looking for a way to express our condolences and solidarity with the people and government of the United States to raise awareness of problems of violence against the LGBT community.”

Thailand has long been known for its tolerance towards LGBTs in society, and those drafting the country’s new constitution have included recognition and rights for what they term the “third gender.”

In 2015, the National Legislative Assembly passed the Gender Equality Act, which is designed to protect members of the LGBT community and aims to punish discrimination based on gender identity and sexual orientation.

Those found guilty of discrimination could face up to six months in jail and a $600 fine. The law defines “unfair discrimination among the sexes” as any action that “segregates, obstructs or limits the rights” of a person because they have “a sexual expression different from that person’s original sex.”

Image credit: Facebook/ U.S.Embassy Bangkok