Thailand hosts its first LGBTI conference

lgbtflagLong known for its tolerant culture, Thailand hosted its first international conference on Lesbian Gay Bisexual Transgender and Intersex (LGBTI) issues and affairs last week, the largest such conference ever held in Asia, with the goal of improving policymakers’ understanding of issues facing those communities. The conference received support from the Thai government.

More than 500 participants from around the globe attended Bangkok Pride, officially known as the ILGA (International Lesbian, Gay, Trans and Intersex Association) 2016 World Conference in Bangkok, which ran from November 30 through December 2. It was the largest conference of its kind in Asia, with the previous gathering in the Philippines in 2003 drawing only 70 participants.

The headline speaker was Thailand’s Vitit Muntarbhorn, an academic and globally recognized human rights expert who earlier this year was appointed by the United Nations as its first Independent Expert on Protection Against Violence and Discrimination based on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity (SOGI). The General Assembly recently voted to confirm Vitit despite opposition from some countries that did not want the position to exist.

“Let’s open our hearts and minds to the beauty of diversity, no less in regard to SOGI, a world of gender diversity,” Vitit said during his opening remarks.  He will serve three years in his position at the U.N. and submit his first report on the state of discrimination against LGBTI to the General Assembly and Human Rights Commission in Geneva in April. Members will debate its findings in June.

“Resolute action is required to stop the violence and discrimination affecting not only LGBTI communities but also the human rights defenders working with them. These go hand in hand with the broader aspirations of human rights, freedoms, democracy, and peaceful and inclusive societies,” Vitit said at the conference.

The theme of the Bangkok Pride conference was “Leave No One Behind,” a reference to the fact that in most parts of the world where rights for women and minorities have been largely achieved, LGBTI people still face systematic discrimination, denial of basic rights and violence.

Thailand, in general, has been an exception to that pattern. While some discrimination does exist, the Kingdom’s Buddhist background has bred a tolerance for diversity that includes acceptance of LGBTI. In fact, in 2015 the Thai legislature passed the Gender Equality Act, which was designed to protect LGBTI and punish discrimination based on gender identity and sexual orientation.

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.”

In addition, the Thai government is finalizing the draft Civil Partnership Act this month, which will recognize same-sex couples, said Pitikarn Sithidej, director-general for the Department of Rights and Liberties Protection.