Justice Ministry will push for LGBT rights bill again

Responding to an online petition that gathered 60,000 signatures, Thailand’s Ministry of Justice said last week it will revive its efforts to get the legislature to pass a bill supporting LGBT rights after the draft law floundered for the past three years.

Pitikan Sithidej, director-general of the Rights and Liberties Protection Department at the Justice Ministry, said his ministry decided to renew its push for the National Legislative Assembly (NLA) to pass the bill after receiving the petition, which was gathered online by the global advocacy group Change.org.

The bill, which has been stalled in the legislature since 2013, mandates equal rights for LGBT people, including equal pay and same-sex marriage. The Constitutional Court of Taiwan recently ruled in favor of same-sex marriage, adding momentum to calls for similar rights in Thailand.

If the bill becomes law, Thailand would be first country in Southeast Asia to legally guarantee equal rights for LGBT.

Thailand has a global reputation for tolerance for LGBT people. Transgender men are known as ‘ladyboys’ or ‘katoey’ in local parlance, and people generally refer to them as the ‘third gender.’ It is not uncommon to see transgender people acting in soap operas and movies, or working in a range of professions.

A transgender politician was elected to the Provincial Administration Organization of northeastern Nan province in 2012. The country even had a famous transgender kickboxer named NongToom several years ago who fought in Thailand and Japan, and later became a country singer.

Nonetheless, discrimination does exist. Legally, LGBT people do not enjoy all the rights that heterosexuals do. Same-sex marriage is not legally recognized yet, and LGBT couples do not receive the same rights as heterosexual couples such as reduced taxes, health coverage and pension benefits.

The World Bank Group and the Thai government recently conducted a survey of 3,500 people who work in Bangkok, including 2,302 who identify as LGBT. It found that over 50 percent of LGBT respondents had been refused jobs because of their sexuality, and 40 percent of those who are transgender had faced harassment or ridicule at work because of their sexual identity.
Last week, LGBT people and celebrities gathered at the Bangkok Art and Culture Center for the International Day against Homophobia, Transphobia, and Biphobia and spoke about the need for the bill to be passed into law.