Life Getting Easier for Gays in Thailand

by Kilian Melloy
Friday Oct 2, 2009

From equality in the right to military service to social acceptance, life seems to be getting easier for people of the "third sex" in Thailand.

Thai society has traditionally been more accepting of gays and lesbians--who are regarded as constituting a "third sex" rather than engaging in sinful sexual conduct--than many Western countries.

Moreover, members of the "third sex" who cross-dress are common in Thai entertainment as singers and performers.

However, as one journalist discovered during an investigation into the Buddhist view of homosexuality, gay sex can be seen as "sexual misconduct" by some, and the persecution and intolerance that gay people might encounter can be interpreted as a source of unease that makes the attainment of enlightenment more difficult.

Since the modern concept of homosexuality is fairly recent, however, ancient teachings on the subject might often be subject to debate.

The same journalist, Hakan Jakob Kosar, again writing for the Chiang Mai Citylife Web Site, also interviewed several gay Thai servicemembers about their experiences, and found that the Thai military--which has been fully integrated since 2005--functions well, though one former sailor explained that he did not make his homosexuality an issue.

"When it comes to being gay in the Thai Armed Forces, I think you can get by as a homosexual if you are not too open about it," the man said.

Another recounted that a superior officer had sexually harassed him, but that subsequently the two entered a bona fide relationship.

Although consensual same-sex intimacy was decriminalized in the 1950s, homosexuals in Thailand were regarded as suffering from mental illness until 2002; once gays were no longer labeled as mentally ill, changes in the law followed, allowing openly gay military service several years later.

Same-sex relationships in Thailand are not accorded the same legal status as heterosexual unions, but in another South Asian nation, Nepal, marriage equality has been approved by the country;'s Supreme Court, while equal rights and other protections for GLBT Nepalis are expected to be part of the new national constitution, which will come into effect next year.

The triumphs of Nepali GLBTs may have a social and political impact in the region, including Thailand, not least since Sandhya Lama--Miss Gay Nepal--will be present when Thailand hosts the fifth "Miss International Queen" pageant.

Kilian Melloy serves as EDGE Media Network's Assistant Arts Editor. He also reviews theater for WBUR. His professional memberships include the National Lesbian & Gay Journalists Association, the Boston Online Film Critics Association, The Gay and Lesbian Entertainment Critics Association, and the Boston Theater Critics Association's Elliot Norton Awards Committee.


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