Our genders need no approval from the state: LGBT activists

Citing further legal protections for LGBT people, the Thai authorities have introduced a bill to ‘certify’ gender identity. LGBT experts, however, have asked why they need the state to approve their gender identity at all.

On 14 March 2017, leading LGBT activists and legal officers from the Office of Women’s Affairs and Family Development (OWAFD) under the Ministry of Social Development and Human Security gathered at a public forum to discuss the Gender Certification Bill drafted by OWAFD.

The forum was organised by the Foundation for SOGI (sexual orientation and gender identity) Rights and Justice (for-sogi) at the Asia Hotel in Bangkok.

Trirat Fahpakasit, an OWAFD legal expert, said the bill was drafted to provide legal protection specifically for LGBT groups by establishing a national-level committee to promote public awareness about LGBT communities.

Under the bill, the committee can provide legal approval to ‘certify’ alternative genders and create legal mechanisms to protect and enhance their rights.

It classifies people of alternative genders into three groups: transgenders who have had sexual reassignment surgery; transgenders who want to have sexual reassignment surgery, but lack the financial means; and others who do not want to undergo surgery.

Critical of the bill, Parit Chomchuen, an LGBT activist, said the logic of the bill still followed the male-female mind-set, adding that gender identities are more diverse, with some people even preferring to be gender neutral.

LGBT people tend to become aware of their gender identity at a very early age, but the bill states that people who request gender certification have to be at least 20 years old, Parit pointed out.

“Is it necessary to have the committee to approve a person’s gender identity?” Parit asked.

Asst Prof Suchada Thaweesit, lecturer at Mahidol University's Institute for Population and Social Research, also said that the bill seems to put a priority on gender according to genitals rather than on psychological gender identity.

Even if the bill is enacted, Suchada asked, how can it ensure that it will enhance and protect the rights of LGBT groups to the same degree as heterosexuals?

“The most important thing is how inclusive it is. Does it only include people who have had sexual reassignment surgery? … If it is going to become law it should be definitive enough to the point that we do not have to push again for a civil union law,” said the Mahidol lecturer.

She pointed out that the authorities should consider if the 2015 Gender Equality Act is still effective and inclusive enough to protect people of alternative genders. If not, the law should be amended to improve it, Suchada said.

Under the veneer of being an LGBT paradise in Southeast Asia, Thai society presents LGBT people with many challenges. Despite the fact that the military government in 2015 enacted a Gender Equality Act, discrimination against LGBT people still persists in the workplace and even mainstream media.

In 2014, LGBT rights groups submitted a Civil Partnership Bill to parliament for consideration. However, there has been no legislative progress since then.

Many LGBT activists pointed out that although the Civil Partnership Bill allows for greater equality, it still discriminates against gay people because it does not entitle homosexual partners to raise children. Also, the minimum age of those allowed to register civil partnerships is 20, while for heterosexual marriage it is 17.