LGBT Rights

LGBT Thailand -Small step for LGBT



The Department of Corrections deserves credit for finally addressing a long-time failure. The department has always avoided the very real issue of gender. Now it is finally seizing the moment. The department has always avoided the very real issue of gender. Now it is finally seizing the moment. The department will clear out Min Buri Prison in northeastern Bangkok and will use it to house LGBT convicts.

The LGBT inmate population has always been at risk of all kinds of abuse when placed in the general prison population. There is a certain irony to how correctional authorities have acted in such a straightforwardmanner when attitudes and laws are so lacking at almost every level of our so-called civilised society.

The decision on the prisoner shuffle is overdue, but certainly welcome. The announcement that it is designating Min Buri Prison for this task is just a first step. Still ahead are harder decisions. These start with just who will get the nod to serve their prison time in the LGBT facility. Trans-gender lecturer and activist Kath Khangpiboon brought up that point when she praised the department. People who have nodded in appreciation of this move towards recognizing gender reality must come to grips with complications.

Take, for example, gay men and women who have not, and do not want to disclose their preferences in public. Many such people effectively live two lives. Often, this is because of outmoded attitudes within their own families and communities. As Ms Kath said, such people often are at risk when placed among the general prison population. On the other hand, however, they feel they would be at even worse risk if they disclosed their orientation to outsiders, certainly including the prison system’s authorities.

Thailand, of course, has a prison population that is far too large. The Department of Corrections estimates that approximately 1% of the 300,000 prison inmates could be classified as LGBT. Official figures from the department currently show 4,448 prisoners have self-identified as lesbian, gay, bisexual or trans-gender. This is well above 1% These include 2,258 females, 2,156 male and 34 trans-gender people.


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Many provincial and district lock-ups have known about and acted on this problem in the past. Pattaya Remand Prison is known in the justice system as a jail where transgender prisoners are kept separate from male prisoners. Officials acted after serial complaints of abuse.

No doubt there are many other such stories. Thailand has earned a worldwide reputation as “gay-friendly”. The country is the No.1 destination for gender reassignment surgery. A Bloomberg study said such patients brought US$4 billion in revenue to Thailand in all, including hospital payments. That is about 141 billion baht, an important share of overall tourist spending.

There are numerous dark clouds behind the bright reputation. Any openly gay or trans person can tell of abuses that range from snide “teasing” to outright physical assault. Overall, the country may be tolerant towards its LGBT population, but it is far from accepting. It took a long time for the army to correct the ill-treatment for transgender people during conscription. No government has even gathered the wit and will to change the outdated law that official ID cards and passports must carry the birth-assigned gender.

There is no reason for such an ill-considered law that causes much preventable embarrassment and mental distress to many people every day. The Corrections Department has taken the lead among all government agencies in recognising the plight and working towards solutions for LGBT people under its control.

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Categories: LGBT Rights

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