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Thai lawmakers need to get their LGBT priorities right

in THAILAND, 05/04/2013

That the ILGA (International Lesbian and Gay Association) chose to hold its regional conference in Bangkok this weekend is a sign of confidence in Thailand's openness to LGBT - lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender - issues. After all, ILGA-Asia does not need a repeat of the experience in Indonesia's Surabaya where its previous conference was attacked by religious fundamentalists and was cancelled before it started.

Hosted by local LGBT organisation Rainbow Sky and lesbian group Anjaree, this conference will certainly be a great success by comparison, and the hundred-plus LGBT activists from across Asia will surely echo the "acceptance" of homosexuality and transgenderism in Thai society. Few, however, will realise the more nuanced reality of Thailand's attitude towards matters of sexual orientation and gender identity (SOGI).

At last week's first UN Asia-Pacific Regional Seminar on Human Rights, Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity in Nepal - which the author attended on behalf of the Foundation for SOGI Rights and Justice (FOR-SOGI) - Thailand was cited as one of the few Asian countries with a good voting record in the United Nations when it came to SOGI rights.

However, this has not always been the case. Until just two years ago, it used to be that Thailand would sit on the fence, for fear that a pro-LGBT vote would offend homophobic countries in this region. Malaysia, for example, continues to reject any mention of SOGI issues in the framework of the Asean Economic Community. The Asean Declaration of Human Rights is known for its failure to include the protection and promotion of LGBT rights. It would also be a shock if the issue made any progress this year when Brunei holds the Asean chairmanship. That's why for a long time Thailand played it safe by abstaining on the issue. As Professor Douglas Sanders, law professor and long-time observer of LGBT issues in Asia, pointed out, Thailand's vote had never before been publicised at home, so most LGBT activists were not aware of our own country's dismal record.

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