Three years ago the fourth ILGA (International Lesbian and Gay Association) Asia conference held in Surabaya, Indonesia was attacked by Muslim fundamentalists. Organizers were forced to cancel the conference just after it started. Many conference participants were left stranded, frightened, and confused by the ugly turn of events in a city not previously associated with religious intolerance.
The fifth ILGA Asia conference was held from 29 to 31 of March in Bangkok, Thailand with a markedly different atmosphere. Themed, “Phoenix Rising,” the opening ceremony of the conference, replete with graceful Thai dancers in silks and brocades and a musical score with the refrain, “Amazing Thailand” was not only a celebration of Thailand’s openness to the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex (LGBTI) people from across Asia who were gathered in Bangkok, but a celebration of transcendence, resistance, and LGBTI perseverance in the face of orchestrated violence and hate.
Among the opening speakers, Dr. Taejing Siripanich from the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) of Thailand began his remarks with the question: “Isn’t Thailand amazing?” The audience responded with applause.
The current buzz is that Thailand may become the first country in Asia to legalize same-sex partnerships. I spoke with Dr. Taejing, who is the LGBTI rights point person on Thailand’s NHRC. The Commission has been criticized for being unresponsive to LGBTI concerns and weak on implementation of commitments made to Thai LGBTI people.
Dr. Taejing explained, “LGBTI people in Thailand say that they have lost faith in the Human Rights Commission? They say they cannot depend on us? I say, why don’t we talk? You are a vulnerable group in Thailand. Bring your complaints [of human rights violations] to the Commission so we can investigate.”
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