Thailand likes to project itself as an oasis of tolerance in a continent where roughly half of the countries outlaw homosexuality. It is one of only seven Asian signatories of the U.N.’s declaration of LGBT rights, and its tourism authority reaches out to gay travelers with websites like this, boasting that “Thailand embraces all lifestyles.”
The country could also become the first Asian country to introduce a same-sex-partnership law. Many gay and lesbian couples already arrange symbolic ceremonies but “if everything goes our way,” legal unions “could happen within six months,” says Anjana Suvarnananda, founder of leading LGBT-rights organization Anjaree Foundation, which is behind the legislative campaign.
Yet as Arisa and Pacharee — and many in the LGBT community — have discovered, much of this tolerance is a facade. After all, it wasn’t until 2002 that the Thai government stopped classifying homosexuality as an illness. It took four more years before the military and some conservative colleges permitted LGBT people to join their ranks. Even more alarmingly, hostility toward the LGBT community can take horribly violent forms.
In 2012, a 14-year-old girl reported to police that her father had been raping her for four years because she was hanging out with “toms,” the Thai word for lesbians who dress and act like men. Eight months earlier, a tom was murdered by her girlfriend’s ex-boyfriend. The killing was commissioned by the girlfriend’s mother. In between those two cases, another tom had been bludgeoned to death, yet another raped and murdered, and a third had been strangled, slashed in the face with a machete and dumped into an irrigation channel.