Gender Equality Act comes into effect in Thailand

On 9 September, Thailand’s Gender Equality Act came into effect. It is a legal instrument that prevents discrimination on the basis of gender and is inclusive of lesbians, gay, bisexual and transgender people (LGBT). Kath Khangpiboon is a member of the Thai Transgender Alliance for Human Rights (TGA). UNAIDS spoke with her about the significance of the new legal instrument.

UNAIDS: What is your reaction to the Gender Equality Act?

Kath: It’s so exciting to know that the Gender Equality Act is coming into effect in Thailand. It’s not only about male and female equality but it’s the first legislation that also protects LGBT people from discrimination and stigmatization, ensuring their equal rights.

UNAIDS: What was the situation of the LGBT community before the Gender Equality Act came into effect?

Kath: Women and LGBT people face a lot of discrimination and until now they did not have ways to protect themselves. There are high numbers of discrimination and sexual harassment cases.

Society has always stigmatized the LGBT community. There is hope that the Gender Equality Act will solve these problems. LGBT people have been waiting impatiently for this act to be passed; it is going to bring a lot of light and happiness into our lives. I feel that the dark times are over.

UNAIDS: Is the passing of the Gender Equality Act particularly meaningful for you as a transgender woman?

Kath: Yes it is. In Thai society, there is evidence that transgender people face the most number of discrimination cases. They are the most different. Thai people think of sex workers every time they think of transgender people, I hope that this act will kill this myth. Many young transgender people are now studying to be doctors, dentists, lawyers, teachers and even engineers.

The one thing I want to see in terms of social change is not only a change in the attitudes of  society towards transgender people but also the practice of gender sensitivity in society. When I go to shopping malls or to work, many people still stare and look down on me because I’m a transgender person. I always wonder why people don’t have gender sensitivity. They respect and consider themselves as Thai citizens but they don’t look at me with the same respect. Why is that so? This act hopefully helps people to learn about gender sensitivity and look at all transgender people as people before anything else. This is my personal hope.

UNAIDS: Some people find that the new act does not go far enough in protecting LGBT rights, what do you feel?

Kath: The legislation is not completely perfect. But it opens a window of opportunity to discuss gender equality that goes beyond male and female equality to issues around gender diversity here in Thailand. I think this is a good start. We have to shed light on the situation and I think that’s what’s happening now.

UNAIDS: This legislation is helpful, but what more needs to be done to protect the rights of LGBT people?

Kath: This act is great but we have to also spread knowledge of gender diversity at the educational level. Students need to be learning about this in their schools and universities. This will be a preparation for them before they go into the society and at their workplace.

Education is the next step. It needs to go beyond the legislation. Civil society plays an important role at the community level. Everyone needs to be made aware of their rights so as to put this legislation into practice; I think civil society can help the government sector to educate both the public and the LGBT community.

UNAIDS: What is the significance of Thailand Passing the Gender Equality Act for other ASEAN countries?

Kath: I think Thailand will become a role model for ASEAN. I hope other countries will now think about gender equality as a priority. Some countries already have gender equality legislation, but they need to learn that gender equality is not only about men and women. I feel that it is important to include and recognize LGBT people.

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