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Thailand Smiles on the LGBT Community

December 04, 2020

For at least the past sixty years, Thailand has had an open mind and a laissez-faire attitude regarding the Lesbian/Gay/Bisexual/Transgender community which set it apart from the majority of the world during that time and most definitely its Muslim neighbors. Many a young soldier on R&R from Vietnam would wake up the next morning to a surprise though probably some number of them never knew. In most all walks of life, there was a clear acceptance of sexual preferences with no discussion necessary.

From May 12-15, 1975, I was in a jungle camp on the Thai/Cambodian border with Khun Toy, son of an influential Thai Minister, who worked for me. I recall the dates as the Khmer Rouge seized the U.S. Mayaguez vessel during that period. Toy’s father had commercial arrangements on the Burmese and Cambodian sides of the Thai border which all tied back to the smuggling of contraband. The war effort in Laos was a feeble excuse to support opium movements from Burma but there was certainly no justification for illegal teak smuggling other than maintaining good relations with the Khmer Rouge enemy. In any event, if you look closely at the image below of the Cambodian folks in the background the one on the far left has a barrette in his hair. I asked Khun Toy, on the right talking to the two other Thai guys, about the guy with the barrette. He responded that we were in a dangerous location not suitable for women and the Thai guys found comfort where they could.
Recently, Nikkei Asia published an article by Khun Pauline Ngarmspring, the Mahachon Party’s Thai prime ministerial candidate in last year’s Thai elections. She is the first transgender candidate to seek the top job in Thailand. She said that foreign journalists or friends from abroad are clear that among all international tourist destinations, Thailand has been recognized for decades as a LGBT paradise. However, she adds that heterosexual couples still have tremendous advantages and discrimination does occur in schools and the workplace. Khun Pauline is shown below in the Mahachon Party headquarters with the image of King Chulalongkorn who, as King of Thailand, brought his country into the 20th Century. There is no better inspiration for a Thai.  
Thanks to the efforts of Khun Pauline, the cabinet of Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha approved a draft bill creating same-sex unions with many of the same benefits as heterosexual marriages. The bill is set for debate in the next several weeks with a reasonable likelihood to be passed. Passage of the bill would make Thailand the second country in Asia, after Taiwan, to allow the registration of same-sex partnerships.

The expected immediate Muslim reaction was negative but hopefully the response of the majority Buddhist population will be supportive. The statistics in Thailand support passage of the bill in that 7 million Thais identify themselves as LGBT. Khun Pauline asserts that LGBT people are not shouting for themselves but rather that the resolution of these issues is for the benefit of everyone. Clearly, members of the LGBT community, as shown below, are not hesitant to make their positions known.
In the meantime, gay love stories involving pretty young men, a long-established literary genre in Japan known as “boys love,” have become a pop culture phenomenon in Thailand. Nikkei Asia recently published an article entitled Japanese-Style “Boys Love” Dramas Captivate Thai Women. In fact, there are some twenty million Thai women and girls who follow these episodes. A streaming platform brought about following the pandemic in Japan found its way to the hearts and minds of Thai ladies. As shown below, the themes and content were considered to be too racy for normal broadcasting but perfect for streaming which became a significant media force.
Thailand has long been one of the most sexually liberal places on the face of the earth. There are few sexual taboos and life is pretty free and open. There is no wonder that many suppressed westerners lose any compass whatsoever they may have and settle into the world of Thailand. Many years ago, there was a famous band that had a remarkable song entitled “Welcome to Thailand.” Some rigid expatriates would find it abhorrent while others dove into the scene.

Once on a hunting trip with a provincial Thai Governor, he passed around marijuana before dinner but declined to go out on the boar hunt that evening saying he would stay behind and protect the Thai ladies he brought with him. However, the next morning, he asked me to guard the ladies on an orchid hunting expedition. Rank has its privileges though a Thai smile can alleviate most hardships.
Although Thai society can be stratified, you may have noticed one common denominator and that is the honorific word “Khun.” These days it is used interchangeably for men or women which may be rather unique in this world. When someone calls me Mr. Story, I respond that was my father’s name and mine is Ed. However, if anyone happens to call me “Khun Ed,” I just smile.

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