Interview: Anjaree Foundation Founder Anjana Suvarnananda on the Fight to Legalize Same-Sex Marriage in Thailand

Following recent positive developments in France, US and UK, the fight continues in Thailand for a bill legalizing same-sex marriage. Here, BK talks to Anjana Suvarnananda, 54, the founder of the Anjaree Foundation, about why this law should be passed and why the movement is held back by Thai LGBTs’ own lack of self-acceptance.
 

By Monruedee Jansuttipan | Aug 08, 2013

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  • Interview: Anjaree Foundation Founder Anjana Suvarnananda on the Fight to Legalize Same-Sex Marriage in Thailand

Society instructed me to be unconcerned about inequality. I grew up in the upper-class and never associated with poor people. I never walked on the street. I never took a bus because my parents had a driver to take me around.

Don’t even talk about democracy. We were under a dictatorship fully run by the junta. We had a vote but it meant nothing.

Thailand was extremely class-oriented. Even universities were divided by class such as Thammasat for rich kids and Ramkhamhaeng for poor kids.

I grew up eating rice but didn’t meet a farmer until I studied at Thammasat. They came to Bangkok calling for justice, as many farmer activists were killed when they tried to speak up for their rights back then.

The Thammasat University massacre of 1976 incited me to work in the humanitarian field. I was doubtful about the objective of the student movement in 1973 as there were a lot of negative portrayals of these students and even I was swayed by the accusations. But when I saw the killings, I just knew I couldn’t let such injustices occur.

Social disparity drives me to fight for laborers and women. I worked at a journal and an activist group for laborers, so I saw the injustices committed by rich people who owned businesses. As I am a lesbian, I notice the way society treats people differently because of their gender. It’s not only transgender people but women, too.

Thai society is very harsh on women. People have this perception that if you’re single and have a good career, you will never find a happy home and a husband.

Thai society is more accepting of LGBT these days but still treats them differently from heterosexuals. Just look at parents. They still don’t want their children to be LGBT. It’s pathetic—we should respect people’s choices in life.

My parents were fine with my sexual status but my girlfriend’s parents weren’t. They tore us apart. I wanted to escape this pressure so I decided to study my Master’s in the Netherlands.

Tasting freedom in the Netherlands blew my mind. It inspired me to form Anjaree in 1987. Up until then my friends and I used to conceal our identity from the public as society didn’t understand us. They thought homosexuals were freaks they could make fun of and be rude to.

Accept your identity. The hardest part about pushing for LGBT rights in Thailand is our LGBTs are afraid to accept their sexual identity. Many can’t distinguish their desires from their parents’ desires and it’s hard for them to accept themselves.

Cultures change. Society always judges people by referring to traditional culture. But the world is changing every day, meaning culture is dynamic. The LGBT lifestyle may not be consistent with former social customs, but it’s not a mental disorder. It’s not against nature.

Most Thai LGBTs aren’t aware of how the law affects their lives. It’s only when something drastic happens in their life or to their partner that they realize. In many cases when a partner passes away, the other is left with nothing. Everything is taken away—including children.

New laws should reflect present and future situations. But it seems our law makers are still only concerned with past approaches to human identity that are divided between men and women.

Laws are a product of society. As society changes, so too do the people, which means the rules of the game should change, too.

Everyone should be treated as a human no matter their sexual identity. We’re all part of the diverse family that is society.

Gender should be neutral in regards to the law. Our same-sex marriage bill should fix the problem at its root, which is the civil codes that still specify marriage as being between only a man and woman.

Many people hope that this marriage law that we are drafting will finally help them gain more acceptance from their families and society because it will recognize they’re a couple by law.

The young generation is much more open-minded. But, still, the youths in the city are much freer to follow different ways of thinking than their counterparts in rural areas, where the older generations still exert more control.

Eliminating discrimination is one of my biggest goals. There shouldn’t be discrimination of any form. Our fight isn’t only about lesbians, but all forms of sexual discrimination.

I cannot lead a happy life if there is injustice around me, if society is not fair to all people.

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