Having been postponed from May, Bangkok’s first pride parade in over a decade is now scheduled for Nov 27-Dec 3. One of the main organizers of the six-day celebration of diversity is OUT BKK, a non-profit, non-governmental organization that aims to serve the needs of Bangkok’s LGBTIQ+ community. We spoke to founder Paul Heymans and transgender program manager Shane Bhatla about the planning process and the difficulties of being queer in Thailand.
What’s the latest on the Pride Parade?
Paul: We’ve been making fantastic progress in terms of planning: the dates have been set and the location has been booked. Now we are just waiting for government approval but hopefully we will get that soon since we have received backing from various official entities. More and more organizations, agencies, individuals and companies have also joined up and the list of participants and supporters is growing exponentially. We do ask the public to be patient with us as it’s quite the task breathing life into a project that has been dormant for the past 11 years.
It’s 2017. Have you seen any improvements in the LGBT community in Bangkok?
Shane: I think there’s definitely a rise in social acceptance. People are now talking about it and even schools are trying to adapt themselves to be more inclusive.
Paul: Undoubtedly, yes. The LGBT movement in Bangkok, and Thailand as a whole, has grown immensely over the past couple of years.
Shane, tell us about your work
Shane: I work as a transgender program manager, focusing predominantly on transmen. I try to figure out their needs to create programs that can positively affect their way of living. For example, we’re currently working on a project called “Hey Brother” that allows transmen who no longer need their chest binders to donate them to younger men who might not be able to afford or access them.
What was it like when you first came out as a transman?
Shane: Complicated. Some said “they knew all along” which is hilarious to me. Some were surprised but still supportive. I lost a few friends, but I gained hundreds more. It took me an entire year before coming out to get everything together, talking to therapists, doctors. It has been a beautiful journey, really. I have received so much support, close friends adapting to the correct pronouns, a lot of questions, but ultimately acceptance.
How does Bangkok compare regionally?
Shane: Bangkok is definitely more accepting compared to some other countries in Southeast Asia, and it’s definitely one of the countries that is open to gay tourism and promotes it. However, there are also struggles that the community faces in day-to-day life, whether it is employment opportunities, housing, loans or otherwise.
Paul: Generally the struggles come with more traditional families. When it comes to employers, this can also be a huge problem. Transgender people in general are often more discriminated against than lesbian or gay people, when applying for jobs, or even applying for a promotion to managerial level. This seems to be a general trend worldwide, and is not specific to Thai or Buddhist culture.
Shane: I have faced difficulties in job hunting, especially when I have to provide my ID. I’ve dealt with a very transphobic landlady who repeatedly, after being corrected, misgendered me. Being misgendered is one of the most harmful issues, I think. It can cause severe dysphoria, and yet it repeatedly happens, including among “friends.” Being misgendered publicly forces me to come out to people who I might not want to be out to. Interview by Choltanutkun Tun-atiruj