Kath Khangpiboon, a 28-year-old transgender academic, filed a lawsuit against Thammasat University on Monday for unlawful termination of her employment. Here, she explains why.
In March this year, we ran an interview with Kath Khangpiboon, a 28-year-old transgender academic who Thammasat University had recently employed as a professor. Yay Thailand! Yay traditional institutions ignoring public criticism!
Actually, no. Turns out Kath never got the position, and after nine months of stalling the university screening committee retracted her employment on the grounds of unacceptable social media conduct (as reported by The Bangkok Post).
Now, she's taking them to court. On Monday Oct 12, Kath filed a lawsuit against Thammasat University for unlawful termination of her employment. Here, she explains why.
What happened from the beginning of applying for employment to the day you were rejected?
I left my job with an NGO and started going through the university's training and examination process. It took six months, and I was told there was almost a 100-percent chance of being hired. During this time I still taught at the faculty as a guest lecturer and did some activist work but I was mainly waiting for the call [to confirm my employment], understanding that it was almost certain.
What reason did they give for rejecting you as a lecturer?
I was waiting for the call for over 140 days and it never came. I decided to handle it myself and asked for the progress, to which the university replied that they had rejected my employment because of my misconduct on social media.
What was the content or message that they used against you?
I am an activist and I’ve raised many issues and topics for discussion on social media. One of them was a photo I posted of a lipstick shaped like a penis. It was sent from someone in Japan, as part of a discussion about how sex is very accepted in their culture and even lipstick can be turned into a sex toy. The university used this topic to attack my suitability as a professor.
Which is why you're now sueing them?
Yes. As an activist, transgender and lecturer, everything I share on social media is not to offend but to educate people. I feel that the university council members still have conservative ways of thinking. They assume that by posting the content, I was being perverted. It is a common stereotype of LGBT people. I teach sex education and my aim is to make words like "penis" and "vagina" easy to say and discuss. It is important to learn about our natural parts. The university has also dug out content that I posted during my bachelor's degree in order to build its case for rejecting me. That to me is unreasonable and unfair.
Could this be a wake up call for Thailand?
Many of the people in power do not understand sex and gender. Thailand looks like an LGBT paradise but the truth is that we [the LGBT community] are not accepted in the real world. I am the first transgender to apply to become a professor. Most of the LGBT professors come out or transition after their career becomes more stable. They know that if they come out or transition before, like I did, there will be a problem. I didn’t realize this problem until it occurred to me.