Thai LBT Feminist Network Combats Violence and Murder Against LBT people in Thailand

The Thai Lesbian, Bisexual, Transgender (LBT) Feminist Network is a loose coalition of 14 member organizations that was founded in July 2016. The Network was created after a two-day consultation by Thai LBT feminists who recognized there was a need to elevate the voices of LBT women in Thailand and to bring to light the egregious acts of violence that are faced by LBT women. OutRight’s Communication’s officer, Rashima Kwatra, had the opportunity to sit with Chumaphorn Taengkliang, Founder of Togetherness for Equality Group (TEA Group), a member of the Thai LBT Network, to get a sense of the vision and mission of the organization and the environment facing LBT women in Thailand.

Rashima Kwatra (RK): What is the situation facing LBT women in Thailand?

Chumaphorn Taengkliang (CT): LBT are not addressed in any areas in policies or politics yet. Even though we have a Gender Equality Act, LBT women are not explicitly protected under that law. We found that LBT still face violence – domestic and sexual violence – and homophobic hate crimes in society. For example, in February this year a Tom* was kidnapped, raped, and murdered. While it was clearly a crime fueled by hatred towards this individual’s sexual orientation and gender expression, it is important to note that Thailand does not have a hate crime law.

If we search online “rape tom” or “rape lesbian” you will see a lot of hate and harassment in the comments section and people who advocate for violence against Toms and lesbians. You will see a group in the Facebook that is explicitly created to “Kill Tom and Rape Dees.”* There are even cases in Thailand where families who want to change the sexual orientation and gender expression of their children, and of fathers who have raped their children to try and change them from being a Tom. We still have cultural rape, homophobic rape, homophobic violence against Tom’s, lesbians, and trans individuals. In a simple search online of “rape tom” or “kill tom” the results are over 15 cases of murders and rape. Thailand is perceived to be this open place for LGBT people, but there is still a lot of unspoken violence.

*Tom is a commonly used word to describe a butch lesbian or a transman.

*Dee is a commonly used word to describe femme lesbians, who may be a partner to a tom.

RK: What is the response of the justice system when LBT people face violence?

CT: The justice system does not recognize or understand LBT issues. When sometimes a tomboy gets raped and goes to the police, the police will ask stigmatizing and inappropriate questions and will make the individual not want to talk about their experiences. There is no gender sensitivity in the justice system, they don’t recognize LBT. They only recognize LBT as women, not as Tomboys or as people who are gender non conforming. This is an issue as it is their sexual orientation, gender identity, and gender expression that often make these individuals targets of violence. If the justice system does not become more gender sensitive, we cannot solve this problem.

RK: Why was the Thai LBT Feminist Network created?

CT: We realized that there was no documentation and mechanisms in Thailand that focused on these issues. The first priority for us was to create documentation. When we collect documentation, then we can propose to changes to laws and policies to recognize gender sensibility, LBT people, and to combat homophobia in the law. We formed a diverse group that looked into intersecting social issues, each of the members come from a different background so we could look at this issue and find solutions that were intersectional and sensitive. We wanted to create a group to create documentation, to support each other in shared advocacy, and create a stronger LBT community.

RK: What are some projects that the Network has engaged in?

CT: We have created two public forums to increase attention to these issues, we created the first forum called “Fix Butch, Repair Femme,” at Thammasat University. We had a social and public campaign to invite people and media to give speech to stop violence against Tom and trans individuals.

The second forum we initiated talked specifically on the case that I had mentioned earlier against the tom who was raped and murdered. We expanded on hate crimes and homophobic violence against Toms. We had a lot of media attention in this forum, over 12 media outlets came to cover this forum. It was on TV and in the newspaper and helped to generate a lot of attention on this issue. People talked more about hate crimes, and now hate crimes are much more recognized in Thailand, there is more of an understanding that homophobic hate crimes are considered as hate crimes here. We invited academics, civil society who have worked in torture and disappearance, we invited transmen as well, to talk in the forum to try to push the boundaries of the issue to make it recognized as a hate crime.

Other than this we support each other in conducting our own advocacy and programs and intervene in crisis situations. For example, A lesbian couple who are LBT human rights defenders faced violence in a conflict area by fundamentalist in Southern Thailand. This is the biggest attack by a fundamentalist group against LBTs specifically. While this has happened in Indonesia and other surrounding countries, this is pretty much the first time there has been this much hatred and threats of violence and murder against an LBT group. The two women and their organization are members of the LBT Feminist Network and we worked hard to help in this situation. We connected with human rights defenders organization to help evacuate them from the area, including crafting an intense security plan, we did not leave them to fight alone. After we saw the situation calm down, we launched statements and involved ourselves with the media. We also submitted this case for the Special Rapporteur for Human Rights Defenders, as well as in the ICCPR and the CEDAW report. The CEDAW Committee mentioned this case in their review of Article 30 in the Concluding Observations.

RK: What do you hope for the future for the LBT movement in Thailand?

CT: We need concrete resolutions to ensure a reduction of violence against LBT women and that comes in a number of ways.

  1. Educating the public and elevating these issues as a matter of grave concern
  2. More documentation
  3. Laws and policies that protect LBT women against violence
  4. A justice system that has gender sensibility

What we see now is that our community is growing much bigger. Other communities from civil society that are allies are also supporting us.  We are growing stronger.