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Violence Against Gay People in Thailand

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I just received an email from a Thai-American friend who I met in Chiang Mai 2 years ago in a Buddhism class. She asked me to forward this message together with the pictures:

Dear all,

We are asking for your help in forwarding information and writing letters of support, condemning government-condoned violence against the Gay Pride Parade in Chiang Mai, Thailand on February 21st. More details are below.

Thank you, Sao-Sao-et Network
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The second annual Gay Pride Parade scheduled for February 21st in Chiang Mai, a popular destination in northern Thailand, was cancelled when the parade participants were locked in the compound where they were gathering and subjected to violence by the Rak Chiang Mai 51 political group, also known as the ‘red shirts’ for their attire. Parade participants were harassed, hurt, and prevented from leaving or entering the compound for 4 ½ hours while 150 police looked on.

The red shirts used a truck with bullhorns and speakers to curse and yell at parade participants locked inside, particularly attacking gay and transgender people. The gates of Uppacut temple next door were also locked, blocking access to the compound on all sides and preventing anyone from joining the parade organizers and participants inside.

Thirty other participants who could not enter the compound sat down and performed silent meditation in front of Uppacut temple to demonstrate support for those locked inside. (Pictures attached.) Including both Thais and foreigners, the meditators displayed signs that said “Peace,” “Diversity Brings Peace,” and “Celebrate Diversity.” The red shirts surrounded the meditators, cursed, and yelled. Water cups, fruit and a rock were thrown at the meditators, some of whom were hit on the head. They did not respond and continued to meditate.

Throughout the whole incident, the 150 police present, standing both inside and outside the locked gates, did nothing to intervene or stop the red shirts from violence or from locking the parade participants in. When asked by members of the meditating group sitting outside for protection, the police refused, said they didn’t have enough police to cover the sitting group, and instead asked the group to go home. In addition, the police were encouraging the gay pride organizers locked inside to give in to the demands of the ‘red shirts’ to apologize for organizing a pride parade, as a way to resolve the situation.

In response to this incident, Thailand’s Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual and Transgender (GLBT) groups are forming the new network Sao-Sao-et (“Saturday the 21st”) to address the violence tolerated by police inaction at the cancelled Gay Pride Parade on February 21st.

We are asking individuals, organizations and institutions- both in Thailand and internationally- to write letters of support to the following three offices, expressing outrage over police inaction and demanding that the governor of Chiang Mai and the Chief of Police 1) issue a public apology to Sao-Sao-et, and 2) ensure the safety of GLBT in their jurisdiction. (A sample letter to cut and paste into your email is at the end of the three addresses below.) These letters have real impact because they demonstrate that the issue is being followed by more than just those involved on that day and prevent the government offices from ignoring the issue as an ‘internal matter.’

Additional background information on the incident is provided below. We encourage everyone to forward or publish this information as you see fit; pictures from the incident are also attached. Please feel free to contact us at +66 86 184 1323 or saosaoet@gmail. com if you require more information or pictures.

1) National Human Rights Commission of Thailand
120 Chaengwattana Road
Laksi District, Bangkok 10210
Email: interhr@nhrc. or.th

2) Governor of Chiang Mai
3rd floor Provincial Hall
Chotana Road
Chiang Mai 50300
Email: governor@chiangmai. go.th

3) Chief of Police
Chiang Mai Station 5
311 Mahidol Road
Nong Hoi
Chiang Mai 50000
Email: police5@chiangmai. ac.th

The Sao-Sao-et (“Saturday, the 21st”) network has formed to:
o Campaign to build understanding about GLBT culture, rights, and views
o Empower GLBT activists to work for justice and to end violence
o Create public space for GLBT
o Perform nonviolent action in order to end violence, control, bias, hatred, fear, and misunderstanding toward GLBT in Thai society.
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Dear

I am outraged to hear about Chiang Mai’s treatment of gay people, as evidenced by the violent actions at the Gay Pride Parade on February 21, 2009, leading to its cancellation. The Chiang Mai police did nothing to protect the rights of gay people to use public space and also ignored harassment and outright violence to gay people on that day. This situation is unacceptable and tarnishes Chiang Mai’s reputation as a safe travel destination.

I demand that the Chiang Mai government issues a formal apology to the Sao-Sao-et network for the government’s neglect of their duties and to publicly commit to ensuring the safety and rights of gay people within their jurisdiction.

Sincerely,

------------ --------- --------- --------- -

Additional background information:

The violence against the Gay Pride Parade had been planned weeks before the event. The red shirts used their local radio station to rally people to harass parade participants and invited them to curse and slander gay people. The day before the parade, red shirts drove trucks around the city to encourage people to protest the parade. In addition to condemning parade participants for spoiling the culture of Chiang Mai, the red shirts incorrectly accused parade participants of being affiliated with the ‘yellow shirts,’ another political party, and of being sent by the current government. At the actual protest, witnesses saw red shirts paying passersby to wear red shirts and participate in the insults. Masked people affiliated with the red shirts intimidated the participants as well (picture attached).

Prior to February 21st, government officials had publicly expressed that the parade was inappropriate because it would harm Chiang Mai culture. However, the Thai constitution states that citizens have the right to use public space and to express views in public. The parade organizers also received permission beforehand from the Chief of Police to hold the parade; the Chief of Police had stated it was their ‘basic right’ and that he would have police there. As government officials did not publicly defend the right of citizens to hold a parade while at the same time publicly expressing their own personal disapproval, their opinions added to the discrimination against the parade and tacitly contributed to the violence.

In addition, the local news of Chiang Mai presented news about the Gay Pride Parade without naming its goals. The goals of the parade included promoting respect for sexual diversity; providing education about safe sex and HIV prevention; and reducing bias, stigma and discrimination toward GLBT. This omission contributed to misinformation about the purpose of the event.

On the day of the parade during the lock-in, a parade organizer who was locked inside tried at one point to walk through the gates, but members of the red shirts pushed the gate against her, injuring her arm enough that she needed medical treatment. Police witnessed the incident, but did not intervene.

Some youth participants who were trapped inside the gates were traumatized after being locked in for many hours; this was exacerbated because they did not have access to food or water. The parade organizers wanted to help them get home to safety, so they acquiesced to the red shirts’ demands to apologize for organizing the parade.

After the majority of red shirts left the gate area and the gates were opened, the gay pride participants outside joined the organizers inside for an emotional gathering to close the event with a meditation on compassion for peace (pictures attached). When the organizers and participants walked out of the gate, about 50 red shirts continued to curse at them and the police started to leave the area without offering protection. After most participants left, the remaining participants asked the police to wait with them for protection until their transportation arrived, but the police refused and left the area, leaving around 15 participants alone with 50 angry red shirts nearby.

The violence of the red shirts against the Gay Pride Parade is shocking in that Thailand is known for its acceptance of gay people. The use of ‘protecting culture’ as a reason for violence against GLBT people and their allies is unjustified and unacceptable, as is the inaction of 150 police that allowed the red shirts to use violence to stop the parade.

We ask for your energy and wisdom to participate in our campaign to stop violence, hatred, and fear towards GLBT in Thai society. We ask you to support our effort to preserve the Thai culture of acceptance and democracy, which are based on a belief in peace, compassion, and respect for the freedom and rights of all diverse identities.

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