11 milestones that shaped Thailand’s LGBTQ+ scene

Thailand is seen as a progressive country regarding LGBTQ+ rights. For this, we have to thank LGBTQ+ activists and their allies. Their persistence in pushing for social change and reform has paved the way for a progressive attitude towards the LGBTQ+ community.

To celebrate the community and their accomplishments, here are 11 milestones that shaped Thailand’s LGBTQ+ scene listed in chronological order.

More LGBTQ+ stories:

1. The first documented LGBTQ+ relationship in Thailand

In Thailand, the first recorded same-sex relationship was said to be between two noblewomen, Princess Yuangkaeo Sirorot of Chiang Mai and Mom – or “Royal Consort” in English – Rajawongse Ying Wongthep in 1906.

Portrait of daughters in noble families during the 1900s. Princess Yuangkaeo Sirorot is standing in the middle
Image credit: ประวัติศาสตร์ชาติไทยและข่าวสาร

The story is a rather scandalous one. While Princess Yuangkaeo and Mom Rajawongse Ying Wongthep’s relationship was the first same-sex romance to be officially documented in Thailand, Princess Yuangkaeo was said to be only one of Mom Rajawongse’s female lovers, as published in Post Jung.

Mom Rajawongse Ying Wongthep
Image credit: Wikipedia

Governors back in the 1900s used the term “female-female love” to describe same-sex relationships between women.

Wefie of Dr. Jeab, a celebrity doctor with her partner and their corgis
Image credit: @jeab_lalana

Now, lesbian couples have become the norm in modern-day Thailand.

2. Thailand’s first LGBTQ+ bar 

Silom Road in Bangkok is world-famous for its vibrant LGBTQ+ nightlife scene, so it’s no surprise that the first gay bar in Thailand, The Sea Hag, was opened right on the strip back in 1967. 

Image used for illustration purposes only
Image credit: Gaycation

According to a post on Thai Visa Forum, the establishment was originally built as a seaman’s bar back in the ‘50s. 

LGBTQ-Thailand-milestonesImage credit: Nomadic Boys
Image for illustration purposes

Unfortunately, Thailand’s first gay bar closed down in 1969, according to a netizen on Sawatdeenetwork

However, Silom is now full of gay bars that are usually packed to the brim, with live performances from LGBTQ+ icons, including Pangina Heals

Image credit: Gay Bangkok 4 U

3. Thailand’s first gender reassignment surgery 

The first sex reassignment surgery in Thailand was performed in 1975 by Dr. Preecha Tiewtranon and Dr. Prakob Thongpaew. They performed a male-to-female reassignment surgery at Bangkok’s Chulalongkorn University Hospital, as published by NCBI

Dr. Preecha Tiewtranon
Image credit: Med Travel Asia

Their goal was to improve the care of transgender patients in Thailand by the implementing Standards of Care of The World Professional Association for Transgender Health. These standards since have been applied across Thai surgical centres across the board, like the Preecha Aesthetic Institute and Chulalongkorn University’s recently opened Gender Health Clinic.

King Chulalongkorn Memorial Hospital
King Chulalongkorn Memorial Hospital
Image credit: Thailand News

4. Miss Tiffany – the first beauty pageant for trans women 

Image credit: Equal Love

Commonly known as “Miss Tiffany”, the Miss Tiffany’s Universe pageant premiered back in 1984, according to Pattaya Mail. Ever since its conception, Miss Tiffany has been producing some of the most vibrant performances the country has ever seen

Rock Kwanlada was Crowned as Miss Tiffany 2020
Image credit: Miss Tiffany’s Universe

The pageant aims to advocate for human rights and equality. In fact, any transgender woman can compete in the Miss Tiffany contest, regardless of whether or not they’ve undergone gender reassignment surgery. 

Tiffany Miss Tiffany’s Universe provides contestants a safe space for self-expression. Plus, the agency supports winners financially through cash prizes and sponsorships
Image credit: Miss Tiffany’s Universe

Now, Miss Tiffany Universe is so well-known that its success is even compared to its counterpart, the Miss Universe Thailand pageant. 

5. First film with a queer relationship

The Last Song was released in 1985. The film focuses on a romantic relationship between a transgender woman and a cis man, and the challenges they face from the public’s condemnation of their romance. 

The Last Song was the first movie in Thailand that brought light to the issue of prejudice against LGBTQ+ individuals. Thus, the flick was quickly thrust into the spotlight.
Image credit: Letterboxd

There have been more films featuring queer characters – like the famous flick, Tortured Love from the 1980s – that illustrate LGBTQ+ social issues through each generation.

Now, queer-centric storylines are all over. It’s through these tiny steps that Thai LGBTQ+ media has been accepted, normalised and even popularised on Netflix today.

6. The first Pride Parade in Thailand 

Pride is an annual event where LGBTQ+ individuals celebrate their identities as a community. The first Pride Parade in Thailand was held in Bangkok back in 1999, according to Global Gayz.

Bangkok Pride Parade in 2020
Image credit: Prachathai

The 2020 Pride Parade in Bangkok was a memorable one. Called the “Parade of the Proletarians”, members of the LGBTIQ+ community celebrated by marching 2KM from Sam Yan to Silom to advocate for political change, reported The Thaiger.

thailand-prideImage credit: Bangkok Post

Recently, some LGBTIQ+ members have been educating Thai audiences about genderqueer identities through big Thai media outlets during Pride Month like Thammasat University student, Parker, who identifies as trans-masculine.

Parker’s interview and insight on variations of sexual orientation
Screenshot: Workpoint Today

7. Homosexuality is declassified as a mental illness

It wasn’t until the 1990s that international organisations, like the World Health Organisation (WHO), endorsed for homosexuality to be declassified as a mental disorder

Image credit: The Standard via Shine Wara Dhammo

While Thailand has been a member of WHO since 1947, the country’s Ministry of Health only declassified homosexuality as a mental illness in 2002, according to TIME.

lgbt-idahotMP Tunyawaj Kamolwongwat (Left), and Kath Khangpiboon, a lecturer at Thammasat University (Right)
Image credit: Kath Khangpiboon

The declassification has allowed for more inclusion of LGBTQ+ members in society. Now, LGBTQ+ individuals can even work in the government, like MP Tunyawaj Kamolwongwat who is a member of Move Forward Political Party. 

8. Being transgender is no longer a “Permanent Mental Disorder”

Every biological male in Thailand is required to undergo conscription from the age of 21, unless they have completed reserve training. Other exceptions to conscription rules include transgender individuals presenting evidence of having undergone physical transformations. 

A trans woman at a Thai military draft
Image credit: NBC News

Whether they have completed their training or were exempt from it, men will receive a “military service form” that details their situation. The document is required for job and loan applications.

Up until 2011, individuals that were exempted from conscription due to presenting themselves as a transgender woman would have “Permanently Mentally Ill” put down as their reason for exemption, according to the UNDP. This resulted in stigmatisation when applying for loans and work. 

23-year-old transwoman applied for 2021’s military draft.
Image credit: Thai Post

Due to the LGBTIQ+ activists intervention, the military removed the “Permanently Mentally Ill” label for transgender exempted individuals, and instead changed the reason to “Gender Identity Disorder” in 2011.

9. Drag Race Thailand premiers

Thailand has its very own version of Ru Paul’s Drag Race called Drag Race Thailand

Licenced by Kantana Group, the reality show aims to present drag as an art form. The show was co-hosted by Pangina Heals, a.k.a Pan Pan, and Art-Araya Indra from 15th February 2018 to 5th April 2019.

pangina-heals-artarayaPangina Heals and Art-Araya in Drag Race Thailand Season 2
Image credit: Prime Video

Both hosts are seen as pioneers in Thailand’s drag culture. Outside of being a drag queen, Art-Araya Indra is a legendary veteran of the fashion industry, and is now the Creative Director of THEATRE. Pan Pan has her own nightclub, House Of Heals and has attended RuPaul’s Drag Con. 

Image credit: @art_arya

Natalia Pliacam won Season 1, and Angele Anang won Season 2.

Images adapted from: Natalia Pliacam นาตาเลีย เพลียแคม (Left), Dek-D (Right)

It’s unclear whether there’ll be a third season of Drag Race Thailand

10. Thammasat University employed the first transgender lecturer

In 2015, KathawutKath” Khangpiboon, a transgender woman, was denied a teaching position at Thammasat University, despite possessing the necessary qualifications and having passed the screening process. 

Kath was deemed “inappropriate for teaching”. Dr. Somkid Lertpaitoon, a member on the board at Thammasat University, did not endorse her application on the basis that she shared an image of a phallus-shaped lipstick on social media, reported Bangkok Post.

Subsequently, Kath filed a discrimination case against the university. 

transarmyKath Khangpiboon is also the co-founder for Thai Transgender Alliance
Image credit: Kath Khangpiboon

Kath later won her place in academia after the Central Administrative Court ruled in her favour on 8th March 2018, requiring that Thammasat University employ her as a lecturer.

Kath Khangpiboon
Kath at this year’s Pride Month online seminar hosted by the U.S Embassy in Bangkok
Image credit: Kath Khangpiboon

The court further asserted that the University’s decision against employing Kath was rooted in her social media posts, as opposed to her sexuality, reported Prachathai

11. Civil Union Bill was passed through parliament 

Many non-Thais view Thailand as an LGBTQ+ paradise due to the country’s same-sex wedding packages and its LGBTQ+ friendly travel campaigns endorsed by the Tourism Authority of Thailand (TAT), as written on Vice News

So, foreign tourists are often surprised to hear that same-sex marriage hasn’t even been legalised.

Image credit: The Standard 

After Mr. Natee Teerarojjanapong was not permitted to officially register his marriage with his husband in 2011, he brought the matter up to the National Human Rights Commission. Afterwards, parliament drafted the “Civil Partnership Bill”.

In 2020, the Civil Partnership Bill was was passed by the cabinet into the Thai parliament; it has yet to be passed by the government. 

Image credit: Hornet

If legalised, the bill would allow same-sex couples to be legally registered as life partners, provide spousal visas for their foreign partners, and make official medical decisions. 

Image credit: Deutsch Welle via Reuters

While the bill hasn’t been officially passed, Thailand is seeing a greater acceptance towards same-sex weddings.

More changes to come in the future

Even though the community has come a long way, more progressive changes will surely come through for Thailand’s LGBTQ+ individuals.

While we’re looking forward to more changes in the future, we’re also thankful for the effort that previous advocates have made to bring us to where we are now. Without the continued work of activists and dedicated individuals, marginalised groups, such as the LGBTQ+ community, would have a much harder time getting their message across and being heard.

We’re excited to see just how far Thailand’s progress towards inclusion will go.

Cover images adapted from: ธัญวัจน์ กมลวงศ์วัฒน์ – Tunyawaj Kamolwongwat (Left) ซีซ่า พรรณรัมภา (Centre) Miss Tiffany’s Universe (Right)

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