Rights group says protection for transgender Thais lacking

BANGKOK (AP) — Puncharat Taloet underwent a sex change operation several years ago, but her Thai state identification card still identifies her as a man, causing her serious complications.

“It seems that when compared to other countries in the region, Thai people are open-minded and accepting transgenderism, since there is no harsh legal punishment and a low rate of hate crimes against LGBTQ people,” Puncharat, an activist, said in an interview.

But under the facade, she said, the lack of legal gender recognition is more than an inconvenience.

“This causes me a great deal of trouble when I apply for a job, particularly with the government,” she told The Associated Press. “I earned a bachelor’s degree in traditional Thai medicine, but when I applied at hospitals for a vacant position, I was rejected. They explained to me that they were worried that my expressed gender did not match my birth gender and patients might become uneasy and confused.”

Her case is not unusual, according to a report issued Thursday by New York-based Human Rights Watch.

While Thailand enjoys a positive international reputation when it comes to the rights and lifestyles of LGBTQ communities, the absence of a procedure for transgender people in Thailand to change their legal gender, coupled with insufficient legal protections and social stigma, limits transgender people’s access to vital services, and exposes them to daily indignities, it said.

The Human Rights Watch report, undertaken together with the Thai Transgender Alliance, concludes that “transgender people in Thailand experience numerous barriers to their rights to health, education, work, freedom of movement, and non-discrimination.”

Conservatives values, at least among an older generation, were clearly revealed last month when Thailand’s Constitutional Court failed to endorse same-sex marriage as a constitutionally protected act. It suggested, however, that laws could be enacted to ensure equal rights for all regardless of gender identity and sexual orientation.

Human Rights Watch gives Thailand credit for its Gender Equality Act that came into force in September 2015, describing it as the first national legislation in Southeast Asia to specifically protect against discrimination on the grounds of gender expression. It specifically prohibits any form of discrimination if someone is “of a different appearance from his/her own sex by birth,” but lacks enforcement capacity and fails to ensure the basic rights of transgender people, the group said.

Without more legal protections, transgender students in Thai schools face harassment, bullying, and discrimination, the report said.

Thailand has a reputation as an international hub for gender-affirming surgery and transgender health care, but transgender people without identity documents matching their gender presentation can be subject to privacy violations, invasive questioning and humiliation when seeking medical services, said the report. They may even face “physical danger when they are placed in hospital units that do not match their gender identity.”

Employment opportunities where workers will be treated with dignity and respect are also affected by the lack of legal gender recognition, which puts transgender people at a distinct disadvantage when it comes to finding and keeping a job, the report said.

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