In 2009 Rev. Steve Parelli and his spouse Jose Ortiz (pictured above) visited us in Chiang Mai and began a low-key work of building bridges and opening doors for LGBT people in Christian churches in Thailand. Steve and Jose are officers of Other Sheep (see:www.othersheep.org), an organization dedicated to networking and communication between LGBT Christians around the world. On their annual summer trips they encourage local initiatives to repair the damage done by fearful and hateful Christians, and sometimes to reduce the danger vulnerable gay, lesbian and transgender people endure.
This July-August they are coming back to Thailand. They would like to visit Christian LGBT advocates when they are in Bangkok. They are conducting a get-together on July 23 from 7 to 9 p.m. at the Amari Don Muang Airport Hotel right across from the Don Muang Airport in the Bangkok area. They will be back in Bangkok and eager to meet folks from August 23 to 29. Contact Steve firstname.lastname@example.org or through Facebook under the name of Stephen Parelli.
When they are in Chiang Mai, three of us, the Rev. Sanan Wutti, Fr. Iain Baxter and I, are arranging a meeting on Friday, August 14 from9 to noon at the AIDS Ministry Office on Rattanakosin Road (Old Doi Saket Road) across from the front gate of the McGilvary College of Divinity of Payap University. We will hear about the challenging work of Other Sheep and we will discuss the question, “Is It Time Yet?” to help Thai churches open their ministries to people of diverse genders. We will decide if it is the right time to provide a book in Thai, call for a conference, look for “more light” congregations, and decide on an action plan. The meeting is open, but space is limited, so let me know if you’d like to come. Contact me at email@example.com or call 081 764 7656.
What are the circumstances for LGBT people in Thailand? Are we “in paradise” as Steve said, somewhat euphemistically, in a Facebook posting this week? The standard answer is that we are tolerated rather than being either accepted or unremarkable. We are remarked upon, and not always kindly. It still takes courage to “come out of the closet” and churches still bar the way to leadership roles for those of us who do. There are few organizations with enough power to challenge the legal barriers to full equality and no voice being heard to argue against conservative Christian views that being gay is an invalid, sinful lifestyle choice. The situation is just as bad in Buddhism. Homophobia is a culture-wide phenomenon. But tolerance of us is better than intolerance. It is not illegal to be gay, as it is in half the other ASEAN countries. No para-religious gangs are hunting us down as they are in some of the countries Steve and Jose have visited. I can openly announce our August 14 meeting with confidence we will be unmolested. The key in this culture is families. As long as families are OK with some members being queer, communities will be quiet about it.
There are no LGBT organized churches in Thailand and only one developing “progressive” congregation that I know of, but that is progress. There have been no anti-gay demonstrations since the politically instigated one here in Chiang Mai 4 or 5 years ago, and that was the only one, ever, I believe. That’s a few meters short of paradise, but better than terror.
Nevertheless, it is a rather pathetic church that refuses to recognize that some of its sheep are missing; and the number being left out is more than one in a hundred (see Luke 15:4) … a lot more.
Rev. Dr. Kenneth Dobson posts his weekly reflections on this blog.