There seems to be a rule that governments will not act on social issues until societies have demanded action. It is probably more complicated than that. SOME social issues will be politicized and then action will be determined by political expediency. At that point political action will no longer primarily respond to social demand.
A year ago it seemed likely that here in Thailand some form of civil partnership law would be passed, perhaps in a few weeks. Now, a whole year later, we are further away from that prospect, as limited as it was. It seems that one government entity passes it off to another, hearings are held, documents produced, legal opinions emerge, and then we wait. Meanwhile excitement cools. Pressure diminishes, but never quite disappears. Some further step is still on the horizon.
Fortunately, LGBT rights as human rights, including the right for same-sex couples to register their relationship, has not been politicized. So far, here in Thailand, no political group, in order to garner votes and support, has openly declared its opposition to civil partnerships or even marriage. None of the three essential Thai institutions of culture has mounted a campaign against same-sex relationships, LGBT rights, or protection of gender diverse people. That is, the Buddhist hierarchy has not issued an edict on this, as have other religious hierarchies around the world, including the Church of England this week (the Archbishop announcing that sex outside of marriage is contrary to God’s will and same sex couples should practice sexual abstinence). The “palace” has said nothing in this regard. And the government has not acted against normalizing same-sex relationships, as it has sometimes in the past.
That does not mean there has been no progress at all. Official action is not the only form of important action.
In many ways, public media is a better gauge of social opinion. In the past few years there has been a shift away from stereotyping gender diverse people. In television serialized movies, for example, gay and lesbian, and sometimes transgender people, are not always ludicrous or tragic. That’s progress. The number of appearances of gay characters who are just there because they’re there is greater, and the number of gender diverse media personalities (such as emcees on game shows or news announcers) is greater than ever.
An innovation in the last few years, indicating expanded acceptance of gender diversity, is the development of gender-awareness and support organizations. HIV-AIDS used to be just about the only issue that could get an organization going and keep it funded. Now there are organizations and NGOs operating on a number of issues such as human trafficking, theater arts, and academic programs.
New initiatives are being utilized to keep awareness of LGTBKQIA diversity strong. Later in February Chiang Mai Pride will again lead hundreds of us through the city to a rally organized and promoted by the new-bold generation. We are confident of police protection and assistance, whereas ten years ago the police prevented a pride parade and impounded marchers for hours. Earlier in January Dhanareeswara Awards were presented at Chulalongkorn University to those being recognized for outstanding dedication to the “Sexual Diversity Community.” Our friend, Sirisak (pictured above), a tireless human rights advocate was presented one of the statuettes. Sirisak is a leader in using social media and public performance to promote awareness of diversity issues nearly every day. These opportunities were unheard of until recently.
Simultaneously, the ever-rotating cycle of government control of such enterprises as gay and lesbian businesses, even sex-oriented businesses such as massage shops and saunas, seems to have revolved toward less restriction again. But the most noteworthy shift has been toward main-streaming social options for LGKT (Lesbian, Gay, Kathoey, and Trans) people in even smaller cities and towns.
Here in our chain of villages a new generation is entering adulthood, that is, they are exercising their prerogatives. I have noticed that they are doing this cautiously, as the generation before them did, but they are encountering less family resistance. There is not the same anguish to be overcome by several years of patient easing of parental concern. It is easier to get a same-sex spouse or “fan” (boyfriend or girlfriend) welcome and expected at family and clan gatherings. Even more clearly, social circles for emerging new adults are growing gender-blind. It just doesn’t matter as it once did when gay guys had to flock together or hide. They did form social groups, but non-gays weren’t included in any numbers. For the 20-somethings I see around here, the gay-straight binary is not as rigid, the social groups are inclusive, and stress is less. (In the group photo accompanying this essay it’s impossible to guess who’s what). It is still a major decision to transition into Trans, however. [This is a personal observation based on no scientific study].
So, although government action is stalled, the social foundation for government action continues its slow expansion.
Rev. Dr. Kenneth Dobson posts his weekly reflections on this blog.