The beauty of nature is its diversity, millions of plants, several thousands animals, and the ever-changing seasons. Categorization of living beings is recent compared to the age of the world, but humans do, we categorize and cause problems. The more centralized development is, the more it pushes the marginalized away, especially those with pride in their own identities.
Some people are defined as ‘the vulnerable’ because they are disenfranchised and do not have access to welfare, which sometimes is like a cake shared between a limited number of people. Thai welfare often comes with conditions, be it citizenship status, or cisheteronormativity. But should people be stripped of their rights just because they defy social norms? Just being a human being should guarantee everyone of their dignity.
“How do you think ethnicity affects your daily life?”
The opening question interestingly invites the stakeholders, the ethnic youth, to discuss and exchange their perspectives and the problems they face.
Living with Insecurity, the Life without Nationality
‘Nationality’ is a main topic of discussion which brings together the ethnic minorities. Chart, a representative from Tai Yai ethic group, mentioned how ethinic identity can affect even confidence when having to contact governmental agencies since the ethnic people have been discriminated against all along, and feeling like they are a third-class population who have been shouting, but unheard of. The naturalization process is also complicated and burdensome, ranging from travelling a long way to the governmental agencies, correcting various documents, and some have to pay money for the authorities, which most of the people do not have, Chart mentioned. This also applies to Karen people, Siri, a Karen representative, explained in detail that some ethic people are not sedentary, they move from places to places depending on social conditions, this, the government does not understand.
Intertwined Problems: Children, Women and LGBTI Are Excluded
At the margin of marginalization, there are those who are left behind further still. Before the pandemic, Siri conducted research about women and children. She found that they lived in difficulty since they are not head of the family and most of them depend on the men. Siri found three main problems: 1) Women and LGBTI’s lack of power 2) Domestic violence and 3) Poverty. Even though the ethinic people are experts in the field of agriculture, Siri found starvation. An ethnic woman told her that they only had the rice to last another meal.
Another pressing issue is education. Some children have to leave their home at five years old to go study. They have lost the chance to learn to absorb their own culture in their community. Even after graduation, there is no job in the community for them to do. The root cause of this is the lack of citizenship status which hinders them from getting jobs despite the fact that they are fully capable. Life outside of their community allows them to explore the world, but not actually living out there. The elderly are experienced, but they do not know the Thai language, and are discriminated against when going to hospitals.
Innovation Is Not Merely the Result, But the Process
Nam, a representative from the Akha ethnic group, admitted that she has been living in the city more than at home. She is experienced at cooking and she has found that the food in her own small community is even more diverse than in the city. She imagined her home without the people, and feared that the legacy will be gone. She went back home to explore the food in the community, invited the youth to join her project, and grew traditional plants to sustain the community, and exported them.
Chart has found that ‘Mong and the 13 boys stuck in the cave’ finally got their Thai IDs because of the media attention. He thus started to work on communication, to share knowledge, and create confidence for ethnic people, especially the younger generations who have more access to social media. His goals are to teach the youth to learn about transparency, to eradicate discrimination, and corruption.
For Siri, her research is the hope of the whole community. She hosted meetings head-on with subdistrict organizations and came up with the project for the community to earn from weaving. She travelled to different places to learn about the art, and came back to teach the women in her community. The women were ecstatic to be able to weave, and earned their own money for the first time. Even though the production has stopped since the pandemic, Siri believes this is just the beginning, and they still have a long way to go.
Welfare State to Leave No One Behind
The ethnic minorities have lived in Thailand for hundreds of years, they are part and parcel of this country, but they get the least support. They do not receive compensation from the government, not a single dime when the world of jobs stopped spinning because of the pandemic. Not to mention access to health care or vaccination, the state simply does not have their names in any register. All of this is because they are denied nationality.
Several problems remained for them to resist, especially LGBTI people in the communities who face both internal and external pressure. There is little space left for imagination about the ethnic LGBTI, who deserve acknowledgement, and space.
This Is Not a Binary World
Another online dialogue is ‘Youth and Gender Diversity’ in the world that does not belong merely to cisheterosexuals, understanding differences is how we create a future for everyone.
No More Bias, Embrace Identities, Create Understanding
Some might say that Thailand is acceptant of gender diversity, but come to think about it, why is the same sex marriage still not legalized? Is there really equality at work? Or do people really understand diverse gender identities? Some still misunderstand that LGBTI are the women who want to be men, or men who want to be women. Some do not believe that trans women can be lesbian.
K (pseudonym), a representative from the north identifies as a trans man and the pronoun he (you can use any pronoun that the person you are referring to is comfortable with.) K feels like he is not tom (Thai word referring to masculine lesbians), but he is a trans man. Most of the times when K visits a governmental agency, he is oddly looked at because his identity does not correspond with that on his ID card. It would help a lot if trans people were able to change their name title according to their identities, K mentioned.
S (pseudonym), a representative from the migrant youth, shared that Thailand is much more open towards LGBTI than Myanmar. He still cannot come out to his family, he does not want them to feel sorry because his identity defies social norms and their expectation.
A representative from Pink Monkey, comes from a family that embraces his identity but he still faces sexual harassment at school. Being a person from LGBTI community does not mean that one is always interested in sex, he said. One time, a teacher showed him a video with genitalia, and told him that he would love this when he grows up. S wants the school to be a safe space for everyone, especially students from LGBTI community.
B (pseudonym), a representative from Free Enby Thailand, identify themselves as a nonbinary person and would like everyone to use the pronoun ‘they’ when referring to B. B supports not identifying a newborn’s gender since one should have the right to choose one’s own, and the gender box mainly contains just the binary men and women. When in fact, the world is a lot more diverse.
These are some of the voices from the participants. In the future where diversity is embraced, there is no need to live your life according to social norms. Just like what the participants discussed in the four breakout rooms.
Room 1: Nonbinary and Invisible Identities behind the Diversity
If you believe that gender is changeable, so does the nonbinary who believe the world is much more than just ‘men’ and ‘women.’ There are the ‘Q-Questioning’ or people who are still on the way to find out which identity sparks the most joy for them to live their life. The answer is ‘you can be anything.’ Being a nonbinary is to defy the gender norms and embrace the fuidity of gender. To give an example, one does not need to be a beautiful trans woman according to the norm, all it takes is for you to love who you are. But it takes the government to support and eradicate discrimination against these diverse identities.
Room 2: Mental Health, Acceptance, and Identity
“Someone from LGBTI community needs to pass more social tests than others who conform to gender norms. Why is that?” A powerful question was posed in this room. For many, family is not the safe space for them to be and express themselves, see a traditional Thai-Chinese or Thai-Muslim families that expect the sons to be the head of the household, to be the leader, the men. And when the hope falters, the quarrels, the pressure from the family, causes depression.
A participant shared their friend’s experience as a tom who studied hard, worked hard, and seemed to be the hope and dream of the family. But when the friend got married, the family chose to not attend the wedding because they felt ‘uncomfortable.’
Even when a person from LGBTI community did everything they could, there never seems to be enough, and the family rarely understands. Family is the factor of good mental health in the long-run. The family should open their mind, and embrace their children as a human being.
Room 3: LGBTI in the Democratic Movement
“The demand for same sex marriage must be side by side with the demand for democracy.” P, a representative from the Young Pride Club mentioned. She is well-known for holding a protest sign “I will be the first trans woman prime minister.” In a society rife with inequality, LGBTI are excluded from the public conversation, and some still think there are matters that need ‘more attention.’ P told us about pushing for LGBTI rights under the military realm, which she said was not possible. The military’s patriarchal mindset is not ‘LGBTI friendly’ for a bit. She came to the conclusion that demand for democracy and LGBTI rights must always go side by side.
She was filed with 116 Act because she defied the authorities. This affected P’s mental health for a while until she went to speak at an event where a lot of people showed her their support. She got better. And got back to advocate for her rights.
The LGBTI movement in Thailand is now paving the way for the marginalized, for people who are invisible to be seen, and to give them back the rights they are entitled to.
Room 4: Gender Diversity in School
School should be a safe space for every student, physically and mentally. But the teachers still perpetuate gender bias, and shove the burden off on the students’ shoulders. Some schools treat LGBTI as comedic figures, some try to inspire them with pressure such as ‘you’re a trans person, so you should study hard.’ Some teachers expect the students to behave according to the name title given to them from birth. Sometimes, it is the school that creates trauma for the children.
The participants suggested that schools should be responsible in creating understanding about gender diversity and try to eradicate discrimination. The parents should also stand up for their children’s rights, even if it is against the teachers.
Everyone should learn about gender diversity and stop creating boxes to confine human beings. Not every man likes the color blue, and not every woman is into pink. Gender diversity is fluid and endless, if society just understands this, we can go further and further, to the future where no one is left behind.
Both ethnic and LGBTI people are marginalized, and some can be even more marginalized when they are both an ethnic minority, and a person from LGBTI community. These are the people who are faced with daily prejudice and structural inequality, which can be fixed, by both individuals, and the state. The government must try to create an enabling environment for people to thrive, with self-confidence and self-esteem.
When a human being is able to stand up right, and be proud of their identity, creativity and innovations will follow. No one will be the judge of anyone’s life, the vulnerable will live their lives with dignity, and diversity will thrive in our society, as it has always been diverse.
This event is made possible by our partners. UNDP would like to thank you to IMPECT and Plan International for bringing Ethnic youth and LGBTI youth to make this meaningful dialogue happens.