Demonstrators hold a giant Thai flag during a pro-government and pro-monarchy rally demanding the protection of traditional Thai values in downtown Bangkok on July 30. (Photo: Mladen Antonov/AFP)
Young Thais belonging to the LGBT community have stepped up their demands for equal rights as part of widespread student-led pro-democracy demonstrations.
Dozens of students staged Thailand’s first-ever “pride march” of its kind on July 29 in Bangkok by marching to the Ministry of Education and carrying placards, some of which read “We are not freaks!”
The young Thais, who were primarily in their late teens and early 20s, called on teachers to stop discriminating against gay, lesbian and transgender students in schools where strict dress and haircut rules are seen by many young Thais, whether they are gay, transgender or heterosexual, as a violation of their right to self-expression.
In addition, some teachers discriminate against LGBT students by using derogatory terms or misgendering them in addressing them, said activists, who called for an end to such discrimination.
The protesters also argued that sexual education taught in schools is based on outdated concepts and should be changed to reflect contemporary norms.
In an act of defiance, some protesters tore up a copy of a textbook used in sex education classes.
The student activists also handed a petition to the ministry demanding that old-fashioned rules whereby schoolboys and schoolgirls are all required to have short hair despite their personal preferences be abolished.
However, Prasert Boonruang, a senior official at the ministry, told the students that rules about dress codes were not meant to discriminate against LGBT students.
“These are social rules, not violations of human rights,” Prasert said. “The Ministry of Education has already issued middle-of-the-road rules that schools can implement themselves.”
Many young Thais have also launched a campaign on social media aimed at gaining wider acceptance of LGBT students when it comes to their preferences regarding dress styles and other fashion choices.
In one widely shared post, a student painted the rainbow colors of the “gay pride” movement on a forearm and posted it online with the words “Congrats, Mom, your daughter is human and gay.”
In another widely shared post, Sirisak Chited, a transgender activist who participated in the protest wrapped in a rainbow flag, stressed that “LGBT students are not bad students [and] they are not freaks.”
Sirisak carried a cardboard sign with a handwritten message that translates as “I am a tootsie, but I don’t like this dictatorship.”
“A country that does not have democratic rights for its citizens cannot guarantee LGBT rights,” Ploypailin, a student protester who wore a rainbow-colored face mask and identified herself with her first name, told a UCA News reporter. “Democratic rights and LGBT rights go hand in hand.”
Pro-democracy rallies have become daily events in Bangkok and elsewhere around the country this month, with thousands of high school, vocational school, college and university students demanding that the military-allied government step down.
Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha, a former army chief, seized power in a coup against an elected government in May 2014 and remains in charge at the head of a conservative coalition after partially free elections held last year.
Many observers dismissed last year’s parliamentary elections as rigged in favor of the military and its political allies.
Hundreds of pro-government protesters staged their own rally at Bangkok’s Democracy Monument in support of the current regime.
They billed themselves as “Vocational Students Helping the Nation,” yet the vast majority of participants were middle-aged and elderly people dressed in yellow, a color associated with Thailand’s monarchy.