Poy enjoys dinner on the ship with fellow Guest Educators and Peace Boat staff

From the Ship

Panisara Skulpichairat: Transgender Rights as Human Rights in Thailand

May 5, 2017

Panisara Skulpichairat (Poy) was one of the first guest educators onboard the 94th Peace Boat voyage, joining the ship from Yokohama to Thailand. A Sexuality Issues and Transgender Activist, Poy spoke onboard about sexuality and work to improve transgender rights in Thailand. In her lecture, ‘Transgender in Thailand', Poy began with an introduction to the basics of sex, gender and sexuality. She explained to participants that ‘sex' is defined by physical, biological and genetic factors which contribute to being a male and female (such as your sexual organs, hormones and chromosomes), and that ‘intersex' is where you can have both male and female sexual organs, lack certain hormones or have a mix of chromosome structures. She then told participants that there are more than 2,000 people who are intersex in every 1,000,000 people in the world. 2,000 people for whom the simple dichotomy of male or female did not work. Poy continued to differentiate ‘gender' (from ‘sex'), which can be defined as socially constructed roles, characteristics and behaviours that have been created by society; and that this is based on your sex at birth. Then within ‘gender' Poy identified ‘gender identity' as being the gender you feel you are, and ‘gender expression' being your appearance - how you demonstrate who you are (for example, by the clothes you wear). Participants also learned that ‘trans' is a prefix which mean ‘to cross to the other side', so ‘transgender' means ‘to cross from one gender to the other'; and transgender people are people who perceive their gender does not match their sex at birth, and have decided to live as the gender with which they identify.

Poy shared her own personal experiences with participants onboard. Assigned as a boy at birth due to her physical appearance, growing up with her brothers and sisters, gender was not an issue for her. Only when she was required to enter a boys only secondary school did the issue of gender arise. She found herself feeling uncomfortable with the facilities and environment of the school; and feeling confused because she did not feel like a boy while knowing she was not a girl either. She lived with that confusion and anxiety for a long time, until the day her university held a national meeting on Sexual Health and HIV. There she had the chance to meet a transgender activist who changed her life. Through this activist's lecture and counselling, Poy learned to know herself and accepted who she was. After graduating from university, Poy went on to decide "to make my body match with my inner self".

Talking about her country, Poy highlighted that although the Thai tourism industry look to promote Thailand as the world hub for medical transition procedures and paradise for people who are lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT), "this is true for only foreigners, not for Thai transgender", she said. Now a member of both the Thai Transgender Alliance and the Foundation for Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity Rights and Justice (FOR-SOGI), who both work to promote human rights for transgender people in Thailand, the activist drew attention to concerns that some transgender people face in Thailand, including not being able to accept themselves to the extent that they commit suicide, not being accepted in schools and communities and therefore experiencing bullying, abuse and violence or being rejected from many public places, and some hotels in Thailand and Indonesia having signs that read "No dogs or transgender people allowed".

Poy then spoke about some of the work both the Thai Transgender Alliance and FOR-SOGI have been involved in to bring about more equality for the LGBT community in Thailand. This includes improving people's knowledge of LGBT issues with the aim of changing policy to be more LGBT-friendly. As an example, the audience heard details of the Thai Transgender Alliance gathering experiences of transgender women during military conscription procedures in Thailand, such as them being required to undress in front of men for their bodies to be measured. With these documented experiences, the Alliance made recommendations to the government about what should and should not apply for transgender people, and they also created a leaflet for military officers entitled ‘Treat them equally', that contains demands such as ‘Do not call them ‘Mr' as a joke, especially when using a microphone that everyone can hear'.

Further work has included increasing awareness of LGBT issues to all levels of society where the two organisations have collaborated to create a booklet about insensitive content regarding LGBTs in secondary school curriculums (such as ‘avoid transgender people'), which is now given to schools and has been given to the Thai Ministry of Education, who are now in the process of revising this content in the curriculum. Participants onboard furthermore learned of work to improve the environment for the LGBT community such as a Transgender Health Centre being set up by a member of the Thai Transgender Alliance working with the Thai Red Cross. Information about hormone injections and sexual health can be found at the centre. This work ties in with part of the UN's new sustainable development agenda, with one of 17 goals focused on reducing inequalities (including based on sex, income, age, sexual orientation, race or religion). The message of ‘Treat them equally', (that now appears in the leaflet aimed at military officers), is something we can all adopt regardless of sex or gender. Transgender rights are human rights.