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Transgender MPs are Rewriting History in Thailand – But Has Enough been Done in the Public Life?

With four trans MPs now in the parliament, the fight for LGBTQI remains a tough battle in the conservative Buddhist-majority kingdom.

Future Forward Party MP Tanwarin Sukkhapisit poses before the parliamentary vote for Thailand’s new prime minister in Bangkok. Source: AFP

As Tanwarin triumphantly cased her vote for prime minister last Friday, it marked the moment where country’s first transgender MP entered the parliament.

Tanwarin Sukkhapisit, a lawmaker for the progressive anti-junta Future Forward Party (FFP), is one of four transgender MPs in the house – changemakers in a kingdom where discrimination education, employment and at home persists.

"I am not here for decoration," she said. "I want to write a new political history for Thailand."

Despite Thailand’s transgender community enjoys a high profile – think commercials, movies, magazine front covers, and even their own beauty contest Miss Tiffany – it confronts major hurdles in everyday lives.

Tanwarin is an actress and director, as well as a politician. Source: AFP

But as the local media continues to portray the community as catty and bawdy figures, the group is marginalized and isolated from the mainstream.

In fact, transgender people are not usually taken easily in the workplace – they are often confined to entertainment gigs and sex work as a result of rejections from jobs such as teachers and civil servants.

"Thai people accept the community but don't see them as equal or entitled to equal rights," Tanwarin said.

From film director to politician

Tanwarin’s political ambitions are driven by one’s desire to be the voice of the trans community in the parliament.

"We had to go into politics," Tanwarin says.

Future Forward Party MP Tanwarin Sukkhapisit (centre) in parliament. Source: AFP

Tanwarin's first push in parliament is to change the legal definition of a married couple to "person to person" instead of "man to woman", which could lead to Thailand becoming the second place in Asia after Taiwan to allow gay marriage.

A same sex marriage bill has been floated in Thailand but it has drifted with the political turmoil and it does not give same sex couples rights to have children or adopt.

Transgender people "are regularly discriminated against in their jobs, forcing many of them into low-paid jobs," says Kyle Knight, LGBT specialist for Human Rights Watch.

Many face rejection by their families and end up in the sex industry where they are exploited.

However, some said there is a glimpse of light as the presence of Thailand’s LGBT community is gradually seen in professional sectors such as doctors, businessmen or teachers.

Tanwarin's public presence alone has already sparked important debate and often controversial comments on social media.

"I'm not afraid," she said. I'm here to raise awareness for those who don't understand."

Source: The Asean Post, South China Morning Post

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