Thailand’s LGBT+ lawmakers force parliament dress-code rethink

Film director Thanwarin Sukhaphisit, Thailand’s first transgender member of parliament, speaks during the Future Forward Party’s final major campaign rally in Bangkok on March 22, 2019. (AFP pic)

BANGKOK: Thailand’s four new LGBT+ members of parliament have prompted the house to relax its gender-based dress code, in a small victory for the ground-breaking politicians who have vowed to push for greater LGBT+ rights in the country.

On their first day in parliament on Monday after elections in March, the four newly elected MPs of the Future Forward Party caused a stir with their colourful outfits in contrast to the formal attire worn by other lawmakers.

‘LGBT politicians can dress as they please, but the suits or dresses must be modest,’ Sorasak Pienvej, secretary-general of the lower house of parliament, told reporters.

Tanwarin Sukkhapisit, Thailand’s first transgender member of parliament, who wore a bright skirt and an orange blazer, said it was a deliberate choice.

‘I wanted to make a statement: ‘I am here. This is who I am, and we need to address these issues’,’ said Tanwarin, who is also a filmmaker and identifies as non-binary.

Thailand’s election – its first since a 2014 military coup – was significant for the number of LGBT+ candidates, including the first transgender contender for prime minister.

The largely conservative Buddhist society has built a reputation as a place with a relaxed attitude towards gender and sexual diversity since homosexuality was decriminalised in 1956. Thailand earlier this year finalised a draft Civil Partnership Bill that legally recognised same-sex couples as civil partners.

But despite progress, LGBT+ people still face widespread discrimination, and are often rejected by their families and mocked in the workplace, human rights activists say.

‘We must stop putting everyone in a box according to their gender,’ Tanwarin told the Thomson Reuters Foundation. ‘How one can dress, who one can marry – these should not be dictated by law.’