Efforts to stage a gay pride parade in Chiang Mai, the northern capital city of Thailand, this weekend has met with strong opposition from a prominent Bangkok gay activist - a move that has shocked and angered the gay community in both cities.
Natee Teerarojanapong, a well-known advocate of gay rights (left) and Pongthorn Chanleun, head of Chiang Mai Gay Pride Committee and director of Mplus Chiang Mai debated each other on a TV talk show.
The gay pride parade in Chiang Mai is organised by Mplus, Chiang Mai's largest HIV/AIDS group, to be held on Saturday, Feb 21, in a famous tourist district.
Pongthorn Chanleun, a scholar on gender and sexuality and head of Chiang Mai Gay Pride Committee, said he was surprised with Natee's opposition despite the fact that a similar parade was already held last year in Chiang Mai.
"Early last year the parade was held in tandem with a regional conference by the International Gay and Lesbian Association (ILGA) in Chiang Mai and featured gay rights messages promoted by marchers who are gay rights activists from around the region. We're well received," said Pongthorn who is also the director of Mplus Chiang Mai.
Among other accusations Natee made to the local national press are that he is worried the gay pride would undermine the local 'Lanna' tradition of Chiang Mai with inappropriate dress, acts and activities; and might turn Chiang Mai into "a symbol of gays."
"I heard that the parade by a gay group in the area of Night Bazaar would also feature an activity such as a competition to use condoms for decoration as a pre-event before other activities.
"Chiang Mai is a cultural city. I'm concerned that the parade will tarnish the image of Chiang Mai and the country (as) Chiang Mai might be viewed as a symbol of gays," said Natee, head of Gay Politics Group. He had notably marched in a gay pride parade along Silom Road in Bangkok several years ago.
Natee's flamboyance style and outspoken personality drew a lot of attention from local media. On one of the most-watched debate talk shows on TV earlier this week, Natee and Pongthorn were pitted against each other.
After Ponthorn's explanation that the marchers in the gay pride parade will be dressed up with local costumes, unlike those styles of other gay pride marches in certain cities and he stressed that the pride was aimed at promoting tolerance as well as campaigning for HIV/AIDS issues to the local people.
Natee brought up another issue that left many gay activists in disbelief.
"Since the parade will stage a costume contest by transgenders and the parade will have transgendered marchers in colorful dress, I'm afraid such images will appeal to the youngsters and make them want to become transgenders," he said during the televised debate.
He added that any country who has a lot of beauty queens, the youths will be also encouraged to become beauty queens.
The debate became heated when Natee raised another issue that the parade organiser announced to accept applicants as young as 15 years old.
"A youngster aged as young as 15 years old lacks of consciousness. Such contest will encourage him to want to imitate and become transgender," Natee said.
"How can you draw such influence on the young people? The age range is generally accepted in general straight youths contest," Ponthorn said.
"How can you recruit people to become transgender?" Pongthorn rebutted, adding that the costume contest by transgenders was meant as a communication tool and feature sexual diversity and openness of society.
In March last year, Natee led a group of activists and concerned parents to petition Thailand's Medical Council and the government urging stricter controls on private clinics that perform castration on male teenagers who hope for the procedure to stop their bodies from developing masculine characteristics. Castration costs as little as 4,000 baht (S$180), a small fraction of the total cost of gender reassignment surgery. Under current laws, males seeking to undergo castration must be 18 and above.
"I want clinics to stop performing the operations regardless of whether they get parental consent. They are too young, and this procedure could cause side effects later in life," he was quoted as saying.
Ponthorn insisted that the parade will continue to be organised this Saturday and hopes to attract as many participants as they can. "We expect to have more than 500 marchers this Saturday. I do believe that the local Chiang Mai communities will give us support and make differences between facts and illusions," Ponthorn said.
Natee, made himself known back in 1980s as the very first activist who was openly gay when the HIV/AIDS epidemic was on the rise. He received international awards and also donations from many organisations for his efforts against HIV. He maintained a very low profile for years for unknown reasons and resurfaced several years ago as the head of the Gay Political Group of Thailand.
In 2005, he attacked Bangkok's 1st International Conference of Asian Queer Studies which drew participants from more than 20 countries, calling for a ban on the conference since the conference organiser handed out condoms to the participants. About the same time, the 50-year-old activist notably led a campaign which called on the government to amend the military regulations to stop labeling gay and transgender conscripts as suffering from a "severe psychological disorder" before exempting them from duty. He argues that the label has no medical justification and stigmatises gay men and transgender for the rest of their life as military records are required at job interviews and loan applications.
In 2006, Natee ran for a senate seat for Bangkok, but was defeated. In one of TV talk shows, he announced that he wanted to be a prime minister. Earlier this year, he made headlines by raising an issue regarding homosexuals and transgenders in Buddhist monasteries when some temples found having monks and novices having sexual relations with male sex workers, adjusted their monk robes to be more fashionable, and wore make-up.
The 2nd Chiangmai Pride Parade will be held on Saturday, Feb 21, departing Buddhasathan at 7pm towards Tawan Plaza @ Square. The parade will culminate in a party at Tawan Trendy Mall near Pantip Plaza. For more info, click onto http://www.chiangmaigaypride.com.
I constantly hear that from non-gay people in NYC, each year after the parade.
Gay pride parades are only embarrassing for people who are embarrassed to be gay.
The solution to countering negative stereotypes would be to have more out and proud gay individuals marching in contingents dressed in their normal working or leisure attire.
However, unfortunately, these people are in short supply and most gay men who dress in a mainstream fashion are just as embarrassed to be gay as you are to take part in a pride parade.
WHat's going on?
And I can see it happening around me. Lesbian couples in early high school, trying to look cool with their so called rebellious manner, and indulging in sex without understanding the responsibility that goes with it.
i wholeheartedly know that you guys have such strong passion to claim the gay rights. however, there are very socio-cultural attached to such doing the parade thing in CNX. CNX is very culturally sensitive city, and the social paradigm shift over there needs to be moderately and gradually conceived.
i would take reason beyond passion over this issue. don't just indulge, but deliberate on potential negative consequences.
p.s. i'm thai, i'm gay, and i'm very liberal.
For many gay teenagers, it is a struggle forging an identity that allows them to be true to themselves yet acceptable to society as well. How nice would it be if every participant in the parade could also find time to sit down with a young gay person and provide heartfelt advice regarding the hurdles that gay adults face in society?
In my line of work, I sometimes speak with gay teens who are desperate for a real role model. Sure, I suppose we could say, 'Oh honey, just go watch Ellen do her talk show thing' but we all know that no celebrity is a substitute for someone who can listen to you; talk to you; hold your hand; reassure you.
As gay adults, it's easy to get caught up in our own worlds, in our cruises and parades and circuit parties and orgies without giving much thought to what others think or say of us. Then I think about my own teenage niece and remember just how much she learns by watching her favorite uncle.
Do these people even know what pride parade stands for and why it was originally held? All of you, organizers, participants and attendants, why don't you read a book for a change or get yourself some education. If you really care so much about gay rights, how about staging a gay pride in places like Saudi Arabia or Iran or some other place where gay people actually don't have rights. Anyways, it's a waste of time and words to even try to reason with people who are famous for being bitchy cry babies unable to comprehend that only for a certain period of time you can scream your head out about being "opressed" minority with no rights, than eventually you just become another freak show running down the streets together with islamic funamentlists, bible thumpers, feminists and any other fucked up group who takes themselves just a bit too seriously. Only actual importance you people think you have in this world is in your own head.
nothing wrong here . . . some people like parades some don't
but straight people love to watch two fags argue about such petty shit . .. some people live for this drama
also the tensions between gays and Christians, its great fun to watch both extreme sides go at it, more fun than watching rugby on weekends, just a side show and neither side is really doing something for the average girl on the street:(
I too would be very worried if my teenaged brother or cousin or anyone friend know decide to get a castration before he fully understands the difference between being gay and being transgender or kathoey. Is it possible impressionable boys see being a kathoey as a career option in Thailand given the glamour and $ in the midst of teenage confusion?
But with regards to opposing the parade, I wonder if there's anything lost in translation...
but hey, what the heck is wrong with that guy ? as long as the organizers and participants dont do any harm to anyone, let them walk and bring the topic of "equal rights" to the public !!!
actually, Chiang Mai NEEDS such a thing, because this city is INFESTED with Western hardcore-baptists, missionaires and "wannabe-gooddoers" who actually destroy the local culture. these people are the actual threat to Lanna Culture and traditions.
the argument, that such a parade could encourage youngsters to become ladyboys or shemales, is absolutely rubbish. having said that, I would as well support a law that allows gender-change only after reaching majority age. because such an operation can not be made unhappen. but that has absoletely nothing to do with such a parade.
therefore, if I would ever join a parade and walk the streets of any town on this planet, it would for sure be Chiang Mai. though, I have no chance to be in CM this coming weekend anyway. but everybody who has the time and is around, should help the organizers and join.
There is science on the subject - and the prejudiced comment that implies there is something negative about cross dressing, combined with the assertion that watching others can irretrievably change a 15 year old to a way of life that involves cross dressing is simply a projection without scientific foundation. ...and what nonsense to say a 15 yr old lacks consciousness!
Being an activist is not a license to act like an authority and override the science and opinion of more educated people. Worse still to use one's activism to lend credibility to assertions which appear to be against one's interest.
Shame on you, Natee. Modesty would have been so much more becoming than your ignorant rantings.
I do believe that there need to be more gay role models for our young people to aspire too who are just ordinary regular looking people rather than being the full on stereotypical gays, but the place for that is TV (television!) seen daily by millions in our homes, not just in a once a year parade.
I must learn from you.
- fearing a "bad image" of the gay community, or worse, a bad reputation for the surroundings is typical of this;
- to think anything could encourage people to become kathoey if they did not feel so at first is fantasmatic;
- why worry, anyway?
very much in play here as time seems to heal all. Even the dubious demise of an organization called F.A.C.T.S.