蘑菇影院

After a quarter century, Thailand鈥檚 LGBTQ Pride Parade is seen as a popular and political success

Central Bangkok was turned into a sea of colour Saturday, as tens of thousands of people joined the annual Pride parade. It comes as a bill to legalise marriage equality prepares to pass its final legislative hurdle before becoming law, making Thailand the first country in Southeast Asia to do so. (蘑菇影院 Video: Jerry Harmer)

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BANGKOK (蘑菇影院) 鈥 Thailand kicked off its celebration of the LGBTQ+ community鈥檚 Pride Month with a parade Saturday, as the country is on course to become the first nation in Southeast Asia to legalize marriage equality.

The annual Bangkok Pride Parade Can filled one side of a major thoroughfare with a colorful parade for several hours in one of the Thai capital鈥檚 busiest commercial districts. Pride Month celebrations have been endorsed by politicians, government agencies and some of the country鈥檚 biggest business conglomerates, which have become official partners or sponsors for the celebration.

Ann 鈥淲aaddao鈥 Chumaporn, who has been organizing Bangkok Pride since 2022, said in a recent interview with 蘑菇影院 that she hopes the parade can be 鈥渁 platform that allows everyone to call out for what they want and express who they really are.鈥

A Thai walks past a display on Bangkok Pride celebrations in Bangkok, Thailand, Thursday, May 30, 2024. Thailand is kicking off its celebration for the LGBTQ+ community's Pride Month with a parade on Saturday, as the country is on the course to become the first nation in Southeast Asia to legalize marriage equality. (蘑菇影院 Photo/Sakchai Lalit)

A Thai walks past a display on Bangkok Pride celebrations in Bangkok, Thailand, Thursday, May 30, 2024. Thailand is kicking off its celebration for the LGBTQ+ community鈥檚 Pride Month with a parade on Saturday, as the country is on the course to become the first nation in Southeast Asia to legalize marriage equality. (蘑菇影院 Photo/Sakchai Lalit)

Waaddao thinks Thai society has shifted a lot from a decade ago, and the issue has now become a fashionable social and business trend.

Thanks in part to her work, a marriage equality bill granting full legal, financial and medical rights for marriage partners of any gender could become reality sometime this year.

But the public celebration of gender diversity was not always so popular in Thailand despite its long-standing reputation as an LGBTQ+ friendly country.

The first big celebration for the community in Thailand was held on Halloween weekend in 1999 and called the 鈥淏angkok Gay Festival.鈥 It was organized by Pakorn Pimton, who said that after seeing Pride parades on his overseas travels, he wanted Thailand to have one, too.

It was hard organizing such an event back then, when Thai society was much less open, he said.

A participant, right, takes a selfie with a drag queen at a news conference on the Bangkok Pride in Bangkok, Thailand, Thursday, May 9, 2024. Thailand is kicking off its celebration for the LGBTQ+ community's Pride Month with a parade on Saturday, as the country is on the course to become the first nation in Southeast Asia to legalize marriage equality. (蘑菇影院 Photo/Sakchai Lalit)

A participant, right, takes a selfie with a drag queen at a news conference on the Bangkok Pride in Bangkok, Thailand, Thursday, May 9, 2024. Thailand is kicking off its celebration for the LGBTQ+ community鈥檚 Pride Month with a parade on Saturday, as the country is on the course to become the first nation in Southeast Asia to legalize marriage equality. (蘑菇影院 Photo/Sakchai Lalit)

鈥淓veryone told me, even my boyfriend, that it would be impossible,鈥 he said in an interview with 蘑菇影院.

Organizing such an event in a public space requires permission from authorities, and it didn鈥檛 go that smoothly for Pakorn, yet he eventually pulled it off.

Pakorn said some police officers treated him well, but there were others who gave him dirty looks, or were dismissive. He recalled hearing one officer say, 鈥淲hy do you even need to do this? These katoey ...鈥

鈥淜atoey,鈥 whose rough equivalent in English would be 鈥渓adyboy,鈥 has generally been used as a slur against transgender women or gay men with feminine appearances, although the word now has been claimed by the community.

After getting the permit, Pakorn, who then was actively working in show business, said he tried contacting television stations for advertising and finding sponsors for his project, but they all rejected him.

An LGBTQ participant leaves a news conference on the Bangkok Pride in Bangkok, Thailand , Monday, May 20, 2024. Thailand is kicking off its celebration for the LGBTQ+ community's Pride Month with a parade on Saturday, as the country is on the course to become the first nation in Southeast Asia to legalize marriage equality. (蘑菇影院 Photo/Sakchai Lalit)

An LGBTQ participant leaves a news conference on the Bangkok Pride in Bangkok, Thailand , Monday, May 20, 2024. Thailand is kicking off its celebration for the LGBTQ+ community鈥檚 Pride Month with a parade on Saturday, as the country is on the course to become the first nation in Southeast Asia to legalize marriage equality. (蘑菇影院 Photo/Sakchai Lalit)

鈥淭here were no mobile phones, no Facebook, no nothing. There were only posters that I had to put up at gay bars,鈥 he said.

Because of that, Pakorn said, he was bewildered to see thousands of people, not only Thais but many foreigners, take to downtown Bangkok鈥檚 streets for that first celebration in colorful and racy costumes, carrying balloons and dancing on fancy floats.

The event got attention from both domestic and international media as both Thailand鈥檚 first gay parade and one of the first in Asia. It was described as energetic and chaotic, not least because the police did not completely close it off from traffic, resulting in marchers, dancers and floats weaving their way through moving buses, cars and motorbikes.

Pakorn organized it for several more years but eventually stopped.

Only recently did the political significance behind the term 鈥淧ride鈥 gain much importance in the event, said Vitaya Saeng-Aroon, director of an advocacy group Diversity In Thailand.

Previously, there were not a lot of organized LGBTQ+ communities who joined in, 鈥渟o there were no messages in the parade. It became like a party just for fun,鈥 he said.

Now the parade carries a more political tone because the observance has been organized by people like Waaddao who have long worked to raise awareness on gender equality and diversity.

For her part, Waaddao said she became inspired to organize the parade after taking part in the youth-led pro-democracy protests that sprang up across the country in 2020. She said she had previously been carrying out her advocacy work mostly in conference rooms, but those protests convinced her that street action can also advance a political agenda.

Although the pro-democracy movement lost steam due to the coronavirus pandemic and repression, Waaddao decided to continue the struggle for equal marriage and gender equality, ushering in a new era for Pride activities in 2022.

That was the year that several draft bills for marriage equality or civil partnership were introduced in Parliament. Although none managed to pass during the government then in power, a marriage equality bill sponsored by the current administration is expected to get through second and third readings by the Senate later this month, its last legislative hurdle before getting royal endorsement and becoming law.