After an historic vote to legalize marriage equality in Thailand, two LGBTQI+ activists look to the future

Thailand made headlines across the world this month by becoming the first country in Southeast Asia to legalize marriage equality. Finally, this nation – long considered a “paradise” for LGBTQI+ travelers – is taking steps to recognize the rights of its own queer community. This giant step forward was not guaranteed: it took the organized efforts of LGBTQI+ activists and allies over decades to get here.

The bill for marriage equality, which Thai senate voted on and approved June 18, went through many rounds of revisions and edits. For the first time in Thai history, a draft of a bill that became law was created by a cadre activists and civil society representatives, including several AJWS grantees. While celebration is in the air, Thai activists say the fight for true equality for LGBTQI+ people under the law is far from over.

We spoke to two of these AJWS-supported activists, Hua Boonyapisomparn (she/her) of Thai Transgender Alliance and Atitaya “Nook” Asa (he/him) of TransEqual, about their involvement in writing the marriage equality bill, what this law means for their community – and what comes next.

AJWS: What is the mood in the LGBTQI+ community right now?

Nook: The LGBTQI+ community here feels pleased that Thailand will be the first country in Southeast Asia to have a marriage equality bill. Many couples have been living together as families for many years. Many people have expressed that when this law passes, they and their partners will register for marriage immediately. They are also very happy to see the law before they pass away, even if they do not have a partner who they plan to marry right now.

AJWS: And how are you feeling?

Hua: I am honored to witness this historic achievement of Thailand’s LGBTQI+ movement. It has given me hope for a better future for people like myself and the younger generation in our community. I also want to honor the LGBTQI+ advocates who came before me and who started this movement at a time when the social environment was unfriendly and difficult for them. This success cannot happen without effort from the early LGBTQI+ advocates. I also feel relieved now to know that the younger generation can enjoy the fruits from the tree to which everyone has contributed in one way or another.

AJWS: Could you share details about how you helped draft the bill? And how did your work on the draft make you feel about yourself, and your role as an LGBTQI+ activist?

Hua: The truth is, the first draft (by Thai civil society members) was initiated by a group of marriage equality activists before I joined them. It has been a collective effort beginning more than 20 years ago; we need to honor the pioneers of the LGBTQI+ movement and the allies who joined hand in hand to promote marriage equality in the Thai society. I appreciate all of their support, legacy, and contribution. Being a part of this bigger movement, I am proud of myself that I can bring voices of trans people to the flight for marriage equality, so that the lawmakers and the members of the Parliament hear directly from us.

Nook: This is the first time that legislation for the LGBTQI+ community was driven by representatives from the public sector: individuals with lived experience, who deliberated on laws in the parliament. I had the role of joining an Ad-Hoc committee for the marriage equality bill. We worked to create a draft that was consolidated from four original drafts to be submitted to the lower house of Thai parliament: three from different government parties, and one written by members of Thai civil society.

As a representative of the transgender male community, I had the role of presenting issues related to the confirmation of identity and the needs of transgender men in the marriage equality bill, such as adding the word “parents,” which is a neutral gender term. The committee reconvened once the bill passed in the Lower House of Parliament to consider any changes made before our Senate voted on the bill.

AJWS: With this vote by the Thai Senate, Thailand will become the first country in Southeast Asia to legalize marriage equality. What does this mean for the region and the world?

Hua: If we can do it, other countries can do it. I think Thailand has already set a great example that we can do what seemed to be impossible many years ago. We now can say Thailand is a little closer to a safe haven for LGBTQI+ people — which is how many outsiders and tourists have seen Thailand for years.

Nook: It goes beyond the Pride celebrations of the LGBTQI+ community in June or being seen as a paradise for LGBTQI+ people in the eyes of foreign tourists. Instead, it is a country that genuinely recognizes the rights of LGBTQI+ people.

AJWS: You’ve both been involved in the struggle for LGBTQI+ rights for many years, and I know that marriage equality is just one step towards full equality. What do you want people to know about this ongoing fight?

Hua: Even though this was an historic vote for LGBTQI+ rights in Thailand, there are still gaps that need to be addressed. The Marriage Equality Bill will open doors for these future policies and legislation. As a transgender activist, I’ll say that legal gender recognition is very important to our community. This bill alone cannot fix all the issues that face LGBTQI+ people in Thailand.

Nook: The marriage equality bill is just the first step for the LGBTQI+ community to open doors to laws, policies, and other rights in Thailand. As a transgender man, I believe the next crucial law is the Gender Recognition Act, which will help affirm identities under the principle of self-determination and change identifying words that reflect our identities. This also includes advocating for access to gender-affirming care to ensure access to healthcare benefits.

AJWS: How will this new law affect your life, and your movement?

Hua: It definitely will bring joy and happiness to the movement. It is the collective joy for us, our families, and allies; it is the queer joy that will spread to everyone in the community and the Thai society. I know many people that have been waiting for this day and I am happy that they are no longer waiting to be seen, recognized, and protected by the Thai government.