“I’m the boy that was born as a girl, and has to prove myself that I’m man enough for the world” – The words of an anonymous transman
Consider the following scenarios…
- Joy is a recently graduated transwoman with a law degree from one of the best universities in Thailand. She hopes to work for a legal firm that would allow her to help those who are in need. However, several legal firms declined her application because her national ID card still identifies her as “he”.
- Tan, a transman, experienced a severe car accident on the way home during the New Year celebrations. He was in a critical and life-threatening condition. However, when he was about to be hospitalized, the hospital hesitated over whether to put him in a male or female ward, as his national ID card still referred to him as “Miss”. While the hospital hesitated, Tan suffered significant blood loss that ultimately led to his death.
- A bank teller refused to open a bank account for Karn, an intersex university student, as Karn avoided ticking the “male” or “female” boxes on a form. Karn’s national ID card still uses the title “Mr” in front of Karn’s official name.
- A nurse gave me a “rude” stare when I refused to tick the “female” or “male” options on a form while I was holding my national ID card that has “Miss” in front of my name. The reason is I’m non-binary.
These scenarios are based on true stories from Thai trans and gender non-conforming communities. What are these stories telling you? That we, transgender people and those with non-confirming gender identities, are still facing discrimination every single day in Thailand.
The root cause of this discrimination is the lack of recognition of gender identities on our legal documents such as our passport, birth certificate, household registration, and most importantly, our national ID card. Currently, Thailand has not yet acknowledged any other gender identities apart from “male” or “female”, which are assigned at birth by medical professionals. The challenge becomes prevalent here for us, transgender and those with non-confirming gender identities, as every Thai is required to have a national ID card. Thailand only issues national ID cards based on one’s sex assigned at birth with assigned gender titles such as “Miss”, “Mrs” and “Mr.” Hence, our national ID cards might not match our gender identities. Consequently, we face challenges and discriminations on a daily basis. Even things that most people take for granted (such as picking up a parcel from the post office, or travelling) can be challenging for us.
Thai transgender and gender-non-conforming activists and the Ministry of Social Development and Human Security (MSDHS) are currently in the early stage of drafting Thailand’s legal gender recognition. The aim of this draft is to allow transgender individuals to change their gender titles and markers on their official documents such as a national ID, passport, house registration, and birth certificate. This draft would give an option for non-binary people or those with other non-conforming gender identities to not to have gender titles or markers on their official documents. Meanwhile, I will point out the reasons why legal gender recognition significantly matters for Thai transgender people and those with non-conforming gender identities as well as why it matters for sustainable development.
Everyone has the right to define their own gender identity
Legal gender recognition is the basis of human rights. It is the right to acknowledge who we are as human beings. Transgender people and those with non-confirming gender identities should be treated and recognized as the gender we are. The 4 stories that you have read above reflect how we are not treated with dignity as human beings. To obtain legal gender recognition, no one should not be forced us to undergo unwanted surgery or sterilization, as this violates our free will. According to the LGBT rights principles, the Yogyakarta Principles. No. 3 states that:
“Everyone has the right to legal recognition without reference to, or requiring assignment or disclosure of, sex, gender, sexual orientation, gender identity, gender expression or sex characteristics.”
Because of the importance of legal gender recognition, some countries allow transgender and non-binary people to change their gender titles and identities (on official documents/IDs) so that they match their preferred gender identities. For instance, Argentina was the first country to allow transgender individuals and non-binary people to change their gender identities and gender titles without undergoing sex-reaffirming surgery or imposing an age restriction. This model corresponds with the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the Yogyakarta Principles No. 3.
Gender recognition could reduce discrimination against transgender individuals and those with non-conforming gender identities
Official gender recognition can lead to more accessible social services as well as opportunities for transgender individuals and people with non-conforming gender identities without the fear of discrimination or stigma. Joy would have gotten her dream job in the legal sector. Tan would not have died from the car accident because the hospital was too hesitant to put him in the “right gender” ward. The bank would have let Karn open the bank account without facing discrimination from the bank teller. The nurse would have not given me a “rude” stare when I refused to tick either the “male” or “female” boxes on the form. Ultimately, we would have better well-being as we would face fewer social discriminations.
Gender recognition will boost Thailand’s economy
Transgender people and those with non-conforming gender identities are part of Thailand’s workforce too. UNDP Thailand and International Labor Organization (ILO)’s report, “LGBTI People and Employment: Discrimination Based on Sexual Orientation, Gender Identity and Expression, and Sex Characteristics in China, the Philippines and Thailand” (2018), reveals that a lack of LGBTI inclusion would cause huge damage to the national economy of around USD 30 million. This is because the potential talents, capacities and creativity from LGBTI communities are excluded from joining the workforce that could contribute to a GDP growth. In Thailand, around 60% of transgender and those with non-conforming gender identities face exclusion from employment. This is partly because their national ID cards do not match their appearances (or preferred identities). Thailand is still losing a future workforce that could boost the country’s economy.
Gender recognition could promote Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) to promote legal gender recognition in Thailand!
The United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) are 17 goals which tackle challenges our world faces, including those related to poverty, inequality, climate change, environmental degradation, prosperity, and peace and justice. Legal gender recognition mainly addresses SDG No. 5 “Gender Equality” and SDG No. 10 “Reduced Inequality.” This is because legal gender recognition allows transgender people and those with non-conforming gender identities to have equal rights to cisgender people. In addition, legal gender recognition also tackles other SDGs as well, not just these two goals. For instance, legal gender recognition could address SDG Nos. 1 & 2 “No poverty” and “No Hunger,” as legal gender recognition allows our communities to have more access to social welfare services in Thailand. Also, with our identities recognized, we could access health care services without fear of discrimination and stigma. This addresses SDG No.3 “Good health and wellbeing”. In Thailand, approximately 9-11% of our transgender friends are at risk in HIV/AIDS. The majority of us are too afraid to come to clinics because of our mismatched national ID cards which do not reflect who we are, which leads to social discriminations from health practitioners. Moreover, with our identities recognized, we would not face social discriminations at workplaces or get rejected for our job applications because our identities match our national ID cards. This tackles SDG No.8: “Decent workplace and economic growth”. Overall, legal gender recognition would also tackle SDG No. 16: “Promote peaceful and inclusive societies for sustainable development, provide access to justice for all and build effective, accountable and inclusive institutions at all levels”. In other words, Thai society would become much more inclusive for us if there was legal gender recognition. We would be treated with dignity as human beings.
So, you can see why legal gender recognition is so important for us, Thai transgender, non-binary and those with non-conforming gender identities. It is not about feeling satisfied that our gender markers or titles get changed (yeah!); it is about empowerment. It is about dignity and equal rights – recognizing who we are as Thai citizens and human beings in the Kingdom of Thailand. As we are still being treated as second class citizens or “sub-humans,” it is important for us to stand up and speak out.