Transgender student files complaint with Gender Discrimination Committee on uniform case

Today (29 January 2019), Jirapat, the transgender student who was denied the right to dress according to her gender identity by Chulalongkorn University, went to the Department of Women’s Affairs and Family Development (DWF) to file a formal complaint on her case.

Jirapat is a student at the Faculty of Education, Chulalongkorn University. She has allegedly been facing transphobic comments and verbal harassments from a special instructor, and earlier in January 2019, the Faculty informed Jirapat that they had overturned their decision to allow her to wear the university’s uniform for female students. Jirapat, along with two other students, then filed a complaint on the case with the Committee on Consideration of Unfair Gender Discrimination on 29 January 2019.

Related: University denies trans student’s right to wear female uniform; reflects discrimination faced by Thailand’s LGBT community

Their complaint was received by Lerdpanya Buranabundit, the director-general of the Department of Women’s Affairs and Family Development. Mr Lerdpanya said that, under the Gender Equality Act, those who face discrimination have the right to protection, and to have their rights defended. The Gender Equality Act prohibits unfair treatments on the basis of gender, and under Section 18 of this act, any person who thinks that they have suffered from gender-based discrimination may file a complaint with the Gender Discrimination Committee, which has the authority to ensure that appropriate actions are taken to end and prevent discrimination, and to ensure that there will be compensation and remedy for the injured party.

Mr Lerdpanya also said that “DWF welcomes complaints from anyone facing gender-based discrimination, no matter the person’s gender identity, since the Gender Equality Act protects everyone who is discriminated against on the basis of gender. Those who wish to file a complaint may do so in person, by post, or online.”

For Jirapat’s case, Mr Lerdpanya said that the Committee, together with Chulalongkorn University and the Faculty of Education, will try to find a common solution that is fair to everyone.

Lerdpanya Buranabundit, director-general of the Department of Women's Affairs and Family Development

Chulalongkorn University has been granting transgender students permission to graduate in the attire that matches their gender identity, provided that they file a formal request with the university. However, Jirapat is the first student to formally request permission to dress according to her gender identity to class and to sit examinations, and other students are now following in her footsteps. She said that such requests are so rare not because there are no transgender students at Chulalongkorn University, but because the university has never informed its students that this is possible and students weren’t aware of the protocol.  

Jirapat told Prachatai that she does not think that the uniform requirement is the problem. She believes that, even if the university does not require a uniform, transgender students will still have a hard time wearing clothing that matches their gender identity in a conservative institution. She said she understands that this is not the point where students would no longer have to ask the university for permission to dress according to their gender identity. However, she would like the university to establish a protocol and criteria which treat everyone fairly. Jirapat said that currently the requirement is that the student making the request must already have gone through gender confirmation surgery or top surgery, or at least look traditionally feminine for their request to be approved. Jirapat thinks that this is unfair, as she is supported by her mother and is therefore able to access these treatments, while others may not have the same opportunity.

From left: Boat, Flook, and Jirapat

Boat and Flook, also students at the Faculty of Education, said that they were also affected by the faculty’s order for every student to dress according to the gender they were assigned at birth, and decided to stand with Jirapat. They were also present at the DWF Office this morning when Jirapat filed her complaint.

Boat, a fourth-year student, said that she will soon have to undergo teacher training. She will be posted at a school for four to five months at a time, and she is concerned that she won’t be able to dress as a woman while in training. Boat said that she has been wearing the female uniform since her second year, and is concerned that the faculty will not defend her rights. Boat told Prachatai that there have been many instances in which a transgender student was rejected by the school they have been posted to because they are transgender, and the faculty does not have any support system in place when such an incident happens. She said that the faculty either sends the student to another school, or tries to convince them to dress as a man while they are in training -- a method she finds unacceptable.  

Flook, a second-year student, said that she also faced some discrimination from staff members. A lecturer allegedly ordered her to use the Thai ending particle “khrap,” used by male speakers, instead of “kha” which is used by female speakers, as, according to the lecturer, “you’re a man” even though she was wearing a female uniform at the time. She told Prachatai that she wanted to file a formal uniform request as Jirapat did, but her academic advisor did not allow her to do so.

Chulalongkorn University is known for being a conservative institution. However, Boat and Flook said that not every lecturer in their Faculty is discriminating. Many members of staff are rather accepting about them expressing their gender identity, and only a few lacks understanding about LGBT rights. Despite this, Boat said that she wishes all parties could come to a mutual understanding. She noted that the right to be treated fairly regardless of gender identity is enshrined in the Gender Equality Act, and she would like the university to understand that clothes are also a means of self-expression.

Nada Chaiyajit (pink shirt)

Nada Chaiyajit, a trans right activist and legal advisor for the trans right group Transpiration Power, who has been Jirapat’s advocate, said that the university’s decision to suspend the Faculty of Education’s order prohibiting transgender students from dressing according to their gender identity shows their intention to protect these students. However, she said that she and Jirapat decided to file a complaint in order to make sure their rights will be protected. Nada said that the special instructor’s action affected a wide group of people, since his homophobic and transphobic comments were made in class. She does not think that this can be tolerated. Nada said that the case will now be processed according to the Committee’s protocols, and that she will present their evidence when the investigation starts. Nada also says that the aim is for transgender students to be able to dress according to their gender identity to class, to examinations, to internship, and to graduation.