LGBT activists petition National Human Rights Commission over transgender inmates’ access to hormones

Yesterday (15 July), representatives of LGBT activists and civil society organizations submitted a petition to the National Human Rights Commission of Thailand (NHRC) over the lack of access to hormonal medications for transgender inmates in Thai prisons.

From left: Puncharat Taloet, Noppanai Rittiwong, Sirisak Chaited, Angkhana Neelapaijit, and Supaporn Ittiponsiri

Sirisak Chaited, an independent LGBT activist, along with representatives from civil society organizations, went to the NHRC Office this morning to submit their petition, which was accepted by Commissioner Angkhana Neelapaijit.

Sirisak said that transgender inmates are unable to access certain basic medical services, such as hormone replacement therapy, while serving prison sentences. Since a transgender person will always require hormone supplements, the lack of access to treatment while in prison has a significant effect on their health. Moreover, since prison regulations place higher importance on the sex one is assigned at birth, hormone and birth control medications are seen as unnecessary for inmates who were assigned male at birth and so were not allowed.  

According to UNDP, there were approximately 4000 transgender inmates in Thai prisons in 2018. Noppanai Rittiwong from the Service Workers in Group Foundation (SWING), who was among the representatives submitting the petition, said that at the Pattaya Remand Prison, where SWING has been working with transgender inmates, transwomen who have already been through gender affirmation surgery will be held in the women’s prison, while transwomen who have not had surgery are still held in the men’s prison, despite some having already undergone top surgery. However, they are segregated in a different area within the men’s prison, a condition which Noppanai referred to as “double imprisonment.” The arrangement is similar at Chiang Mai Prison, where, according to Sirisak, transwomen are still held in the men’s prison but in a segregated area, and are assigned different bathing times from other inmates so that they don’t have to shower together with men. 

Noppanai explained that hormone medications are viewed as being about appearance and beauty, so they are not allowed inside prisons. However, that is not the case. Hormone therapy is crucial for a transgender person’s well-being. Even those who have not undergone gender affirmation surgery still require hormones to adjust their physical condition.

Moreover, prison personnel lack an understanding of LGBT issues, which has a negative effect on transgender inmates in many ways, such as in terms of safety, living conditions, personal development, and health. Sirisak also said that some officials take advantage of transgender inmates’ need to access hormone therapy, by offering to buy them the medications at a significantly higher price than the medication’s real cost.

Sirisak Chaited (right) speaking to Angkhana Neelapaijit (left) at the petition submission

The petition to the NHRC calls for transgender inmates to be given access to hormone therapy and reproductive health services, and for inmates to be allowed to take part in the process of finding solutions to the issues of violence and health in prison. The petition also asks that prison personnel receive training in order to create an understanding of human rights and LGBT issues, and for every inmate to be treated according to the principles of human rights.

Sirisak said that the lack of a gender recognition law in Thailand is part of the problem. The focus on sex as assigned at birth means that there is an attachment to the male-female binarity, causing issues such as prison inmates not being allowed to access hormone therapy because it is seen as unnecessary for a person who was assigned male at birth. Sirisak said that if they can push for change on such an issue, then questions could be raised about gender recognition and why Thailand needs a gender recognition law.