UNDP launches new study on discrimination against LGBT in Thailand

On Monday (2 December), the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) launched a new study on attitudes towards LGBT people in Thailand, which found that while there is significant support for inclusive laws and policies, experiences of stigma, discrimination, violence, and exclusion remain persistent.

The study launch at the Foreign Correspondents' Club of Thailand (FCCT) on 2 December 2019. (Source: UNDP)

Over 2,210 people participated in the study, entitled “Tolerance but not inclusion: A national survey on experiences of discrimination and social attitudes towards LGBT people in Thailand.” It found that while 69% of non-LGBT participants reported generally positive attitudes towards LGBT people and support equal rights and access to services for the LGBT community, their support drops when it comes to accepting LGBT people as family members, colleagues, students, and community members. 88% of respondents said they would accept LGBT people outside the family, while only 75% said they would accept LGBT people within the family. 63% also said that they would feel uncomfortable if a family member were to fall in love with an LGBT person and 44% believe that LGBT people should not be permitted to set up organizations to “promote gender issues.”

It also found that people who live in urban areas, women and non-LGBT respondents who had interactions with LGBT people in their non-family social network were found to be more supportive while those who only knew LGBT members in their family were significantly more likely to be against LGBT-inclusive policies.

Nevertheless, the study found that there is significant support for inclusive laws and policies among non-LGBT Thais. 48% of non-LGBT respondents believe LGBT people should be allowed to adopt children, while 47% think same-sex marriage should be legal. 35% of non-LGBT respondents agreed that people should be allowed to change their gender markers on identity documents post-operation, and 21% were neutral towards the prospect. Between 20.5% and 23.3% of respondents do not feel strongly either way on these issues, which may reflect a lack of knowledge and points to opportunities to influence public opinion through advocacy campaigns.

Meanwhile, a significant number of LGBT respondents reported discrimination. For transwomen, 21% reported often being verbally attacked, 9% reported that they were often sexually harassed, and 8% reported often being subjected to physical violence. Moreover, 41% of LGBT respondents and 61% of transwomen respondents said they faced discrimination as students, while 64% said their school curriculum did not include topics relevant to their gender or sexuality. 10% of LGBT respondents and 32% of transwomen also reported discrimination in their current or most recent job.

Family life is also complicated for LGBT people, as half of the LGBT respondents reported experiencing some form of discrimination in the family. Respondents also reported feeling more acceptance from people outside their family and are more inclined to be more open about their sexuality to their social networks than to their family.

The stigma and discrimination faced by LGBT people also contribute to mental health problems. Nearly half of the LGBT respondents have contemplated suicide, and nearly one-sixth have attempted suicide. Mental health services were reported as a high priority by 49% of respondents, while one in five people reported having difficulty accessing such services.

The findings of the study show that there is a need for intervention to decrease stigma, eliminate stereotypes, and increase knowledge of the consequences of stigma and discrimination towards LGBT people. The report recommends that the government begin to track health, educational, and labour outcomes of LGBT people as part of national data collection efforts, and also include a number of recommended actions for the government to take in order to contribute to the legal and social recognition of diverse sexualities and genders, establish equal rights for LGBT people, and support social and legal inclusion of LGBT people in schools, workplaces, healthcare settings, and civil society.

The study was supported by the Being LGBTI in Asia and the Pacific programme in collaboration with a national survey reference group consisting of the Ministry of Justice, Ministry of Social Development and Human Security, the National Statistical Office, the National Human Rights Commission, LGBT civil society organizations and development partners.