The gender equality activist group Feminist’s Liberation Front Thailand staged a protest on Saturday (9 October) to call for the resignation of Prime Minister Gen Prayut Chan-o-cha, constitutional amendments, and monarchy reform to create a democracy for all.
Protesters on Silom Road carrying Pride flags
The protest started with a “car mob” caravan beginning at Soi Silom 2, which then headed to the Democracy Monument via Ratchaprasong Intersection and Lan Luang Road. Gender equality activist Chumaporn Taengkliang said that the group chose Soi Silom 2 as the starting point of the caravan because this is the area where LGBTQ workers and sex workers used to thrive, but Covid-19 has caused everything to stop, so the group chose the spot as their starting point to show support.
Chumaporn said that the group invited around 10 truck drivers who were affected by the pandemic to join the caravan, and that there wouldn’t be speeches but they would be playing music and dancing, which required 10 ten-wheeler trucks because they wanted to maintain distancing measures while dancing. However, she said that the truck drivers were blocked by police in Pathum Thani from entering in Bangkok. Nevertheless, the group went ahead with the event, handing out Pride flags to participants to carry during the caravan.
Chumaporn also said that the group asked volunteers helping to organize the event to take a Covid-19 test if they have yet to receive 2 doses of vaccine, and she does not understand why the police would accuse them of risking the spread of the virus when they had every disease prevention measure in place.
In addition to demanding Gen Prayut’s resignation, constitutional amendment, and monarchy reform, the group is also calling for menstrual products to become state welfare, marriage equality, the repeal of Section 112, and for amendments to the constitution which take diversity into account and which treat everyone as equal.
Following a performance by several drag queens, the caravan took off from Silom Road at around 14.40. They arrived at the Democracy Monument, where a stage was set up, at around 15.45.
The Democracy Monument being wrapped in a large Pride flag
Protesters wrapped the Democracy Monument in a large Pride flag and placed several smaller Pride flags around it. Several activists then took turn giving speeches.
A group of protesters from the Thalugaz group, who have been staging daily protests at Din Daeng, also went up on stage to ask for support from other protesters. They also spoke about the crowd control police’s use of violence against the Din Daeng protesters, most of whom are young people. One Thalugaz protester said that protesters who were arrested from Din Daeng were assaulted by the police, and that some were burned with cigarettes.
Thalugaz protesters went up to the stage
The protest ended abruptly at around 19.10, while activist Phromsorn Weerathamjaree was speaking, after a small clash occurred at the Phan Fa Lilat Bridge, and it was reported that crowd control police were arriving in the area. The organisers immediately announced the conclusion of the protest and told participants to leave via the Khok Wua intersection to avoid clashing with the police. There were reports that the police used tear gas.
iLaw reported that 1 person was arrested near Mahakan Fort, and that the police tied their hands behind their back with cable ties. The police also attempted to arrest activist Ekkachai Hongkangwan while he was in a Seven-Eleven opposite the King Prajadhipok Museum. They tried to make Ekkachai and 4 other people board a detention truck, but the group refused, saying that they had already been searched and that the police must notify them of their offense before taking them to a police station. They also refused to let the police search their mobile phones, and were later released.
Going beyond the gender binary
Charlotte, representing the non-binary community, gave the first speech of the evening about what it means to be non-binary. They said that, when they were born, they were labelled male because of their genitals, but once they grew up, they were labelled female because of their behaviour, but they believe that they are a different identity which is not on the gender binary, and society has no right to tell them whether they are a man or a woman.
“When I was a child, does everyone believe that I had to face a lot of questions, and I was inspected on which gender I really am. One day, they think I’m a man. The next day, I’m seen as a woman. Do you believe that in 1 year, I was labelled with maybe 30,000 sexes? So I want to say that all of this is the result of this country’s system which does not recognize my identity and which does not accept me as a human being,” Charlotte said. They also said that the Thai sex education curriculum sees non-binary people as abnormal and as people who should be treated, while the Thai constitution does not take diversity into account.
Charlotte said that the state’s negligence of the LGBTQ community is ignoring their human dignity, their rights and freedoms, as well as human rights. They called for a constitution in which everyone is equal.
It’s time to talk about marriage equality, says iLaw manager
iLaw manager Yingcheep Atchanont gave a speech during the protest on amendments to the marriage law. He noted that Section 1448 of the Thai Civil and Commercial Code, or the current marriage law, has only been amended once since it went into effect in 1935, when the age at which men and women are allowed to get married was changed, while other countries are changing their laws so that people can get married regardless of gender.
Yingcheep said that MPs from the Move Forward Party have previously proposed a marriage equality bill, but it has yet to go before parliament. The Civil Partnership bill proposed by the government has also not been added to the parliament’s agenda. Nevertheless, he questioned whether we can rely on parliament to bring about marriage equality.
He said that the problem was not just about Section 1448, but also about other legislation which states that couples only have legal rights if they are legally married, while the law only allows marriage between a man and a woman. Certain welfare services are also extended only to legally married spouses. He said that since these rights are only given to those who are legally married, it is not possible to amend every law, and therefore Section 1448 has to be amended. Meanwhile, the Constitutional Court has postponed a hearing on whether the marriage law violates the Constitution.
Yingcheep said that the next two months are crucial for the movement for marriage equality. He asked that everyone spread the word of how important it is that everyone who decides to spend their lives with another person must have equal rights to be legally married to send a message to the Constitutional Court, because if the Court rules that Section 1448 does not violate the Constitution, then Thailand may never have gender equality.
“So in the next two months, if you have a voice, if you have information, if you have reasons, if you have opportunities, you have to say it as loud as you can. I hope that we won’t have to regret anything later, so that in December, we won’t have to think that we knew we should have talked about it before, because the opportunity is now in our hands,” Yingcheep said. “If we don’t say it loud enough, clear enough, we might not be able to make history. Today, it might not be easy. We may have many things that we have to talk about, like freeing our friends, like democracy, like writing a new constitution, but this is one other thing. If we miss this opportunity, we might regret it later, so I want to leave marriage equality with you. No matter who you are, no matter your gender, no matter the gender of people you love, no matter if you can register your marriage today, there are many of our brothers and sisters who want to register their marriage.”
Activists call for sex workers’ right
Nott (left) and Siri Ninlapruek (right)
Nott, a 5th year medical student, and Siri Ninlapruek, an activist from Feminist’s Liberation Front Thailand, gave a speech calling for sex workers’ rights and welfare.
Siri said that sex work is an ancient profession, and sex workers have always been taken advantage of. They are not accepted and are oppressed by society. She said that sex workers have the right to choose whether to stay in the profession, because it is their right to their own bodies. She noted that the Prevention and Suppression of Prostitution Act is therefore an obstacle to legalizing sex work, as the legislation benefits the authorities’ business.
“Do you know that each day around here, those with power still use their power to oppress but also to ask [sex workers] to provide services for free because they’re in uniform, even though the economic is in decline. It’s difficult to sell even your vaginas. The lowest price is 300 baht right now. Sometimes you have to [work] for 5 days to earn 300 baht,” Siri said.
Nott said that legalization of sex work is so that sex workers can have the rights and welfare that every citizen should get. He said that it does not mean that more people would become sex workers, but if the profession is legalized, sex workers will be able to do their work safely and will be protected from disease and other forms of violation, including threats, extortion, and physical assault.
“While we are calling for democracy and calling for equality, I would like to raise my voice. I ask everyone not to forget about this group of people. Don’t forget sex workers, because they are all Thai citizens just like us. They want welfare. They want protection, and they want the law to see them like all of us,” Siri said.
Student activist shaves head to protest state violence
Ploy (left) and Mimi (right)
Student activists Mimi and Ploy gave a speech about violence against young people. Ploy said that there is no safe space for young people in this country, not even at home. Young people who speak out about politics are judged or cursed by adults, even though they only want to see a better and more equal society, and many times, adults and those with power use violence against young people.
“Many times, the words ‘being good’ and the word ‘gratitude’ are used as tools to oppress children, whether it is making merit to repay the country, repay the land, or even obligations within the home. Many times, these words are used as tools to oppress young people until they no longer have their humanity,” Ploy said.
“If it turns out that that child has faced violence all their lives, and they want to come out and say that politics sucks, that the government sucks, that it caused them to have to face such things, and the adults do this, the adults cursed the child, is this what an adult should do, even though we’re all oppressed by the government?”
Ploy said that she does not want the idea of gratitude to be used to oppress young people, because everyone wants a good life and wants to be respected as a human being. She asked that young people are treated as humans without violence.
Mimi had their head shaved to protest against state violence (Photo by Chana La)
Meanwhile, Mimi said that changing society to become a safer place can start with the home, expanding to the workplace, the community, and the country.
“If you come to protests, calling for equality, calling for safety, but when you get home, you still type comments sexually harassing women, still send pictures of your penis to people on Twitter who do not consent, why the fuck are you here?” Mimi said.
Mimi said that Thai society is still not very aware of safety and bodily autonomy. They said that sex work is currently still a crime, while people who get pregnant still have limited choices. Students are still having their hair cut and their socks confiscated. Gender identities and sexualities are not accepted. There is no state welfare, while indigenous communities are still threatened, and young people protesting at Din Daeng still face violence. Many other people are also left behind due to the pandemic.
“Today, as a young person who thinks that our country can get better if we have democracy, my rebellion will never end,” Mimi announced while cutting their own hair with scissors. “Today, I want to show my condolences to people who have been lost because of the government’s management failure. I’m going to stand with people who are coming out to fight, with all of us, and I will oppose the power that suppresses our right to our own body.”
Mimi announced that they will be shaving their heads until Gen Prayut resigns, and if the next government is still a dictatorship, they will keep their heads shaved to show that the country has never had a democracy. Ploy and two other people then brought hair clippers onto the stage to shave Mimi’s head.
Activists demand repeal of Section 112
Thanapat gave a speech dressed in a Thai Chitralada dress
Thanapat, a member of the activist group Thalufah, gave a speech on the repeal of Section 112, or the royal defamation law, while dressed in a red Thai Chitralada dress. He said that there is a right and freedom to dress as one chooses, and therefore the government has no right to dictate how people dress.
Thanapat said that many people are currently imprisoned on royal defamation charges, even though what they said was criticism of the monarchy, especially when it comes to using the national budget. He asked whether what these people said was wrong, since they spoke out because they want national budget to be used for the benefit of the people. He also said that he believes that if everyone joins in the fight, then Section 112 will be repealed in the future, not just amended.
“When you want to stay in this country, on the same land as the citizens, then you have to listen to the citizens’ voice, both those who dissent and those who love you. Don’t pick and choose. Don’t lock up just dissenters. I don’t see people who stage coups locked up too,” Thanapat said.
Thanapat noted that the late King Bhumibol once said that the monarchy can be criticized, but one has to point out where the monarchy went wrong, meaning that people should be able to criticize the monarchy since the King said so himself. He added that those who criticize the monarchy are using information and facts, which is good for the monarchy. However, Section 112 has been used not only to silence critics, but has also been used by those with a personal conflict or who wish to bully someone else, such as the case where an older sibling filed charges against their own younger sibling.
Thanapat said that it has now become apparent that using royal defamation charges against critics does more harm than good, and the best way out is to repeal the law.
“I want to see Thailand able to criticize everyone in good faith, for everyone to have the same law to be able to protect themselves , not one person above others, because we are a democracy,” Thanapat said.
Labour Network for People’s Right activist Thanaporn Wichan also gave a speech on the expansion of corporations with connections to the Crown Property Bureau, such as Siam Bioscience, which is contracted to produce the AstraZeneca Covid-19 vaccine for Thailand, and a joint venture by various companies to set up a waste power plant in Saraburi. She also asked the labour sector to pay attention to women’s rights and demanded gender justice for women who are limited by the bounds of tradition and must stay faithful to one husband, while such ideas are not applied to men.
Thanaporn also raised questions about domestic violence in relation to the monarchy, giving examples of past incidents where people in the royal family have been punished, and questioned whether it is fair that men are allowed to be polygamous while women must stay faithful.