Organisers of the Naruemit Pride Parade pose for photos in Bangkok on 6 June, 2022. 

‘Not stopping here’ – Meet the team behind the Bangkok Pride Parade 

After a hiatus of nearly two decades, the Pride Parade returned to Bangkok last Sunday with a bang, drawing crowds of LGBTQ community members, sex workers, feminists, political dissidents, and even corporate representatives. 

The event was so successful that even its organisers were taken by surprise, they told Prachatai English in an exclusive interview. Emboldened by the overwhelming reception, they are now aiming to expand the fight for gender equality beyond Bangkok by staging similar Pride campaigns across the country.

Members of the LGBTQ community and their supporters take part in the Pride March in Bangkok on June 5, 2022.

Inside a hotel room in Bangkok’s Silom neighbourhood, bottles of water and half-eaten convenience store noodles are scattered about. Some of the glasses still have Pepsi in them. The room’s weary-eyed occupants moved about cleaning up the mess. 

Were it not for the piles of rainbow banners, scarves and flags, the scene would look like any morning after a typical party or sleepover.  This was the morning after Bangkok witnessed its largest Pride Parade in living memory, where an estimated of 10,000 people marched through the Silom district, calling for legal recognition of same-sex marriage and other rights. 

And it was here, from this hotel room, that the event was discussed, planned, and organised in minute detail by a crew as diverse and colourful as the parade itself. Three of the organisers, 18 and 19-year-olds, were so young that they could not enter the bar where the afterparty was held. Another was an activist based in Surin province who spent the last 30 years advocating for LGBTQ rights. 

Rubbing her eyes and looking visibly exhausted in her pajamas, one of the organisers apologised for stammering through a series of questions from a reporter; like the others, she hasn’t had a full night’s sleep for a week.

“ A request for you journalists - can you please interview us in the afternoon next time?” said one, to the laughter of others in the room. 

In an interview with Prachatai English, the team behind the ‘Naruemit’ Pride Parade shared their assessment of why the event was a bigger success than expected; how they managed to win such widespread support in a largely conservative Thailand; and how the recent election of Chadchart Sittipunt as the new Governor of Bangkok tipped public support decisively into their favour. 

The network of activists, feminists, and students also revealed their plan to organise similar Pride Parades in the south and the northeast – the first in those regions – to raise awareness about LGBTQ rights in other parts of Thailand besides the metropolis. 

“The  LGBTQ community is not limited to Bangkok. We are everywhere,” Rasika Klinmak, a 19-year-old medical student from Khon Kaen, said during the interview. “We just have to let each other know that we have friends, that we exist.” 

The Pride Parade, held under the name Naruemit or “creation” in Thai, set out from the Sri Maha Mariamman Hindu temple at around 15.30 before ending in front of the red light district at Silom Soi 2. Speeches, drag shows, and dance parties continued into the night. No official figure of attendance was released, but one of the organisers said that the event had an estimated 10,000 participants. 

“Actually we had to start the march earlier than scheduled, because the crowd was getting larger in the back than we anticipated,” longtime gender equality advocate Chumaporn “Waaddao” Taengkliang said. 

Members of the LGBTQ community and their supporters take part in the Pride March in Bangkok on June 5, 2022.

“I felt really proud. It’s an empowering experience, to know that what we did brought a bit of life back to our city and its people. And I was really touched, because I could feel that people had fun and hope, taking pride in the diversity of gender identities.”

The parade attracted a wide array of participants, from members of the LGBTQ community and their supporters, to women’s rights activists, foreign tourists, sex workers, advocates for same sex marriage, and critics of the government who used the march to voice their political slogans. 

There were even politicians, including Redshirt leader Nattawut Saikua and Thai Sang Thai Party’s Sita Divari. The most prominent, without a doubt, was the newly elected Gov. Chadchart, who has pledged to support the Pride Parade from the night of his electoral victory. 

“We may never know the full extent of our diversity, but we are all Bangkokians. In that regard, we are not different from each other at all,” Chadchart told reporters at the event. “This is the beauty of diversity. We acknowledge our differences, but we are not hostile to each other. We can still love, understand and care for each other. We respect and honour each other. We are all equal.” 

The Few, the Proud 

The diversity celebrated by the 5 June parade was also readily apparent within the crew behind it. 

They are Bangkokians, northeasterners and southerners. One identifies as a trans non-binary, another as an intersex, while another used “ze” as their preferred pronoun. Most have been involved in gender equality and LGBTQ rights campaigns for years, but for some, it was their first time organising an event. 

“Before this, I was  just an outsider,” said Methawee Pannon, a 4th year student from Khon Kaen University, “I just signed my name on petitions and retweeted other people’s posts. But now I’ve seen and learned so much about the details of preparation.”

Members of the LGBTQ community and their supporters take part in the Pride March in Bangkok on June 5, 2022.

The newly initiated activist added, “It gave me a really good first impression. It’s so different from what I experienced from the outside.” 

The same views were were expressed by many of the organisers: they were pleasantly surprised by the parade turnout and warm reception from the public and the media. 

“It was really beyond my expectations. When we started planning, we didn’t know that this many people would come out to walk with us,” said Jingjai Jingjit, a 34-year-old member of ‘Feminist Mermaids,’ a women’s rights group based in Songkhla province. 

Another organiser, Chayada Boonrod, 27, chimed in, “I think people have been wanting this in their hearts for a long time now. The time was ripe for them to come out and express themselves. I think the timing was right on the mark.” 

Processions and rallies in support of LGBTQ rights have been held in Thailand before, with the last one taking place in Bangkok in 2006. But they were either styled as gay parades or events marking the International Day Against Homophobia, Biphobia and Transphobia, not as the Pride activity exclusive to the global Pride months, said Waaddao, an activist who also runs a group called Togetherness for Equality and Action (TEA).

In this sense, she said, the 5 June parade was the first of its kind for the capital. 

“We didn’t have a lot of time to prepare actually,” Waaddao said. “Someone raised a question a few months ago, ‘Pride Month is coming, what should we do?’ There were suggestions that maybe we could do something indoors. But others felt that an indoor event  was not enough, that we should march on the street. We had to make ourselves visible and heard. That’s the point of Pride.” 

Members of the LGBTQ community and their supporters take part in the Pride March in Bangkok on June 5, 2022.

She added that a Pride Parade was about  more than just gender equality. “This is democracy: we needed to take to the streets and call for our rights to be respected. We wanted to practice street democracy.” 

The first planning meeting for the parade had “fewer than 10 people, and  0 baht,” Waaddao recalled. Later, word spread to other groups in the close-knit circle of LGBTQ and feminist activists. A total of 400,000 baht was raised to  host the parade. Funding came from pro-equality advocacy organisations, donations from the public, and proceeds from ticket sales for afterparties.   

The organisers adopted what they called “power-sharing” management as opposed to a management hierarchy. There was no official leader or spokesperson. During the interview, the team members repeatedly stressed that the parade was a collective effort. For this reason, they also tried to avoid media interviews that involved individual  representatives of the group. 

The Chadchart Effect

Team members also credited the large turnout and welcoming attitude of local authorities to the public endorsement given by Gov. Chadchart, who attended several warmup events prior to the 5 June parade. 

“Chadchart’s support was a critical factor,” Waaddao said. “The Chadchart effect is still strong. It helped to mobilise people. Even though Chadchart didn’t organise the parade, he helped to build the impression that our activity was supported by the city.” 

With the head of the Bangkok government hierarchy fully behind the march, support from the authorities soon followed. On 5 June, police officers cordoned off the march route and directed traffic flows throughout the heart of Silom. District officials and medical workers were also deployed to provide support.

The outcome was a rarity in Thailand, where demonstrations are routinely obstructed or violently dispersed.

Bangkok Gov. Chadchart Sittipunt talks to reporters at the Pride March in Bangkok on June 5, 2022.

Even more surprising, for Naruemit organisers, was the show of solidarity from the private sector, including some of Thailand’s largest corporations, which usually shy away from advocacy and civil movements. The march included floats and mascots from Pizza Company, Mini Cooper Thailand, Bumrungrad Hospital, Bitkub, among others.

Organisers attributed the phenomenon to Chadchart’s endorsement, which likely helped to convince many businesses that the event could be supported without political repercussions. 

“We wanted the event to be acceptable to  all sides,” 18-year-old Tawanrat Boonyanuwat said. “If we came out explicitly as three-finger activists, the event would have been attacked for sure. But if others brought their political activism to the event, then it couldn’t be helped.” 

Signs calling for the ouster of PM Prayut Chan-o-cha and the abolition of the royal defamation law did find their way into the march on 5 June. Waaddao said that the team didn’t mind their presence, but made sure that the speeches and communications of parade organisers were focused solely on LGBTQ agendas.  

“I don’t think we bowed down [to censorship],” she said. “This is how we saw things: it was alright to not speak about issues like Article 112 for just one day, as we’ve spoken about it a lot on other days already, and we will continue to speak out about it on other days. Thinking like this kept us from feeling guilty.” 

A sign calling for PM Prayut Chan-o-cha’s resignation hangs above the Pride March in Bangkok on June 5, 2022.

According to organisers, the near-universal support for the march was nonetheless marred by hostility from the government. Attempts were made by the Department of Health to fan public fears that the monkeypox disease may spread in Thailand because of foreign tourists attending the Pride Parade. 

The World Health Organisation declared such fears to be unfounded, but that didn’t stop government spokespersons from repeating the warning to the media.

“I wasn’t surprised that they would try to paint us in that light. But I was very angry to see it,” said Jingjai, the activist from the south’s Feminist Mermaids.

Pride Beyond Bangkok

The success of Naruemit was enough to encourage the crew to look forward to other Pride events in other parts of Thailand. Two marches are already being discussed: one in the Hat Yai district of Songkhla province on 26 June, and another in Khon Kaen province on 30 June – capping the end of Pride Month. 

“The Pride movement doesn’t just stop here in Bangkok,” said Ratanon “Charlotte” Kuiyoksuy, a 19-year-old feminist activist who recently graduated from a high school in southern Thailand. 

But expanding the fight beyond Bangkok comes with its own challenges, including potential resistance from people in more conservative parts of the country. Just 10 years ago, a gay parade in Chiang Mai was forced to cancel after protests from local residents.

“There’s still a lack of understanding out there,” Charlotte said. “I guess there’ll be people who scold us or mock us. But at least it won’t be as dangerous as organising a political protest. But it won’t be completely safe either. There will probably be harassment, inappropriate comments and mockery coming our way. We already expect it.” 

Others said they’re confident that times have changed and Thailand is now more ready than ever to embrace diversity. 

“Of course I think about the risk. I suppose it is  normal that our event will be attacked by some people,” Jingjai said. “But we’ll host the parade in a friendly way. I don’t think there will be a big backlash.” 

She added, “I think Thai people are becoming more conscious about their rights now.”

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