A parade for liberty and human rights

Photo by MastaBabaLesbians, gays, bisexuals and transgendered people (LGBTs) took to the streets in Chiang Mai, Thailand on January 26 for the city’s first Gay Pride Parade.

The march was held to mark the end of the two-day 3rd International Lesbian and Gay Association (ILGA) – Asia Regional Conference and was designed to promote the rights of LGBTs.

More than 300 LGBTs from 15 Asian countries marched together in beautiful Thai Lanna costumes and other colourful outfits, under the gaze of a smiling and interested crowd.

“The march was not a tourist promotion or commercial gay bar promotion,” said Aung Myo Min, a prominent gay activist from Myanmar and leader of the conference. “We were campaigning for people's rights.”

“The conference organizers received great support from local authorities of Thailand, especially in Chiang Mai, to allow us to have the parade,” said Aung Myo Min. “Some media came and there have been messages across to the public on the issues.”

Aung Myo Min also discussed his concern over perceptions of the connection between the LGBT community and HIV.

“Many LGBTs lack access to HIV, AIDS and TB [tuberculosis] medical services and there's a need to raise awareness among the group,” Aung Myo Min said. “It is important to let people know that AIDS is not a gay disease.”

Duangkamol Donchaum, a local activist with Partners Thailand, a national partnership platform providing information, dialogue and advocacy on HIV and TB issues in Thailand, said the parade also provided the opportunity to promote a greater awareness among Thais of both LGBTs and HIV-related issues.

“The parade received a great response from people,” said Duangkamol. “I think if we can reduce stigma and discrimination between people in society it will be a positive move for people’s rights.

“LGBTs will able to reveal themselves as LGBTs and live their lives with more confidence . . . This could help them to get better access to services, and information on HIV,” she said.

Gay activist, Pongpeera Patapeerapong from MPlus said, “HIV not only affects LGBTs but also the general public . . . The public also know about HIV but not many people take prevention seriously. We should raise awareness and encourage serious action in every group, not only among LGTBs.”

The main aim of the conference was to facilitate dialogue between LGBT community organizations across Asia on issues relating to human rights, stigma and the link between LGBT communities and the HIV epidemic.

“We are trying to find a social space, to show who we are, and to use this space to negotiate for equality in diversity, which is our theme,” said Pongthorn Chanlearn, Mplus’ project manager.

“Now this space has been opened up for people from different cultures and groups,” Pongthorn said, adding that societies were becoming increasingly accepting of LGBTs.

“If we compare nowadays to few years ago, I would say we have developed quite a lot in terms of open discussion on sex and gender and people reveal themselves [as LGBTs] much more than before,” said Pongthorn.

“People understand the issues much better and that’s why we have this kind of organization and activity in Chiang Mai . . . It’s a good opportunity to work with several groups of LGBTs from several countries . . . this will help us to move in the same direction for the same public issues.”

Aung Myo Min said that deliberations from the conference would be compiled into a document that would be passed on to national governments.

“We will have another conference in June, in Quebec, Canada. There will be an election of board members, and male and female representatives. All the discussions and resolutions we had here will be presented more at that conference."

Jittima Jantanamalaka-CNS