CHIANGRAI TIMES – The two sit hand-in hand on the beach, their small bikinis getting onlookers, both male and female, as the couple relaxes and soaks in the hot sun a few hours south of the Thai capital, Bangkok.
Here, the two 20-year-old lesbians live in relative safety. Isabelle and Monica – they use Western names here in this resort – have been together for two years, and believe they will be a couple for many years to come.
“We are in love and we like to come to the beach here because there is less fear of violence and anger toward us because of who we are,” said Isabella, the more outgoing of the pair. She told Bikyamasr.com that “life for gay couples in Thailand is difficult, and even more so for women because of social expectations.”
Among those expectations is to find a husband and get married, have children and care for the family.
“I never liked men, even though I forced myself in high school to go out with a few, but it wasn’t for me,” chimed in Monica. “Now I am happy.”
But for the growing “out” lesbians in Thailand, life is not so simple. There is still violence meted out at them regularly, and the government seems unwilling to intervene.
In December, the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights published a landmark report identifying that violence against LGBT people “tends to be especially vicious compared to other bias-motivated crimes.”
The report continued to say that states have an “obligation to exercise due diligence” to investigate and prosecute such crimes.
Thailand is a country often assumed to be LGBT friendly because of the tolerance that is part of Thai Buddhism and massive tourism, but human rights advocates are protesting a pattern of killings of lesbians and ‘tomboys.’ ‘Tom’ is a specifically Thai gender identity where lesbian women dress, act and speak in a masculine fashion.
Most of the killings have been dismissed by police as “love gone sour” or the fault of the victims.
Monica says the pair, although “we are quite feminine, I mean look at us. We might as well be naked here, we do have friends that have been targeted and it is very scary.”
The UN has verified information in 15 murder cases over the last few years, the youngest of whom was 17. In addition to being stabbed multiple times, suffocated, strangled, or shot to death, many of the lesbians and toms had also been raped. In two cases of double homicides, lesbian couples were killed by men who objected to their relationship and felt rebuffed when their attempts at coercing one partner into a heterosexual relationship failed.
24-year-old Nurisan Chedurame was described as a tomboy by those who knew her and in the media. Last December, she was found dead near her village’s garbage dump with her head smashed in. A three-inch club was found at the crime scene. Relatives said that Nurisan had not returned from being out with friends the night before. Thai media quote police as suspecting she was killed because “she was involved with women.”
Also in December, the body of 25-year-old tomboy Kanchana Changkwian was found two months after she went missing. In that case, police speculated that she had been raped and murdered “for becoming involved with a married woman.”
In another case from last year a ‘tom’ was murdered by her girlfriend’s ex-boyfriend. Parents and relatives of the girlfriend had opposed the relationship, and despite threats against the tom, had failed to stop the couple from continuing to see each other. The mother of the girlfriend engineered the murder of the tom and promised to marry off her daughter to the ex-boyfriend who committed the murder.
For Monica and Isabella, they might be among the lucky young women who have not been ostracized by their parents, who are able to travel and enjoy their relationship as any other, but they are keenly aware of the struggle facing other lesbians in the country.
“We want action and we want safety for all Thai people, no matter who people are having sex with. I mean, really, it doesn’t involve others, but the government and police need to start doing more,” Isabella said. – Suwadi Silva