This article by Teeranai Charuvastra was originally published by Prachatai, an independent news site in Thailand, and an edited version is republished by Global Voices under a content-sharing agreement.
After a hiatus of nearly two decades, the Pride Parade returned to Bangkok, Thailand, on June 5 with a bang, drawing crowds of LGBTQ+ community members, sex workers, feminists, political dissidents, and even corporate advocates.
The event was so successful that even its organizers were taken by surprise, they told Prachatai English in an 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.
In an interview with Prachatai English, the team behind the Pride Parade shared their assessment of the event; 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 in their favor.
The “Naruemit” Pride Parade, meaning “creation” in Thai, included speeches, drag shows, and dance parties throughout the day. No official attendance data was released, but one of the organizers said the event drew an estimated 10,000 participants.
Longtime gender equality advocate Chumaporn “Waaddao” Taengkliang said:
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 agendas.
There were even politicians, and the most prominent was the newly-electedBankok Governor Chadchart Sittipunt, who pledged to support the Pride Parade from the night of his May 31 electoral victory.
The few, the proud
The diversity celebrated by the June 5 parade was also readily apparent among the organizers.
The planning committee was made up of Bangkokians, northeasterners, and southerners. One identifies as a trans-non-binary, another as an intersex, while another uses “ze” as their preferred pronouns. Most have been involved in gender equality and LGBTQ+ rights campaigns for years, but for some, it was their first time organizing an event.
Methawee Pannon, a 4th-year student from Khon Kaen University, shared their reflections:
Before this, I was just an outsider. 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. It gave me a really good first impression. It’s so different from what I experienced from the outside.
The same views were expressed by many of the organizers: 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.
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 related to the global June Pride month, said Waaddao, an activist who also runs a group called Togetherness for Equality and Action (TEA).
In this sense, she said, the June 5 parade was the first of its kind for the capital. 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 [Thai currency],” Waaddao recalled. Later, word spread to other groups in the close-knit circle of LGBTQ+ and feminist activists. A total of THB 400,000 (USD 11,350) was raised to fund the parade. Funding came from pro-equality advocacy organizations, donations from the public, and proceeds from ticket sales for afterparties.
The organizers adopted what they called “power-sharing” management as opposed to a hierarchical management style. There was no official leader or spokesperson. During interviews, 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 public acceptance to the public endorsement given by Governor Chadchart, who attended several events prior to the June 5 parade. Waaddao said:
Chadchart’s support was a critical factor. The Chadchart effect is still strong. It helped to mobilize people. Even though Chadchart didn’t organize 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 June 5, police officers cordoned off the march route, and directed traffic flows throughout the heart of the Silom District. State 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.
Even more surprising for Naruemit organizers, 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.
According to organizers, the near-universal support for the march was nonetheless marred by hostility from the government. The Department of Health attempted to fan public fears that the monkeypox disease may spread in Thailand because of foreign tourists attending the Pride Parade.
The World Health Organization declared such fears to be unfounded, but that didn’t stop government spokespeople 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 Feminist Mermaids.
Pride beyond Bangkok
The success of Naruemit was enough to encourage organizers to focus on other Pride events outside of Bangkok. They are already discussing holding a march in the Hat Yai district of Songkhla province on June 26 and another in Khon Kaen province on June 30.
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.
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.”