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Championing change

Championing change

When Jasmin* transferred to Pibulwitthayalai School in Lop Buri, Sutep Upayak, a guidance counsellor and admissions committee member, learned she had been diagnosed with gender dysphoria by a psychiatrist. She wore male student uniforms at her former school and due to her condition, her parents allowed her to undergo hormone therapy at a hospital.

Sutep, who is also the founder of the PB LGBT Community Center school club, sent a memo to the director of Pibulwitthayalai School regarding Jasmin’s uniform which led to a meeting involving various departments to address the issue. Following the meeting, it was decided that Jasmin could wear a gender-neutral uniform to school.

“I wanted to make it a case study. After the meeting, Jasmin told me that she was comfortable wearing the physical education uniform, but she did not want to purchase more. Therefore, she continued wearing a male uniform to school. The school director, the Student Affairs Department and most teachers support students wearing attire that aligns with their gender identity rather than their birth sex. However, attire and hairstyle must be appropriate,” said Sutep.

The case of Jasmin is an example of a community that supports and understands LGBTI people. However, according to a 2022 research conducted by Save the Children (Thailand), Thammasat University and Srinakharinwirot University, most young LGBTI experience mental health issues.

An activity related to marriage equality organised by PB LGBT Community Center. Photos courtesy of Sutep Upayak

The research, which surveyed 3,094 LGBTI participants online and interviewed 38 of them, aged 15 to 24 years old, revealed that 42.4% were forced to change their sexual identity by family members (33.6%), educational institution officials (15.4%), people in community (6.4%), religious leaders (1.7%), people at workplaces (1.4%) and healthcare staff (0.5%).

Many LGBTI are also victims of violence; 36% of participants experienced online bullying, 57.9% experienced in-person sexual harassment, 53.4% experienced online sexual harassment, 31.4% experienced physical abuse and 75.8% were made fun of.

To address issues and find solutions for young LGBTI, an online forum “Mental Health In Young LGBTI: Issues And Solutions” was organised by the Center of Excellence in Research on Gender, Sexuality and Health.

Ratiphum Sosut, a student at Watsutharam School, told the forum that students and teachers in the school accept LGBTI kids which encourages him and other students to feel comfortable expressing themselves and showcasing their potential. He also mentioned that he is allowed to use the female restroom which aligns with his gender identity.

“Allowing LGBTI people to use female restrooms is not common practice. I feel comfortable and safe at school. I was sometimes bullied by other students, but I am proud of myself and can overcome those negative comments,” said Ratiphum.

Sutep said the PB LGBT Community Center was established in 2019 after he had been at Pibulwitthayalai School for three years.

“Students and I were inspired by a memo from a school in Bangkok that allowed students to dress in alignment with their gender identity. I believe that there will be a positive change and I hope to provide support to LGBTI students. When there was an LGBTI student president who had the potential to communicate the issues, we established the PB LGBT Community Center,” said Sutep.

Members of the PB LGBT Community Center. Photos:

Starting an official school club relating to LGBTI is not easy. Sutep said his achievement happened because the Pibulwitthayalai School director gave the green light.

“We were fortunate to have a visionary director who recognised the changing social landscape. Most teachers and parents in the school do not have any issue with LGBTI students. However, some teachers expressed negative attitudes towards LGBTI and the club, but as a coordinator, I understand that we cannot change everyone’s attitudes,” he said.

“Every activity organised by LGBTI students has been supported by administrators. However, I heard that LGBTI students in some schools in Lop Buri were not allowed to organise any competitions and activities because administrators were worried they may influence other students. Activities organised by the PB LGBT Community Center emphasise on presenting their attitude and not physical appearance.”

To strengthen their network, the PB LGBT Community Center has collaborated with Pink Monkey, an organisation that supports sexual diversity.

“Pink Monkey representatives visited our school to share knowledge about mental health, sexual health and how to live in a diverse society. In the first year, they provided some financial support which enabled students to participate in activities outside school,” he said.

When asked about the two most important issues that LGBTI students encounter, Sutep said the first is expressing themselves through their clothing and hair. The second issue is the pressure that LGBTI people face due to their gender identity.

Members of the PB LGBT Community Center. Photos:

“The first issue involves disagreements between students and uniform regulations provided by the Ministry of Education. However, Pibulwitthayalai School is flexible in allowing student’s self expression, except for in graduation photos which require students to dress according to their biological gender. I have to explain to students and assist them in dressing appropriately for graduation photos. In some cases, we provided a wig and they agreed with the arrangement,” explained Sutep.

“LGBTI people are often told they must focus more on their studies than others. This puts them under pressure. They deserve the same treatment as other students.”

There are 50 students who have signed up to PB LGBT Community Center. However, when the club organises activities, participants are not limited to only LGBTI students. Sutep is proud that the club is a safe space for diverse members.

For other schools that wish to establish a diverse community, Sutep recommends they gain support from teachers and students who share a similar understanding and attitude before proposing the idea to school administrators.

“Approaching an administrator can be difficult. Students from another school in Lop Buri told me that they proposed the idea of having a LGBTI club similar to Pibulwitthayalai School. However, their administrator dismissed the idea, calling it nonsense, which was an extremely negative comment. I advised students to wait until this administrator transfers to another school. While Thailand seems to be a country open to LGBTI people, there are restrictive conditions in some areas,” he said.

“As a teacher, I want to emphasise equality. I support every student and understand that every gender has his/her own problem. Everyone experiences sadness, happiness, failure and success regardless of their gender identity. I believe in equality for all and I am committed to supporting all students equally.”

Members of the PB LGBT Community Center. Photos:

* Not her real name

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