The bitter truth behind Thailand's gay-friendly image

Siraphob Thanthong-Knight
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The latest research suggests more than half of us believe homosexuality is morally wrong – a prejudice that’s reflected in the law
In Bangkok’s lively Silom district, customers pile into a small, noisy gay bar on a busy Saturday night. Chakgai Jermkwan and his partner Sean L’Estrange co-own the popular venue, which is located on a narrow soi lined with gay bars.

The couple have been together for eight years and were legally married three years ago in Boston, Massachusetts.

"We are a married couple in the US but here in Thailand, we are just two friends in the eye of the law," Chakgai says. "If something bad happened to him tomorrow, I wouldn’t have a say in anything," Sean adds. "I would be nothing."

Thailand welcomes lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) visitors: its tourism authority targets the LGBT market, and Bangkok is often the only Asian city included on lists of gay-friendly tourist destinations around the world. There is no law against homosexuality in Thailand, in contrast to some of its regional neighbours.

However, Thai society is less accepting of its own lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender communities. Among Thais between 15 and 24 years old, 56 per cent think homosexuality is wrong, according to recent research by Khon Thai Foundation, a non-profit organisation. By comparison, more than 70 per cent of young people in Japan, South Korea, the Philippines and western European countries think that homosexuality should be accepted by society at large, according to the Pew Research Centre, an American think-tank.

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