23 May 2024

Business operators have started granting “rights” to members of Thailand’s LGBT+ community as they continue to wait to be granted legal rights

Thailand is one of the world’s friendliest Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender (LGBT+) countries and it can be proud of its gender diversity. The acceptance shown towards the LGBT+ community is relatively good in the region, but there are still no specific laws that really protect their rights.

Perhaps the closest path to achieving equality is the government’s civil partnership draft bill. If ratified by parliament, Thailand will be the first country in Southeast Asia, and the second in Asia after Taiwan, to legalize same-sex unions. However, despite being approved in July 2020, it is still unclear as to when the draft bill will become an Act.

The current draft bill covers the registration and termination of partnerships between same-sex couples and the rules for property sharing, adoption, and inheritance. However, it does not grant rights in some areas, such as changing sexual identity, tax allowance, and government-related benefits for couples under the law because these involve amendments to other laws.

Many rights activists are skeptical as to whether the bill will ever see the light of the day. “The bill is still pending a nod from the parliament and there are a lot of conservative people. It’s unlikely to pass,” says one gay rights activist.

Despite a delay in promulgating the Civil Partnership bill, Thailand has witnessed a few positive signs along the road to equality. While these do not have legal standing, the new developments significantly increase recognition of LGBT+ individuals and couples. Telecom giant Dtac is one of the private companies to have taken steps. In line with the Scandinavian parent company’s responsible business policy, the company promotes gender diversity and offers a non-discriminatory working environment. “We’ve worked on the same-sex marriage welfare to provide LGBT+ staff with common marriage rights,” says Dtac CEO Sharad Mehrotra

Rainbow Capitalism: Does it hurt or help the LGTBQ+ movement?

Every June, gay people around the world celebrate Pride month to honour, recall and rejoice over LGTBQ activists, whose trailblazers changed the world. The conversation surrounding ‘Rainbow capitalism’, however, also comes up. Although the concept is often in conflict with an increase in opportunity to celebrate the LGBTQ community and the drive towards the concept of gender diversity, many see it as a marketing tactic.

The Scandinavian telecom giant has just announced a rights package that’s generous even compared to the average welfare benefits for heterosexual employees. It includes leave for a period of up to six days per annum for a marriage,  annual leave of up to 7 days a year to take care of (same-sex) partner and child, and paid leave for a month for a sex-change operation.

The announcement has won praise from left and right. Support has been widespread, with many saying that other companies should adopt the same standard. The acceptance of LGBT+ people and providing them equal employee rights is a positive step towards gender equality.

In bygone days, the private sector would be more or less forced to adapt and change in accordance with legal requirements, but in the present world there is no need for government to take the lead: the private sector can put in place its own pioneering strategies without waiting for the law to be passed, which could be too little and too late.

In terms of property rights, LGBT+ individuals can’t co-own a property as a couple until the proposed bill becomes an Act. However, a number of commercial banks are now offering mortgages to LGBTQ customers, allowing them to be co-signatories just as they would a heterosexual couple.

Specifically, UOB further confirmed that LGBTQ customers will not only receive equal service from the bank but also be eligible for promotional offers such as interest rates or exemption of various fees despite not being a registered couple in the eyes of the law.

In addition, Siam Commercial Bank, Kasikornbank, Krungsri, and Standard Chartered Bank now allow LGBTQ couples to co-sign for a house loan. However, details of credit conditions differ from place to place. For example, Krungsri limits LGBT+ loans to real estate projects developed by its customers.

Thailand also made some progress last year when the Ministry of Social Development and Human Security signed an MoU with 39 government agencies and private sector firms including education institutions to prevent gender discrimination. Under the agreement, the parties will strictly follow the guidelines of the Gender Equality Act B.E. 2558 to create workplaces or educational institutes that are accessible to all genders. Thanks to the MoU, the LGBT community can now enjoy a range of rights such as allowing students or employees to dress according to their sexual orientation, job applications, and candidate selections focused on ability and qualifications rather than gender and preventing harassment or sexual harassment in the workplace.

The MoU’s signatories include major Thai conglomerates Charoen Pokphand (CP), SCG, PTT Plc, Saha Pattana Piboon Plc, Krungsri Consumer Plc, Central Group, and the Mass Rapid Transit Authority of Thailand (MRTA) and leading institutions Thammasat and Naresuan universities.

Are these merely baby steps? Maybe. Yet these moves by the business sector are interesting and promising as the LGBT+ community can see some rights are coming their way, even if these are not legal rights. Something is better than nothing. More importantly, the intention behind the developments shows that there is a growing recognition of the LGBT+ in all sectors. That matters. It helps the fight for greater rights enjoyment in the years to come.

By Veena Thoopkrajae