On Monday September 10, 2018, the “National Workshop to Raise Awareness on Sexual Orientation, Gender Identity and Gender Expression in Closed Settings” was hosted and interested by governmental organizations, human rights organizations and Thai media. This workshop was one of the evidences proving that gender equality issue in Thailand is not neglected. The workshop began with the special guests who are now released from their imprisonment and put the great effort to “begin again”. The MC works for LGBTQ rights organization in Pattaya. She interviewed the special guests professionally and led the morning session smoothly as if she is a career hostess or MC. But, no, she is only a person who knows about the issue that this workshop is aiming at so well. This is not only because she is working on promoting LGBTQ rights but also because she is a transgender woman. And of course both of the special guests that morning are transgender people.
The challenges that the special guests told at this workshop were not something new. However, these experiences they shared illustrated the word “discrimination” in prison for people on the other side of the bars explicitly. According to Khun Zeed, the transgender woman guest, transgender women in prison are frequently bullied and abused both physically and sexually by other inmates. This problem suggests that problem of space organizing in male prisons is something we should reconsider cautiously. Transgender women are women and therefore, should be treated as women. Male and female inmates are imprisoned separately to prevent some disorders. The transgender women in prison should have the separated-from-men space accordingly. This discrimination also suggests that stigmatization towards LGBTQ people does still exist and hold its stand firmly in Thai society despite the effort to put an end to it. “The inmates once were members of our society. Before the prison, they shared the same society with us. After the prison, they return to this same society”, said Verapun Ngammee, the Secretary of OZONE foundation. His statement supports the point that we should be open-minded and give all former inmates the chance to reintegrate into society. For me, this statement does not only convince me to discard a prejudice against transgender inmates, sadly, it also reminds me that the discrimination these people encounter inside and outside the prisons are developed and passed on by people in the society like us.
This workshop might not give the one and only key to solve the problem of gender inequality in prison. But, it was a place where officials from the Department of Corrections and other organizations came to talk and tried to find the best solution for the transgender inmates.
Intira Pooncharoen was a literature student. She has been fascinated by the idea of equality and hopes her words will be another step on the ladder helping her society to reach equality.