Nobody is safe from bullying against LGBTQ youth
Stereotypical representation of LGBTQ people in Thailand, especially gay men and trans-women, portrays them as vividly cheerful characters. Opposed to such image, one study found that male sexual minority students in Thailand are 4 times more likely to attempt suicide and 2 times more likely to be at risk for depression compared to their peers. The phenomenon is potentially linked to various forms of abuse they had to endure.
“Some (male students) would put their hands in my clothes. One time, I was pushed and forced into a toilet. Then he opened his pants’ zip and tried to force me to give him a blowjob. I screamed very loudly, so he went away”
The narrative above was recalled by a 17-year-old transgender student in Bangkok. This is only one of extreme cases where LGBTQ students encountered sexual abuse. In less extreme situations, LGBTQ students were either teased or bullied by their non-LGBTQ peers. Name-calling and mockery were common and physical assault were not rare.
Not only bullied by their peers, LGBTQ students were also discriminated by teachers and school policies. A gay high-school students told us a story when he ran for president of the student council:
“I won. But, one of the senior students came in and told me that they recounted the votes and found that some of the ballots which voted for me were voided. That made me lose. And they appointed someone else as the president. Afterwards, I confronted him again and asked for the truth. He told me that I actually won the election. But because I’m gay, the teachers were afraid that I’d bring shame to the school.”
According to another study by UNESCO and Mahidol University, eight out of ten high-school students had been teased or bullied in one way or another. Among those, more than one-third of the incidences were caused because the victims were seen as LGBTQ. That is, non-LGBTQ students whose expressed identities do not conform the gender norm, thus seen as LGBTQ by others, were also being bullied because of their perceived gender identity as well.
Such victimizations against students who were seen as LGBTQ put them into a more precarious situation than those who were victimized for other reasons. The UNESCO-Mahidol study found that students who were victimized because they were seen as LGBTQ, whether or not they actually are, were almost 6 times more likely to attempt suicide and almost 4 times more likely to be depressed.
So, LGBTQ bullying is not only about LGBTQ people. As seen in the figure on the left, almost 30% of Thai students were affected by it. But how are we doing so far about the issue?
In Thailand, although the Child Protection Act was enacted in 2003, it does not explicitly address bullying, but only mentions torture as an act conducted by adults to children. Although the Ministry of Education has established student protection centers in 2012 to holistically assist and help students, currently there is no evidence regarding the mechanism’s efficiency in addressing bullying.
Although comprehensive sexuality education is required by law to be taught at school, topics regarding sexual minorities are being covered way less than they should.
On the community level, especially within school communities, gay-straight alliances or similar structures do not exist in Thailand. Nor do secondary schools in Thailand have concrete policies to address bullying problems, especially when a bullying event is based on perceived sexual minority status. When measures against bullying exist, they tend to be ad hoc to solve certain bullying cases that emerged, while lacking systematic approach.
It is about time that we address bullying and especially LGBTQ bullying more seriously.
Until then, it may be safe to say... that nobody is safe.
1. Sopitarchasak, S., Kihara, M., Soe, K. M., & Ono-Kihara, M. (2017). Disparities in Mental Well-being between Non-Minority and Sexual Minority Male Youth in Bangkok, Thailand: Quantitative Findings from a Mixed Method Study. Journal of Population and Social Studies [JPSS], 25(2), 83-98.
2. Sopitarchasak, S., Samakkeekarom, R., Techasrivichien, T., Suguimoto, S. P., Tharawan, K., Kihara, M., & Ono-Kihara, M. (2015). Victimization against non-heterosexual male adolescents in bangkok : A qualitative study. Social Science Asia, 1(4), 61–76.
3. Mahidol University, Plan International, & UNESCO. (2014). Bullying targeting secondary school students who are or are perceived to be transgender or same-sex attracted: Types, prevalence, impact, motivation and preventive measures in 5 provinces of Thailand. Bangkok.