Social Welfare Management and Development for Elderly LGBT in Thailand (1)


The number of LGBT (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender) citizens in Thailand has continuously increased yet many of them do not receive comprehensive and adequate social welfare support for their basic needs. According to Chanwalee Srisukoh (MD) (2012; cited in Thai Health Foundation 2012) 6% of the Thai population or about 3.5 million people are identified as LGBT. LGBT citizens do not have access to basic and fundamental rights as heterosexuals. These include rights to purchase health insurance without special requests, such as the submission of blood test for HIV/AIDS and sexually transmitted diseases, rights to official marriage, and to adopt children. These limitations are main barriers for LGBT to access social welfare related to their health and security in old age.

Social welfare providers in Thailand are concerned about the well-being and security of elderly LGBT. In collaboration with several NGOs pushing for LGBT rights in Thailand, they have drafted a new social welfare regulation. This regulation stipulates gender equality as critical concern in the provision and management of social welfare especially for elderly LGBT.

The paper evaluates and analyzes this regulation, through a disciplinal background on social work and social welfare management principle, and weighs its weaknesses and strengths in promoting and providing social welfare to LGBT in Thailand. Interviews with NGO staff promoting the rights of LGBT were conducted to gain more information on the pragmatic application of such regulation to relevant agencies. Several cases relating to regulation implementation are examined to better understand elderly LGBT’s basic needs.

Key words: elderly LGBT, social welfare, gender equality, Thailand

Methods and Data Collection

This paper uses a number of reports and articles done by international organizations working on LGBT rights, LGBT movement and social welfare for elderly LGBT at national and international levels such as the Service and Advocacy for Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual and Transgender Elders (SAGE) and the Alternative Media for SOGI Rights (SAPAAN). Reports and articles cited in this paper are updated and published from 2005 to 2014. Together with a review of literature, the author conducted in-depth interviews with key informants, such as LGBT activists, human rights activists, and professor of social work and social welfare management. Some information is from previous LGBT studies by the author. This combined are analyzed to examine the possibility and efficacy of social welfare development for elderly LGBT in Thailand.

Understandings of LGBT in Thailand

LGBT stands for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender and is used to describe

"…a person’s sexual orientation and collectively include women and men who are predominantly or sometimes attracted to individuals of the same sex. The term transgender is independent of sexual orientation and describes those whose gender identity (their inner sense of being male or female) and/or gender expression (their behavior, clothing, haircut, voice and body characteristics) do not match the stereotypes associated with the gender assigned to them at birth—and who often live as members of the ‘opposite sex.’" (MAP and SAGE 2010, 1)

The term LGBT is quite new to Thai society. In Thailand, "sexual diversity group" has been recently utilized to represent LGBT but this term is limited to academia and policy makers. Thais have informally used the term katoey for years to refer to a ‘trans-woman’ or male to female transgender person. Katoey refers to a male who seems to embody the characteristics of the opposite sex. In the vernacular, katoey arebiological males who lived socially as women (Potiwan 2009). , The term lady boy is katoey’s equivalent in English (Angloinfo 2014). Missouri Foundation for Health (Winter 2012) stated that "…In some studies, the terms "men who have sex with men" (MSM) and "women who have sex with women" (WSW) were found. These terms however, have been used for people who engage in same-sex sexual behavior, regardless of identity.. In certain cases such as those of sex workers, heterosexual people by identity may have same-sex sexual behavior. Hence, references to both MSM (men who have sex with men) and WSM (women who have sex with women) are excluded from this study.

Chanwalee Srisukoh (MD) (2012 cited in Thai Health Foundation 2012) estimates that 6% of Thai population or about 3.5 million people are identified LGBT. The Williams Institute in the US (2011; cited in MIH 2012) reported that 3.3% of women and 3.6% of men are identified as LGBT while 0.3% is transgender.

Thailand is often imagined as ‘heaven’ for of homosexuals, a place where they are readily accepted (Lefevre 2013). A number of LGBTs especially katoey (transgender/ MTF and gay), are well-known in the entertainment industry and many LGBT couples can be seen in city areas. These suggest a fair number of LGBT citizens in Thailand. The visibility of LGBT however, does not represent social acceptance. LGBT occupations are mostly limited to entertainment and design industries. The quote below from an entertainment industry worker affirms that LGBTs are often stereotyped as belonging to specific fields of work, their talents and capabilities thought limited to these arenas.

"…The entertainment industry accepts us with open arms because we poke fun at ourselves and make people laugh. But if we want to be taken seriously in a field like medicine, we are not afforded the same courtesy…" (Pramoj na Ayutthaya 2013; cited in ASTV 2013)

Discrimination against LGBT persists in Thailand and further leads to crimes or violence resulting from homophobia[1], biphobia[2] and transphobia[3]. According to Sao-Sao-Ed[4]/ FOR SOGI project, about 6,000 cases of violence against LGBT had been reported from 1998 to 2012 in Thailand (The Fund for Global Human Rights 2012). Of course, there are unreported crimes and violence against LGBT. "...My relative was beaten by her parents because they found that she was katoey ..." (Opor interview, my translation, 14 January 2014)

Social stigma, sanction and discrimination are significant obstacles for LGBT in receiving appropriate services from public and private sectors. This condition worsens as LGBT ages and become part of society’s elderly population.

In general, elderly people are those aged 60 and over (UNFPA 2008; TGRI and CPC 2011); while some sources categorizing elderly people aged 65 and over (MAP and SAGE 2010; Department of Health – MOPH 2014). Review of literature confirms that Thailand is an aging society. According to UNFPA (2008), more than one in four Thais is likely to be 60 or older in a few decades. Moreover, in just a little more than another decade, persons age 60 and older will exceed those under age 15 for the first time in Thailand’s history NSO (2011; cited in TGRI and CPC 2011).

This shows the comparative proportion of elderly people in Thailand between 1960 and 2010. In 1960, the proportion of elderly people was 4.6% while in 2010; the proportion increased to 13.2%. International Labour Organization’s 2008 report stated that the share of women in this aging population is greater than men. In 2025, the proportion of female elderly will be 55.4 while male older people will be 44.6 (UNFPA 2006; cited in ILO, 2008).

Older people naturally face various problems, such as financial incapacity, deteriorating health, loneliness, among others (Department of Health – MOPH, 2014). These problems can be eased if not solved by the collaboration of several sectors in society such as corporations, government agencies, healthcare institutes, and families (Centre for Gender Studies – Nareasuan University 2013). One of the instruments the public sector can utilize for serving elderly people is "social welfare".

[if !supportFootnotes]

[if !supportFootnotes][1] Homophobia is the hatred or fear of homosexuals - that is, lesbians and gay men - sometimes leading to acts of violence and expressions of hostility. (Anti Defamation League, 2001, Retrieved 17 December 2013)

[if !supportFootnotes][2] Homophobia is the hatred or fear of homosexuals - that is, lesbians and gay men - sometimes leading to acts of violence and expressions of hostility. (Anti Defamation League, 2001, Retrieved 17 December 2013)

[if !supportFootnotes][3] Tranphobia is an irrational fear of, and/or hostility towards, people who are transgender or who otherwise transgress traditional gender norms. Because lesbians and gay men often transgress gender norms, it is often associated with homophobia. (Head T., 2014, Retrieved 17 December 2013)

[4] Sao-Sao-Ed Founded in 2009, SSE works to address the social and cultural prejudices against sexual minorities that exist in Thai society and raises public awareness about the violence and discrimination that LGBT people face by documenting human rights violations and conducting rights trainings for the communities. (American Jewish World Service, 2014, Retrieved 17 December 2013)

Citation: Jirathanapiwat W. Social welfare management and development for elderly LGBT in Thailand. Oral presentation to the 2014 Asia-Pacific Sociological Association Conference “Transforming Societies: Contestations and Conuergences in Asia and the Pacific”, 15th – 16th February 2014, Chiangmai, Thailand

#LGBT #SocialWelfare

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