By Richard Ammon
December 7, 2010
For the third year in a row there is no BKK Pride festival. Ask different people and get different answers: disinterest from local Thai activists; lack of police cooperation; no money; homophobia; frustration and withdrawal of foreign leadership. “There are just too many obstacles, resistance and petty infighting to overcome to get the festival and parade going,” said former Pride leader Douglas Thompson, a longtime American expat who runs Purple Dragon Tours in Bangkok.
There is no cohesive LGBT community organization that represents gay life in Bangkok. Perhaps because of the immense size of Bangkok’s 12 million people–including more than a million LGBT people, foreign and native–spread over an area of a hundred square kilometers in which there are numerous separate gay-preferred areas speaking different languages, not to mention the distinct class separation between upper class and lower class gays who avoid mingling let alone close cooperation.
The higher the class in Thailand the less overt gays tend to be, preferring discretion over visibility. In previous Pride parades the most obvious shows were floats from go-go bars and saunas, kathoeys and feathered fems in flamboyant costumes and outside groups from Singapore, Hong Kong, Australia along with human rights groups (foreign)–but no Thai professional organizations and no politicians.
In short, the parades represented only a small portion of the (westernized) homosexual life of Thailand, the slick and sexy night scene which most farangs (foreigners) are familiar with. It’s no wonder the inertia of local indifference and resistance eventually outweighed the stress and chaos of producing a rowdy festival in Bangkok.
Add to this drama the volatile political tensions in Bangkok, which in 2010 erupted twice with street demonstrations and protests against the government as tens of thousands of anti-government red-shirt demonstrators occupied the central city causing serious damage to buildings, businesses and tourism.
Earlier in the year another huge cadre of protesters succeeded in shutting down Bangkok’s international airports; this mob was dressed in yellow shirts. It’s not coincidental that recent political chaos has flared up when the sitting prime minister Taksin was overthrown by a royally approved military coup about three years ago, the same year that gay pride fell apart.
Some say it was part of the fallout from the coup and the subsequent instability that gay leaders nervous about the safety of participants who might have been caught in the crossfire between agitated homophobic populists, political extremists and the government military that has become impatience toward any demonstration, including an unwelcome queer fest.
All of which the typical gay tourist is unaware of as he prowls the pubs, go-go bars, saunas, massage parlors and gay ‘avenues’ looking for one or several hook-ups during his visit.
Yet, the money-go-go-boy-sauna scene is only a small tip of a much larger LGBT ‘non-scene’, mostly native, where gays ignore the neon lights and bikinis and focus more on friendships, careers, family honor, social status, shopping, investment portfolios and trips abroad.
There is no gay cheer in the streets this year but LGBT life goes on as usual in the typical quiet Thai style.
But Phuket is another story, as is Pattaya. Far smaller cities with strong native and foreign presence, they have a different motivation to hold Pride events as they are holiday destinations that depend more on tourism than big-business. A visit to Phuket reveals a city on the sea with long stretches of warm white sand edged with palm trees. Beachfront restaurants and bars and many low and high-rise hotels and condo towers line the water. Gay venues–the usual bars, disco, saunas, hotels, massage parlors and beach–are present but not in your face. The 2011 Phuket festival is now scheduled and can be seen at their website.
Pattaya, despite its unfair taint of sex, gay and straight, is renown as a family vacation destination as well as a popular surfing spot. The gay pride scene extends over months and is managed by few cooperating business owners, activists and health organizations so agreement and coordinated are more easily achieved. See their website.