Thailand may be more enlightened than most countries, but even here the medicine of tolerance is spread thin
A recent vicious attack on a lesbian couple in London caused horror and revulsion in Britain and elsewhere while underlining the persistent problem of homophobia. Prejudice, fear and disdain for homosexuals and homosexuality still runs deep in our “enlightened” 21st century, despite years of campaigns for tolerance towards LGBTQ people. The London attack took place on May 30 while the two women – an American and a Uruguayan – were riding a night bus home. Five young males aged between 15 and 18 demanded that the couple kissed each other so they could enjoy watching. When they refused, the women were beaten by the hooligans, who also stole their belongings. The image of their blood-smeared faces circulated on news websites and in social media worldwide.
Worryingly, the London attack suggests intolerance towards homosexuals is still prevalent among younger people, who feel the “outsider” gay community is fair game. We might ask whether it is wrong to be homosexual. The answer depends on where in the world you live. In some countries it is considered both morally and legally wrong, punishable in many cases by death. In Britain, sexual activity between men was only decriminalised as recently as 1967. In our modern high-tech world, there are still places where religious belief clashes with homosexuality. Here, though it may not be illegal to be gay, narrow-minded people still believe it is sinful. In most cases, the religious zealots are content to express their feelings in words, perhaps teasing or confronting the homosexuals they encounter. But there are also cases where homophobes see the need to “correct” behaviour they view as unnatural or immoral, using violence to drive home their bigotry. Such violence is unacceptable in the civilised world, where reason has largely replaced religious fanaticism in the making of laws. As such, Britain’s Prime Minister Theresa May and London’s Mayor Sadiq Khan both strongly condemned the attack.
However, government data on the situation in Britain are not so encouraging. Hate crimes targeting victims’ sexual orientation in England and Wales rose 27 per cent in 2017-2018 to a total of 11,638 incidents. Hate crimes targeting transgender people rose 32 per cent. Meanwhile reports of homophobic attacks in London have soared, up from 1,488 cases in 2014 to 2,308 last year, according to British police statistics.
A 2017 UK poll found that one in every five LGBT participants had experienced a hate crime or incident in the previous 12 months. Four out of every five of those victims, however, said they didn’t report it to police. Many who did go to the police said they were not taken seriously. Thailand scores better than many countries in terms of tolerance of homosexuals and homosexuality. Yet though violence against gay strangers simply because of their sexual orientation is rare, teasing, bullying and other forms of discrimination is still prevalent in schools, workplaces and communities. Foreign tourists often dub Thailand the “world capital of ladyboys” after encountering so many transgender women and openly gay men. Yet in reality, we may not have any more “ladyboys” than most other countries; they are merely more “visible” – due mainly to the high degree of social tolerance. Elsewhere, gay individuals hide their sexual orientation out of fear of being attacked or prosecuted.
The antidote to prejudice is a society that allows LGBTQ people to become more publicly visible. This way we also expose the boil of bigotry for what it is: a primitive fear of difference that shrivels in the sunlight of tolerance. Our sexual orientation is simply irrelevant to our worth as human beings. All of us should be judged on our abilities and performance, and not on whom we choose to fall in love with.