By THANYARAT DOKSONE
BANGKOK – A court in Thailand ordered the military on Tuesday to stop labeling transgendered people as being mentally ill in a decision praised by activists.
The Thai army conscripts males over the age of 18, but has historically disqualified transgendered people, classifying them as “having a permanent mental disorder.” Transgendered activists have protested that this stigmatizes them.
Samart Meechai, the 27-year-old transgendered person who filed the case against defense officials in 2006 in part because the wording “tarnished our dignity,” welcomed the outcome. “Now we will no longer be viewed as crazy people,” she said.
Thailand is known for its tolerance of transvestites and transgenders, known as “katoeys” or “ladyboys.” A transgender beauty pageant is held annually and broadcast on national television, and earlier this year, a startup charter airline recruited four transgenders as flight attendants for the first time.
Bangkok’s Central Administrative Court, which deals with lawsuits concerning the performance of government officials, said the label for transgenders was inaccurate and unlawful. However, it did not bar the military from rejecting them and did not stipulate a new wording.
Defense spokesman Col. Thanatip Sawangsaeng said the ministry will comply with the ruling, and has proposed “current sexual status does not match that of birth” as the new phrasing–a change which requires a Cabinet resolution to take effect.
Tuesday’s ruling was seen as a step in quelling discrimination against transgendered people in the country.
“This change didn’t come easily,” said Nattaya Boonpakdee, a Bangkok-based gender rights activist who monitored the case.
Samart said the military classification created difficulties for transgendered people when applying for jobs. Men are often required to present their conscription documents when applying for employment at private companies and government agencies as a way to make sure they have fulfilled their military obligation.
“Being called ‘mentally ill’ is not something you want other people to see on records,” Samart said.