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THAILAND: Lesbian Women in Love Following Sappho Out of the Closet

Teena Gill

BANGKOK, Jun 25 1995 (IPS) - For the members of the Thai women’s group known as ‘Anjaree’, shame and fear used to be common emotions.

Anjaree is actually Thailand’s first group for ‘women who love women’ — as the organisation’s members call themselves — and those who join it are often in constant fear of being ‘discovered’. Nevertheless, they are determined to search for the space and understanding in which to express their true selves.

“I love girls!” a female student in Bangkok wrote recently to Anjaree. “But I feel ashamed to let my parents, my brothers and sisters or even my friends know about this.”

Such sentiments are echoed in other letters from even the small and far-flung towns across Thailand. But even Anjaree, which was formed in 1986, itself came out publicly in Thailand only last year during preparations for the upcoming U.N. World Conference for Women (WCW).

A document published by the group explains the reticence: “In Thai society, people don’t accept the notion of varied lifestyles. In particular, homosexual relationships are forbidden, women who don’t want male lovers or families are discriminated against (and sometimes) physically attacked.”

In fact, official recognition of lesbianism was not granted even at the 1985 U.N. women’s conference in Nairobi.

Ten years later, controversial lesbian issues are poised to be tackled at the NGO Forum that is scheduled to run parallel to the women’s conference in Beijing this September.

The Chinese, however, have hinted that they are putting lesbian activists in the same category as Tibetan nationalists, who are being barred from attending the meeting.

But this has not daunted Anjaree’s leaders, who say the prospects of getting a global platform on which to voice their views and aspirations encouraged them to reveal themselves at last to the public.

A sympathetic and receptive media gave the group courage to talk freely and openly about their activities while interactions with similar groups at international level gave them the strength to come out. In addition, meetings within the group and their sense of solidarity also played an important role.

“We see discrimination against lesbianism as much of a human rights issue as violence against women,” says Anjana Suvarnananda, one of the founders of Anjaree.

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