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THAILAND-EDUCATION: School Shuts Out Aspiring Homosexual Teachers

Prangtip Daorueng

BANGKOK, Jan 30 1997 (IPS) - Thailand’s traditionally liberal attitude toward homosexuality has come under scrutiny with the decision of a government training college to bar homosexuals from studying to become teachers.

Under its so-called “education reform”, the Rajabhat Institute, a teacher training college with 36 campuses throughout Thailand, announced last month that it would start excluding gays and lesbians from enrolling in its programmes.

The institute’s administrators say the decision is in the interest of the student comunity, but human rights activists say the policy and recent remarks by the Thai education minister, are signs of a society that is no longer tolerant of homosexuality.

The policy decision, which officials say will be in place for a three-year trial period starting the next academic year in May, follows the murder of a lesbian student by a gay friend at the University of Chiang Mai in northern Thailand.

Rajabhat Institute officials say the incident hightlights the potential danger posed by homosexuals to others, and is proof that they are not suitable for teaching jobs that require them to play a key role in shaping the character of the nation’s youth.

Assistant professor Prangsri Panichajakul, president of Rajabhat Institute’s Suan Sunandha campus, denies that the policy constitutes discrimination.

“It is not discrimination. It is our policy to protect our youth,” said Prangsi. “It is okay for homosexuals to work in other fields. But not as teachers, because they are dealing with kids.”

Prangsi calls the policy the institute’s attempt to ensure that future teachers are “qualified” – an important part of education reform. The policy applies only to students studying to be teachers, and not for students pursuing other disciplines.

Critics have derisively asked how Rajabhat Institute can accurately tell who are homosexuals and who are not.

Prangsri admitted to the local press that the screening process would not be easy – but said it would at least help screen out some gays and lesbians from becoming future teachers. Institute officials maintain, though, that they can detect signs of homosexuality from interviews with potential enrollees.

The debate over the ‘fitness’ of homosexuals for the teaching profession and discrimination on the basis of sexual preferences, shows that prejudices still remain despite Thailand’s history of tolerance of homosexuality.

A few years ago, a Thai pop song with lyrics against male homosexuals was a rousing hit among city teens. Sung by the underground band Sepia, the song was entitled ‘Kliad Tud’ – which means “hating feminine men”.

Such prejudices are reinforced by the image of gays as portrayed in the mass media, which often show them as loud, extravagant characters obsessed with sex.

And the comments of Thai Education minister Sukhavich Rangsitpol have if anything, added fuel to the fire.

He said homosexuals need special treatment because they are “sick, both physically and mentally”, and who has proposed the setting up of “special education centres” to “help” them.

Homosexuals should not be left with no place to go, lest they end up “adding male prostitutes in the country” Sukhavich added by way of explanation.

Human rights activists are alarmed by the official stand on the issue and in a protest letter to the education minister, described his remarks and the college’s policies against homosexuals as obsolete and in violation of “democratic and human rights principles”.

The activists were from groups that included the Working Group For Women’s Rights, Women Foundation, Women’s Friend Foundation, Women’s Home Empower, Union for Civil Liberty and a number of university lecturers.

Anchana Suwannanond of Anjaree, an NGO representing lesbians, says the Rajabhat Institute’s policy deprives homosexuals of equal opportunity to education in a field of their choice.

Krittaya Arjvanichkul of Mahidol University, a campaigner for women’s rights, adds that the policy not only violates human rights but also sows hatred. Worse, she said, it betrays Rajabhat administrators’ lack of true understanding of homosexuality.

Dr. Nidhi Eosesriwong, well-respected historian and lecturer at Chiang Mai University, advises affected students to challenge the Rajabhat policy: “If any student is discriminated against by this ban, he or she should take the case to court.”

He said “it is simply illegal to rob people of a chance to study on the grounds of their sexual preferences,” adding that he can see no basis for the belief that homosexuals are more likely than others to commit violent crimes.

Nidhi adds that barring gays from schools aggravates the discrimination already occurring in Thai institutions of higher education – against the poor, the disabled and ethnic minorities.

“You cannot put a judgment on a homosexual as a bad person. I can’t find a reason why a gay wants to study to be a teacher in order to harass kids. It doesn’t make sense at all,” said Janthana Leungtragool, senior business assistant at a newspaper.

“The banning of gays only puts a group of people at the disadvantage of not being able to live a normal life,” she said.

Finally, Nidhi says the policy against gays is a poor example of what teachers should show the youngsters they purport to educate: “Discrimination is not reform. Encouraging students to think, stand up and speak out is.”

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