In the face of the Thai government's "moral and social order" crackdown, gay Bangkokians
are defiantly set to party on regardless. OutUK correspondent Rob Newbold talks
to Pride co-chairman Paul Causey about this year's celebration.
Gay Pride celebrations all across the world seem to be beset by politics. A few years
ago I distinctly remember the board members of the London event nearly coming to blows
as to whether “transgender” should be in the title. Then there have been the well-documented
problems of the Sydney Mardi Gras and the recent Gay Games.
Bangkok is far from exempt
when it comes to in-fighting, since the Bangkok Pride Coalition (BPC) actually rose
out of the ashes of Pakorn Pimton’s ailing Bangkok Gay Festival (BGF) but the BGF’s founder
has obstinately refused to join the new organisation with his underfunded festival now
a mere sideshow. It appears, however, Bangkok Pride is going from strength to strength
and can now call on the backing of big-name sponsors like Durex, though government policy
could still impinge.
Founded in 2001 by an enthusiastic bunch of local gay and lesbian business people
and community groups, the BPC seems to be the answer to the rather scatter-brained
approach of the BGF. There's been a new sense of direction and a new team approach
because Pride's no longer a one-man band - there's a board, sponsors and regular
press releases to keep the public abreast of what's happening via an informative
website. The timetable of events, which includes a sports competition and awards
ceremony, is released months in advance.
Last year’s Pride was the most successful ever, with 350,000 people - and that's
apparently an official government figure - attending the various happenings that
included a party in Lumphini Park, culminating in a limited parade through the
centre of the city.|
Fast forward to 2003 and BPC co-chairman Paul Causey
is confidently predicting more of the same: "We aim to better last year's success,"
he says. "Pride in the Park, for instance, will be bigger and better and cover
twice the area it did last time."
Though, as usual, while the parade is scheduled for Sunday, November 16, it's yet
to be rubber-stamped by the ambivalent powers that be. "With Apec, no one's talking
to us right now," says Causey with a perceptible sigh.
The government's "moral and social order" campaign - which has included police raids
of gay saunas, bars and nightclubs where patrons have been forced to give urine
tests - has again cast such a pall over the gay community, among others, that Causey
even discussed with board members whether to hold this year's event at all. There was
an almost unanimous will to ensure not only "Pride Week" went ahead but that
"many members of the organisation believed in the need to be even more vocal", admits
the co-chairman. Though he does concede a handful of businesses have been less forward
in embracing the BPC this year in the face of the raids. "Some businesses have shied
away from Bangkok Pride this year, yes," he says.
This year's slogan - “Freedom – Diversity – Unity” - is timely indeed, since with such
a repressive crusade in place there's the obvious need for the gay and lesbian community
to pull in one direction. "The social and moral order crackdown has had a negative impact
with some businesses like Freeman disco losing half its revenue as it has to close at 2am,"
Causey says. "Now some visitors are going to Singapore or Hong Kong instead."
The government still apparently can't see what a great opportunity an event like Bangkok
Pride is, though it's probably gaining enough economic clout to ensure that while it's
not really recognised officially, it will be a perennial event. Indeed, Pride 2002,
according to the organisers of the Silom Walking Street project was the single most
successful event held and, according to Causey, the "largest outdoor party ever to
take place in Thailand".
In the face of adversity it’s likely the gay community can pull it round and do what
it often does best – party. And there are any number of events to don those glittery
outfits for during Pride Week, including the Pride in the Park party
at Lumphini on November 8, the community-orientated Utopia Awards on November 14, the
parade - fingers crossed - on November 16 and if you’ve still got the stamina, the Silom
Soi 4 "Over-time" Party on November 17 where the thousands of half-naked revellers
expected will ensure, no doubt, that politics and government policies are far from everyone’s mind.
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More Pride info www.bangkokpride.org