It takes Siraphob Attohi three hours to transform from a harried student into his drag queen persona Masala Bold — a wisecracking MC, who raises calls for gender equality during Thailand’s protests for democratic reforms.
A regular at student-led rallies in Bangkok, Masala Bold’s glamorous presence and ribald jokes provide a teasing interlude between speeches from protest leaders demanding the resignation of Thailand’s prime minister and reforms to the monarchy.
However, far from being simply an entertainer, theatre student Siraphob — who goes by the nickname Raptor and identifies as male offstage — says the movement’s goals align with the LGBTQ community’s desire for gender equality.
“If we can’t get real democracy in Thailand, then the rights for the LGBTQ community wouldn’t exist either,” he said. “So it’s my pleasure and my honor to use my theater skills to be an activist and to help people, but actually it’s all about my future too.”
The 21-year-old and other prominent LGBTQ personalities have played a visible role in the youth-led movement since it began in July.
In demonstrations where the vibe can turn from festive to tense in just a matter of minutes, they have stood alongside black-clad protesters, dressed in eye-catching outfits and unfurling massive rainbow flags.
The protesters’ key demands are for royal reforms, a rewrite of a military-scripted constitution and for the resignation of army chief-turned-Thai Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha.
However, embedded in these core goals lies a clear path to marriage and gender equality in Thailand, said Angele Anang, a prominent transgender drag queen and the winner of popular reality show Drag Race Thailand.
“We don’t have the same rights,” she said, adding that the community’s greatest goal is for same-sex marriage to be legalized in Thailand. “It is the key to unlocking inequality.”
Thailand’s vibrant and diverse LGBTQ community has helped the kingdom foster a reputation of tolerance, but the reality is far less rosy.
Discrimination is rife for transgender people, who often find themselves missing out on job opportunities, and gay and lesbian stereotypes proliferate on television variety shows and films.
“We’re branded and stereotyped — it is not true acceptance,” said Raptor, as he gets ready for a protest doubling as a gay pride parade. “It’s just acknowledging that we exist and categorizing us how they see fit.”
As Raptor paints his skin green, he said that this time Masala Bold will dress as Elphaba from Wicked — the hit Broadway musical retelling of the Wizard of Oz from the witch’s perspective.
The choice is pointedly political — Raptor explains that green-skinned Elphaba is ostracized growing up, and later exiled from Oz when she goes up against the powerful wizard.
“It’s the same situation as Thailand,” he said, referring to how pro-democracy activists have in the past fled to Europe to seek asylum for criticizing the powerful monarchy.
Reforming the monarchy is the most ambitious and shocking demand from the pro-democracy movement.
A taboo subject in Thailand, the king is traditionally regarded as a demi-god and his influence permeates every aspect of society.
The students’ calls for change include the abolition of a draconian royal defamation law — which shields him from criticism — and for King Maha Vajiralongkorn to “stay out” of politics.
“Reforming the monarchy means we get rid of the different classes and aristocratic hierarchy, so everybody — including the LGBTQ community — will be equal,” transgender activist Sitthinon “Faison” Songsiri said.
A graduate of Thammasat University — one of Thailand’s most liberal schools and a bastion of activism — the 25-year-old said her role as an emcee in demonstrations has empowered her.
“We are the new taste of Thai politics,” she said.
The kingdom’s protest-filled history is replete with rally leaders delivering “uncompromising” speeches, which leads to opposition groups blaming them for instigating violence, she said.
However, “we make the rallies lighter, funnier and less stressful,” Faison said. “At the same time, we make society more accepting towards our community.”
While Faison faces a raft of charges — including sedition — for participating in the protests, she is determined to continue to be a visible face.
“We need the people to look beyond our make-up, wigs and dresses, and listen to what we want to say regarding the same-sex marriage and gender equality,” she said. “If we fight together, the chances of succeeding in our cause is faster and better.”
With YouTube videos “debunking” allegations of human rights abuses and diatribes on Western “conspiracies” against China, an unlikely set of foreigners is loudly defending Beijing against international critics. They are teachers and business owners from the UK, Colombia and Singapore, a collage of YouTubers garnering fame for their video takedowns of what they say are unfair accusations against Beijing. Videos alternate between praise of China’s rapid development and rebuttals of negative foreign reports about the country. Experts say they are being deployed as a weapon in the information war against China’s critics, with hundreds of videos reaching millions of viewers. “I am trying to
Hospitals are overwhelmed, ventilators are difficult to find and there is no longer enough space at the main cemetery for COVID-19 victims in Mauritius. Barely three weeks before it fully opens its doors to international travelers at the start of the peak tourist season, the island nation is struggling with an alarming explosion in COVID-19 infections and deaths. In just two months, cases have jumped more than fivefold to more than 12,600 as of Friday, by far the largest increase across Africa during this period, data compiled by Agence France-Presse showed. Since the pandemic started, Mauritius has recorded 1,005 cases of COVID-19 per
ELEVATED PARTNERSHIP: The agreement enables Japan to share its equipment and technology, as the countries deepen defense ties amid China worries Japan is to give defense equipment and technology to Vietnam under an agreement signed on Saturday, as the two countries step up their military cooperation amid worries about China’s growing military influence. Japanese Minister of Defense Nobuo Kishi said the deal elevates the countries’ defense partnership “to a new level,” and that Japan and Vietnam plan to deepen defense ties through multinational joint exercises and other means. Details about the transfer of specific equipment, including naval vessels, is to be worked out in subsequent talks, the ministry said. Kishi’s meeting with Vietnamese Minister of Defense Phan Van Giang in Hanoi
A city in southern China that is trying to contain a COVID-19 outbreak told the public on Sunday not to leave, suspended bus and train services, and closed cinemas, bars and other facilities. Anyone needing to leave Putian, a city of 2.9 million people in China’s Fujian Province, for an essential trip must have proof of a negative coronavirus test within the past 48 hours, the city government said. China declared the virus under control early last year, but has suffered outbreaks of the more contagious Delta variant of SARS-CoV-2. Authorities say that most cases have been traced to travelers arriving from