Thailand: Law cops out on transgender rights in Pattaya

After a long night performing at one of Pattaya's most famous cabaret shows, Aom only wanted a good rest. The 35-year-old cabaret performer left work at 1am without pausing to remove her make-up. Mounting her motorcycle, she decided to go home via Pattaya Beach Road, a stretch known as a hangout for transgender sex workers and heavily patrolled by police.

While driving along the road, Aom saw a sight that was not unusual to the area -- a police officer arresting a transgender sex worker on the beach. Pulled up on the side of the road were a row of police vehicles. One officer flagged down Aom so she stopped. Then he issued a strange order.

"Get in the van now," the officer told Aom.

"What are you doing?" she asked. "Are you arresting me?"

Aom refused to get into the van, demanding a response from the officer. But instead of getting the answer she wanted, she got a punch in the face.

"One of the police officers pulled me off my motorcycle, and another punched me in the face," said Aom of the incident. "Then another office slapped me on my right ear. I was in so much pain. I was in shock. I kept asking them what I did wrong, but I got no explanation from the officers."

Aom's story is no one-off case of police targeting transgender civilians without providing any explanation as to why. According to anecdotal testimony, it now occurs on a regular basis in Pattaya, Thailand's capital for transgender people.

The escalation of such incidents happens to coincide with city authorities' latest efforts to clean up Pattaya's criminal reputation. But so far, they seem only bent on targeting the transgender demographic.

The traumatising run-in with the police destabilised the sense of safety she long felt as a transgender woman in Pattaya. The police had tried to charge her with prostitution despite the fact she had never been a sex worker. She was taken to the Pattaya police station by force.

At the station, she was beaten up by officers. Instead of informing her why she had been arrested, she was simply placed inside a jail cell. Aom was jailed alongside 50 other transgender woman inmates who had been seized at the same stretch that she was pulled over at. They were forced to pay a fine of 100 baht.


As the only NGO who focuses on transgender welfare in Thailand, the Sisters Foundation of Pattaya deals with a wide range of cases and complaints. However, they can only help on a case-by-case basis, says Thitiyanun Nakpor, the NGO's director. The overall health and protection of transgender people's human rights in Pattaya is the foundation's priority.

Since Pattaya is the capital of grey-area business, the city attracts all types of people. The sex industry is the city's most visible sector, although local police have repeatedly denied the existence of it.

After the recent arrest of two transgender sex workers for reportedly stealing a gold necklace from a Chinese tourists, Pattaya police have launched the "Pattaya Ladyboy Cleanup" campaign to reform the city's reputation as a sleazy sex work hub.

"I'm not sure why transgender sex workers have become the main targets of police," Ms Thitiyanun said. "I don't know if it's just transphobia among some police officers or if they just pretend that male and female-exclusive sex workers are better.

"But one of the biggest problems behind the bias against transgender people is the way the media treats us. The word katoey has always had negative connotations.

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