Thailand: Gay and Undocumented, Burmese Refugees Struggle in Thailand

“Queer migrants” or LGBTQI (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer and intersex) refugees from Myanmar – called as such because they had to leave their countries and go somewhere else to be able to live safely as themselves – have looked at Thailand as the ideal destination, with its louche, gay-friendly lifestyle. 

But in too many cases, in the refugee camps scattered along the border, being themselves can turn into a nightmare.

It was the perilous combination of Myanmar’s military regime, traditional religious beliefs andlaws against LGBTQI that drove Burmese queer migrants to the neighboring country, where they seemed to enjoy visibility and even a sense of freedom, if not boundless equality. 

Silence in Mae La

“It’s like heaven,” Uri, a former flight attendant from Myanmar, said of Thailand. Uri, now 41, left for Thailand in 2006 because he said human rights in the country of his birth were not observed “at all” and he couldn’t express himself as a gay man due to the extremely conservative environment. 

But throw in the issue of undocumented migration and the closed world where the refugees came from, Thailand stops “being like heaven.”

Uri entered Thailand legally and thus had the chance to integrate himself into the country’s more open society. But others who fled Myanmar and escaped by crossing the border without any documents whatsoever have been confined to live in the camps, where patriarchal culture and religious beliefs dominate. 

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