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Queer Women in Thailand: Creating inclusive spaces to tell our stories

Following their recent one-year anniversary as well as Pride Month in Thailand, UNESCO Bangkok spoke to Ilaria Nardone and Nedine Kachornamsong, co-founders of QueerMango, a social platform that aims to build a community of queer culture in Thailand and Asia through the arts, media, social life and advocacy.

Photo credits: Vanessa Garbini

At a recent open mic night organized by QueerMango a young woman opened up about the pain she experienced as a victim of sexual harassment through a song specifically written for the event. It was an emotional moment for her and for the few dozen or so women, many of whom identify as queer, and supportive friends in attendance. It was also the type of moment that QueerMango cofounders Ilaria Nardone and Nedine Kachornamsong sought to facilitate when they launched the social platform a little over a year ago.

“Through QueerMango, we want to keep building and nourishing a safe space for queer women’s experiences and voices to be visible and heard just like we created that evening,” says Ilaria.

Ilaria, who is from Italy, and Nedine, a Thai national, met in Bangkok in 2013 at what was then an exceedingly rare event for lesbians. Both of them had nurtured a love for advocacy and civic engagement and saw that when it came to inclusion in Thailand, queer women often remain marginalized.

“Thailand is often perceived as a gay paradise. The real question is: Paradise for who? Mostly gay men. As queer and as women, we face double-discrimination in addition to the lack of visibility in our own lives,” says Nedine. “Gender equality still has a long way to go in this country. Spaces must be created for our realities to be addressed.”

QueerMango was their attempt to do just that – the pair describe it on their Facebook page as a “Web hub of news, events & opinions aimed to bring together a community of lesbian, bisexual, trans & queer women in Thailand and Asia.”


DIFFERING PATHS, SAME GOAL: INCLUSION

Ilaria, 29, says that she inherited a passion for political engagement from her mother and that politics and advocacy have always been mainstays in her life, including as part of a lesbian rights group in Italy.

When she moved to Bangkok four years ago for an internship at the Italian Embassy’s cultural office, she says she “looked for a lesbian or queer community but found nothing as such”. “QueerMango comes from a personal demand to meet queer women in Bangkok but also a collective necessity to build a visible and solidary community that gathers and empowers women.”

For Nedine, 36, the inspiration to pursue LGBTQI+ (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer, Questioning and Intersex) advocacy came later in life. She attended a convent school and later an arts school where students were encouraged to be themselves. It took leaving Thailand at the age of 23 and spending a decade in Sweden and Denmark for her to fully appreciate the issues that now make her a passionate advocate for inclusion.

“Discrimination and exclusion because of my race and gender had to actually come hit me in the face to become politically active,” she says. “In Thailand, the discrimination I was facing was mostly structural, which is to say it came indirectly from the social construction of gender and sexuality that has been internalized by people and is not questioned, so that it does not feel like discrimination at first sight.”

Despite their differing paths, when the pair met in 2013 they found they were kindred spirits, both committed to speaking up for themselves and working to remove barriers faced by others.

Nedine says that QueerMango is unique in that it is the first platform that calls itself “queer” in Thailand. “Thailand remains a country where people are strictly labeled according to their gender identity and sexual orientation. Queer allows people to get rid of these labels and create some inclusive space for people to be who they want to be. Queer also holds a political content that tries to challenge the establishment of the mainstream.” she says.

 “Although the LGBT community in Thailand has successfully created a solidary and empowering movement around these labels, it failed in acknowledging the full spectrum of LGBTQI+ as well as our intersectional experiences in terms of class, race and cultural background. “

The semi-regular events arranged by QueerMango aim to mix the social with the political. The June 2015 launch party for the site, for example, featured a photo exhibition called “Queers of Bangkok” aimed at increasing the visibility of the community.

“We actually want to use the skills we have from social media marketing and human-computer interaction to support the local LGBT and women’s rights movement’s advocacy work” says Ilaria.

Photo credits: Vanessa Garbini

For the past year, QueerMango, through its events and online platforms, has begun to shed light on queer women’s stories and experiences in Thailand and both of its co-founders are committed seeing this continue and expand on the space of this often marginalized group.

“Reflecting on the road I have gone, I realized that doing something you intimately believe in for your community has no price,” says Ilaria. “I just quit my job to truly commit to LGBTQI+ and women’s issues. QueerMango changed my perspective on life.”


For more, visit: QueerMango.com

 

By Eleonore Komai

 



25.07.2016