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Tackling stigma through creative media

Stigma takes years to form. Over an extended period of time, it deeply roots itself into society and can therefore be complicated and exhausting to uproot. With support from UNESCO Bangkok and in an attempt to address this challenge, the Thailand Network of People of Sexual Diversity took an initiative to tackle stigma and discrimination from a different angle: through creative media – short films.

The Network, led by Rainbow Sky Association of Thailand and the MPlus Foundation, together with other Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Intersex and Queer (LGBTIQ) organizations organized Thailand’s first ASEAN LGBTIQ Film Festival. The event took place during 29 November – 2 December 2012 in Chiangmai, Thailand with the aim to:

• promote and improve understanding of issues relating to stigma and discrimination associated with gender and sexual diversity,
• establish collaboration between the Thai LGBTIQ community and the government
• promote understanding about human rights in ASEAN, in particular, the ASEAN Human Rights Declaration among the general public, and most importantly,
• strengthen the capacity of community based organizations in order for them to realize these objectives as well.

As a major component of the event, a training on short film production was held with the participation of 15 students from Chiangmai University’s Faculty of Mass Communications, Rajabhat University Chiangmai’s Faculty of Communication Arts, and peer outreach volunteers from the MPlus Foundation. Led by the Thai Films Association chairperson Mr. Thanwarin Sukpisit whose much acclaimed movie It Gets Better recently won the Spanish LGBT Films Award, the training team included professionals from the Thai Films Association. Many topics were discussed including: script writing, filming, directing, cutting, camera use, and presentation.

@UNESCO\K. ArayawongchaiIn addition to the knowledge gained and skills developed, the training gave the students new hopes and ideas to express themselves and promote their well-being. According to a Mass Communication junior from Chiangmai University, Komkrit Duangmanee, “It’s almost impossible to talk about sexuality issues in public or mainstream media especially in a cultural environment like Chiangmai. This training equips us with some great skills from real professionals. With increased capacity, we feel inspired to voice our concerns with others in a constructive way. Though we do not have the means to do so through mainstream media, we can benefit from the options of social media which are free and can reach a wide audience.”

Apart from learning the theory, the trainees also had a hands-on opportunity to translate what they had learned into practice by producing real short films. They teamed up in groups, wrote their own scripts, selected their own casts and locations, and did the actual shooting of the films. After editing, they had the opportunity to present their films during the festival. The first group of students presented a movie titled “Saengsudtai” (The Last Shed of Light) which conveyed a story about students having unsafe sex and the resulting unwanted pregnancy with the difficult choice to whether keep the baby or not. The second group presented a movie called “Retry”, a depiction of a transgender female student who prioritized part-time work over study, resulting in her dropping out of school before graduation. However, she decided in the end to reprioritize her life and eventually graduated. The last group presented a movie called “The Two of Us” which was about the romantic lives of two lesbian students who began to discover their sexual identity.

To ensure sustainability of the training, the MPlus Foundation and the trainees agreed that they would form a “Short Film Production Club” in their universities so as to ensure continuation and use of the knowledge gained. Also, the MPlus Foundation will be collaborating with Chiangmai Provincial Health Office on an advocacy project I-TEEN through which the trainees will be given an opportunity to utilize the skills they learned to promote safer sex and acceptance toward sexual diversity.

An important component of the festival was the screening of LGBTIQ films. Altogether, 7 films were screened: Tropical Malady (Thailand), It Gets Better (Thailand), Hot Boy Noi Loan (Vietnam), Men and Women (China), Beautiful Boxer (Thailand), Spider Lilies (Taiwan) and Down The River (USA). After the screening, a discussion session was facilitated to enhance the audience’s understanding of the issues presented in each film. According to MPlus Foundation director Mr. Phongtorn Janluen, “Movies are an important and powerful tool to create memories and social trends, in addition to reflecting the social attitude during a particular period of time. They also serve as a depiction of facts and social phenomena, and explanations of social, cultural and political events. Moreover, movies offer a space for those marginalized to be heard and present who they are to the community in a “soft” manner. They are therefore the “soft power” that shapes ideas, attitudes, understanding as well as develops and connects man’s imagination.”

The discussions help expand the audience’s horizons on issues relating to sexual diversity and gender. As an audience member from Australia put it, “Coming from Australia, I think this is fascinating. It’s impressive to see such advancement of this sort of movement in a country like Thailand.” Not only did the screening have an impact on the general audience, the staff that were part of the organizing team of the event also learned a lot from the films. “Having watched these films made me glad and happy about the work that I do. It’s hard to understand these issues and to talk about them but the films say everything. I feel more passionate and committed to my work and I am proud to be who I am,” said an MPlus Foundation staff member.

Most significantly, the festival allowed the Network an opportunity to establish formal working relationship with the ASEAN Department of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. This relationship will be essential in advancing LGBTIQ issues in Thailand and among ASEAN countries in the future. During the opening of the films festival, the Network representative presented to the ASEAN Department recommendations on LGBTIQ rights in relation to the ASEAN Human Rights Declaration. The ASEAN Department representative expressed the Department’s willingness to continue this working relationship with the Network. This marked a new step forward for the Thai Network of People of Sexual Diversity in advancing sexual diversity rights in the country and the region.

by Kritsiam Arayawongchai (

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