The Higher Education Commission in Thailand has agreed to allow five transgender women graduating from the country’s most prestigious university to wear female clothes in their graduation ceremony on 30 August.
‘I’ve dressed in a female student uniform since I was in my first year at university,’ Baramee Denjan Phanich told Thai newspaper The Nation.
‘I cannot dress as a man at all, and if I had to dress as a male graduate, I would not attend the ceremony.’
Bangkok’s Thammasat University (TU), the Oxbridge of Thailand, asked for permission from the Higher Education Commission and the Royal Household Bureau to allow the students to graduate in female gowns, because the graduation ceremony will be presented by Crown Prince Maha Vajiralongkorn. The Higher Education Commission agreed and the Royal Household Bureau said it would agree with the university’s decision.
TU’s vice rector for student affairs assistant Professor Prinya Thaewanarumitkul, said the decision was about equality. ‘If a wheelchair-bound graduate is provided special arrangements during a commencement ceremony, graduates with gender-identity disorders should get them, too,’ he said.
But the Higher Education Commission made clear that the rights enjoyed by graduates at TU did not automatically apply to those at other universities in Thailand.
‘I do not wish to see students of any other university demanding such rights because the regulations on this matter differ from institute to institute,’ said Dr Piniti Ratananukul, deputy secretary general of the Higher Education Commission.
The president of Chulalongkorn University in Bangkok, Professor Pirom Kamolratanakul said they would not allow students described as male on official records to wear female clothing. He said graduates had to respect the tradition of the university.
Chiang Mai University president Pongsak Angkasith said it would consult with its council, dean and students to decide on a policy for transgender students. ‘We’ll have to listen to the reasons from every part of the university and consider their appropriateness before making a decision,’ he said.
Transgender women are highly visible in Thai society, in daily life and the entertainment industry, but there is no legal recognition of their rights and they cannot legally change gender.
In May trans woman Yonlada Suanyos made history by winning a local election in Nan province in northern Thailand.