The World Bank Embracing Diversity through New LGBTI Surveys in Thailand

By January 9, 2017 Research

As we observe the International Day for Tolerance this month, let’s remind ourselves that tolerance for diversity represents the first step on the path to social inclusion, and that diversity should not just be tolerated—it should be embraced and celebrated.

Yet, around the world, lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender or intersex (LGBTI) people confront multifaceted challenges that prevent them from fully participating in markets, services, and spaces. In some countries, although tolerated, these groups are often at risk of increased discrimination, exclusion, violence, and other vulnerabilities. This robs them of dignity and prevents them from capitalizing on opportunities to lead a better life.

For instance, Thailand is a country with multiple regional linguistic, geographical and socio-economic diversities, natural beauty and historical riches, and many localized traditions and cultural practices. Often called the “Land of Smiles,” Thailand, in the eye of the outsider, is a paradise of tolerance, where many sexual orientations and gender identities/expressions are truly to be seen. However, while the demand and support for positive self-identity are growing in Thailand, people with diverse sexual orientations, gender expressions, and identities experience varying degrees of social inclusion.

Earlier this month, the World Bank’s D.C. and Bangkok-based research teams embarked on a journey to better understand how LGBTI people in Thailand may be discriminated against and excluded from access to economic and financial services and products.

Through consultative meetings with six leading LGBTI organizations across four cities in Thailand (Bangkok, Pattaya, Chiangmai and Phuket), the research team developed and piloted two quantitative online surveys: one for Thai LGBTI individuals and one for the general Thai population. Both surveys tried to capture outcomes in access to insurance, education, labor markets, housing, finance, and government services. Furthermore, while the LGBTI survey delved into experiences of discrimination, the general-population survey tried to capture the public’s perceptions and attitudes—in addition to their experiences—about the level of discrimination and exclusion of LGBTI people.

What did we learn from the pilot testing?

While the research team was aware of the multiple and complex types of gender identities and expressions, the pilot testing greatly enriched our knowledge of the LGBTI spectrum in Thailand. For example, we have discovered that:

  • There are four types of transgender women (Kathoei, Sao prophet, and song, Phu ying kham phet) representing various gender expressions;
  • There are masculine lesbian (Tom) and feminine lesbian (Les) women, woman who love women (Ying rak ying), and feminine lesbian attracted to toms (Dee);
  • There are gay males (Gay), man who loves men (Chai rak chai), and transgender men (Phu chai kham phet/transman); and last but not least,
  • There are bisexual men and women (Bisex) as well as intersex individuals.

We also learned that it was essential to include a range of LGBTI organizations in the process of developing the surveys, especially the one aimed at excluded populations. Doing so helped ensure the online surveys were not only culturally appropriate, contextualized, and relevant for the audience, but also sleek, interesting, and designed with functionality in mind.

Both online surveys are being officially launched in Bangkok today, November 28th, at the 2016 Workplace Pride Conference as part of the International Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans and Intersex Association (ILGA) World Conference held this month in Thailand. The surveys will be accessible by people in Thailand via smart phone, tablets, and PC/laptop computers. The study findings will inform the World Bank’s ongoing efforts to promote gender equality and social inclusion—and prevent gender-based violence—in Thailand and other countries.

Do you live in Thailand, identify yourself as an LGBTI individual, and want to participate in the surveys? Please visit:

This article is cross-posted from The World Bank’s blog.


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