In Depth

Third gender laws: Thailand to 'buck the biological binary'

Thailand to recognise a third gender, as attitudes towards transgender and intersex people slowly shift

Image removed.The government of Thailand is set to officially recognise a "third gender" category, in a move designed to protect the human rights of people who do not identify with the sex assigned to them at birth.

"We are putting the words 'third gender' in the constitution because Thai society has advanced," a spokesperson told Reuters.

What is the thinking behind a third gender? 

It goes against the belief that gender is binary and falls neatly into two categories. The creation of an official third gender will give people the right to choose not to identify as either male or female.

Several cultures have long acknowledged individuals who "buck the biological binary", according to Foreign Policy. These include the 'hijras' in South Asia, 'kathoeys' in Thailand, and 'muxes' in Mexico. These groups have long faced discrimination and persecution, writes Jake Scobey-Thal, but attitudes – and now laws - are slowly beginning to shift.

"The world, it seems, is slowly embracing an adage once restricted to liberal universities: Gender is a construct, and people should be able to define it for themselves," says Scobey-Thal.

What is Thailand proposing?

Thailand's constitution is currently being rewritten and is set to include a chapter recognising a third gender category to ensure its members have the same rights and freedoms as everyone else.

Although Thailand is "known worldwide for its vibrant trans culture" and transgender people form a large part of the country's entertainment sector, they still faces legal and professional discrimination, according to LGBT news site The Advocate.

Is similar legislation in place anywhere else?

Thailand is now poised to join a handful of countries including India, Australia and Nepal where people are able to identify as a third gender on official documents. However, in the UK, people who do not identify as male or female currently have no legal recognition of their gender.

Nepal

In "a sign of the conservative Hindu-majority country becoming more liberal", Nepal issued a similar piece of legislation earlier this month which allows passports to be issued to "sexual minorities" and adds a third gender category, according to Reuters.

Germany

Germany became the first European country to allow parents to leave the gender blank on birth certificates if a baby is born intersex (with reproductive or sexual anatomy that does not fall into the typical definitions of female or male). Although welcomed by many, some groups argued that the legislation did not go far enough in addressing intersex rights, the BBC reports.

India

Last year, a supreme court ruling gave people the right to identify as a third gender and gave them legal protection and rights already afforded to other minorities. "Recognition of transgender [people] as a third gender is not a social or medical issue but a human rights issue," the court said, according to Indian news network NDTV.

Australia

In 2011, the Australian government announced that its passports would include a third gender option, but the new legislation has limitations, says Scobey-Thal. It stipulates that those who wish to choose 'X' as their gender must produce confirmation from a health-care professional confirming that they are either intersex or do not identify with the sex assigned to them at birth.

Facebook

Last year, the social media giant expanded its gender settings, offering users the choice of over 50 option including polygender, gender questioning and non-binary.

"By challenging the gender binary, Facebook will finally allow thousands of people to describe themselves as they are now and it will allow future generation of kids to become truly comfortable in their own skins," Professor Stephen Whittle, vice-president at campaign group Press for Change told the Daily Telegraph.

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