Out in the city

 |  March 28, 2011

Following the sorry debacle that met the last attempt to have a Gay Pride Parade in Chiang Mai, it would appear that local interest in such an event is minimal. However, appearances are deceptive. The less commercial, less in your face, face of the Chiang Mai gay scene, is a magnet for many tourists, expats and locals who prefer to take their pleasures more discreetly. There is a plethora of bars, eateries and hotels catering most successfully to gay people, all of which do a sterling job for the city. The Chiang Mai gay scene is proud. Quite rightly, and last month saw a ‘Peace Parade’ through the city.

Organised by Pongthorn Chanlearn of the M Plus organisation and with the backing of Kittitnun (Danny) Daramadhaj of Thailand’s Rainbow Sky Association, the presence of Chiang Mai’s deputy governor and many local notables, speeches were made that focused on the violence perpetrated against gay people. It was heartfelt and genuinely moving. A group of Buddhist monks underlined the ‘peace’ theme and the parade was a colourful adjunct to a sunny Sunday afternoon.

Gay Pride in Pattaya and Phuket are both tremendously successful and whilst the Stonewall Inn origins of the late 1960s may have been lost, the spirit is there with huge sums raised for AIDS/HIV charities and local businesses reaping pecuniary benefits along with gains in public relations boosts from the attendant positive media coverage. In Phuket, the local government has taken a progressive attitude to the event and has provided assistance with administration and logistics. Their Gay Pride has attracted up to 30,000 visitors for just one parade.

Will the Peace Parade develop into a full-blown Pride? Chiang Mai businesses would support it. The gay press would support it. The many thousands of local gay men, both Thai and foreign, would give it their backing too. It would undoubtedly attract huge numbers of gay visitors with their famously deep pockets. Local charities who need more funds for education, treatment, and AIDS orphans would gain too so, let’s put all the wrangling, politics and arguments behind us and start anew. Time for the marching bands and the feather boas, the shirtless hunks and the smiling faces aboard extravagant floats. Time for Chiang Mai to show its Pride.

James Barnes is editor-in-chief of OUT in Thailand Magazine.