Out in The City

 |  September 1, 2011

The Bangkok Post recently published the thoughts of Phusit Phensiri, of Suan Sunandha Rajabhat University’s Management Science Faculty: “2.4 million males in Thailand are gay, with 1 million in Bangkok and 1.4 million in the provinces. They are not afraid to spend, have strong networking skills and are good at using social networks,” he said, urging businesses to rethink their marketing strategies and cash in on the ‘pink baht’. The old system of marketing, according to Phusit, did not look at the demands of gay consumers when it tried to organise events or create ad campaigns.

Gay people are well aware that they have a relatively higher disposable income, have a proven track record of brand loyalty and are highly discerning when it comes to ‘straight’ businesses who want to explore their wallets. It is simply not enough to declare that a business is ‘gay friendly’, especially when that business makes no such declaration on its own website or gives no public support for gay issues or employment rights. A recent case in Thailand revealed that an international hotel chain, proclaiming ‘gay friendly’ status, refused employment because the gay applicant was HIV+.

When a business is gay, there can be no suspicions, and among the superb examples to be found in Chiang Mai, is The Soho Bar and Guesthouse on Huay Kaew Road. Scott Taylor, the gregarious doyen of Soho has sold up and moved on. Scott will be missed but new owners, Shauna Pugh and her partner, Rabbit, are determined to retain the friendly feel of this much-loved local watering hole.

Shauna, 49, is from New Orleans and was there during the horror of hurricane Katrina, “New Orleans has the second largest gay community in the US,” she says. “I owned a guesthouse in the French quarter (gay area) there but when I came to Thailand in 1999, I knew this was the place for me.” That experience will ensure that Soho will continue to be a firm Chiang Mai favourite. “My Dad is gay,” she says with a giggle, “He discovered Soho Bar and told me that I had to buy it!” She decided to open a business here in December 2010: “That’s how long I’ve been begging Scott to sell and eventually I caught him at the right moment.”

“We want to see the gay Thais and farangs mix and get closer,” adding, modestly, “I hope the local gay community will welcome us with open arms.” Male to female transgender Shauna will leave the bar mostly unchanged but is determined to develop the guesthouse. Her warmth and Rabbit’s infectious charm will leave no doubt that a friendly gay business is always preferable to one that is merely gay friendly.

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