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Thailand’s Annual Military Draft Is a Tough Time for Transgender Conscripts

Until only recently all drafts were required to be publicly shirtless for physical examinations.

Every year, the Thai government holds an army recruitment lottery for young men above the age of 21. At various stations around the country, potential recruits reach their hand into a box holding their fate for the next few years. Pulling a red ticket means they are conscripted, pulling a black one means they’re exempt, while candidates who volunteer to join the army prior to the lottery get to serve shorter periods.


This ballot is currently being held in Thailand until April 12th—and it marks a particularly stressful time for transgender people around the country. The Foundation of Transgender Alliance for Human Rights is working hard to provide transgender women with preparatory resources, the Nation reports, so that individuals can be equipped with whatever information they might need in order to face the results of the lottery. The foundation will be observing the draft in Phuket, Bangkok, and seven other provinces to ensure the rights of attendees are protected.

Support is given to trans women prior, during, and after the ballot, according to Foundation executive director Jetsada “Note” Taesombat. Speaking to the Nation, she explained: “We show video clips and give advice so they are ready to face any situation. Staff are also there to make observations because some transgender have in the past been subjected to sexual harassment and disrespectful gestures by military officers, which are most inappropriate because all genders have equal rights.”

Transgender people who have undergone cosmetic breast surgery, surgical transitioning, or hormone therapy may be exempt from military service. Once a physical examination has proven the alterations, trans women are classified as having “gender identity disorder” and are then exempted from the draft.

Jetsada claims barely anyone has undergone the expensive and time-consuming surgery by the time they’re 21, however. Transgender people have also called out the reference to a “disorder” as being stigmatizing—although Reuters notes that it’s a slight improvement on the prior label of “permanent mental disorder.” Until 2006, the drafting procedure also required trans women to join all men in being shirtless for public physical examinations—meaning trans women who had undergone breast surgery were subject to ridicule and sexual harassment.

As it stands, transgender women are still being forced to use the same bathrooms as men when taking urine samples for drug tests. Jetsada told the Nation that people have been harassed during these drug tests, and requests have been made for separate bathrooms with female guards. “Now we are worried about such scenarios also taking place in other provinces, so we will create an infographic to keep the transgender [people] informed of their rights and to make sure officers have a good understanding [as well],” she added.

While some have suggested that the exemptions given to transgender people could be exploited by others as a loophole to get out of military service, Jetsada is quick to dismiss the idea. “No one would undergo breast surgery and hormone medication courses just to fool officers into giving them an exemption,” she said.