Published on November 3, 2007
“I want people to read the stories and have pride in themselves, and to have more confidence to live their lives. ” Vitaya Saeng-aroon Journalist and publisher
Vitaya Saeng-aroon strolls comfortably around Seacon Square, seemingly carefree that people might spot in his demeanour or his clothing - sleeveless T-shirt and jogging pants - his gay pride.
He certainly doesn't care anymore. But Vitaya spent the first three decades of his life in a closet, writhing in torment. He never discussed being gay with anyone.
"I always thought being gay was a bad thing, something to be avoided," he says. It was outrageous, if not actually criminal, he thought.
He kept his secret, but the longer he kept it, the greater the distance that separated him from his friends. The tension continued to build until one of his colleagues - who would become a long-term boyfriend - persuaded him that honesty was the best policy for all concerned.
When Vitaya came out, he came all the way out. He began writing a column called "Hiding No More" for Metro Life magazine, giving the general public its first look at the human dimension of the lesbian-gay-bisexual-transsexual "community" - the LGBT. Previously only academics and psychologists had tried to describe their world, with predictably icy results.
Vitaya, a former telecom reporter, then moved on to other media: books, radio and film. His efforts to educate people - gays as well as straights - about lifestyle differences and the need for mutual respect and self-esteem have made him, he says, a "semi-activist".
Of the self-styled gay activists, Vitaya says, "I could never understand what they were yelling about."
The negative image of the LGBT is impossible to completely overcome, he insists. There will always be those who associate gays with perversion, crime or, at the mildest, show business. And they're far too often seen as being obsessed with sex.
"A more positive side has to be added to balance the image," Vitaya says.
Today the annual Bangkok Pride Festival begins, but for the first time its aim of engendering a greater sense of community among the LGBT will be missing the big opening parade - to Vitaya's great relief.
"It's just a silly entertainment!" he says of the lavish event he helped organise once years ago. It does nothing to advance the cause, he complains, and in fact only reinforces the stereotype of gays never being serious, of being interested merely in costumes and makeup.
In other countries that have gay-pride parades, Vitaya points out, the celebrants are reacting against deep-rooted and ongoing oppression. Thailand, by comparison, has been far more tolerant.
Even here, though, tolerance is not universal.
Chantalak Raksayoo, co-ordinator for the Sapaan Alternative Media Group, which is also trying to enhance public acceptance of the LGBT, agrees that balance is what's needed.
"Being homosexual has always been considered a mental illness that can be 'treated', rather than a sexual orientation," she says, praising Vitaya for pioneering the portrayal of gays as quite normal.
His columns and radio spots have not only given straight people a better understanding of the situation, she says, they've given gays a sense of belonging and reassurance that they're not misfits.
Among the books that Vitaya has published is his translation of "My Husband is Gay", in which Carol Grevor explains how she coped with the stunning discovery, and the "Rainbow Boys" series, Alex Sanchez's chronicle of one gay community's coming of age.
Vitaya produced the film "Rainbow Boys" to bolster acceptance among families, friends and society. It got good reviews in the local press and is being shown at gay film festivals overseas.
His second production, "Club M2", is set in a gay sauna and addresses the HIV/Aids situation.
Others filmmakers have emerged. Poj Arnon's "Bangkok Love Story" made a lot of closet-dwellers uncomfortable by exposing their secret, but Vitaya insists that Poj was "brave enough to shake society up".
He is derisive of Yuthlert Sippapak's "Ghost Station", however, saying it made victims of the LGBT and minority groups like the Karen.
Vitaya says the portrayals must be positive, and that's what he's looking for in the homegrown light-hearted novels he wants to publish.
"I want people to read the stories and have pride in themselves, and to have more confidence to live their lives."