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THAILAND - Mar 11, 2003

Gays are finding greater acceptance in Thai society these days, beyond the stereotypes portrayed in movies, TV or transgender beauty pageants. Gays are also now seen as contributing positively to the country's economy and have begun receiving increasing support from local community leaders, law enforcement, and government organizations.

Poonsak Saengchan, Chairman of the Phuket Gay Pride Festival stated that since the first festival in 1999, gay tourism has grown ten times larger and contributes more than 30 million baht annually to Phuket's economy. The seaside resort's yearly pride event, one of the region's largest gay pride events after the Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras, entertains hundreds of thousands of tourists and locals alike.

Mr. Saengchan added that gays and lesbians, free from the added economic burden of supporting children, spend more money on travel, shopping, and luxury accommodations during their holidays in Thailand.

Each year more gay foreigners are joining with Thai investors for business opportunities, especially in tourism related businesses like hotels, spas, and entertainment venues. In just one single area of the Royal Paradise Complex in Patong Beach, 25 gay businesses worth more than 20 million baht have set up shop. Many of these places attract straight tourists including females who enjoy gay-run bars where there is less chance of facing sexual harassment or rowdiness.

Local police have confirmed that Phuket's gay clubs have fewer problems than other entertainment venues. Pol Col., Asnakorn Munmaung from Kathu Police Station says that records show that gay entertainment areas are less subject to criminal activity, and that gays tend to run legal businesses and avoid mafia-like organizations. Also, gay groups are often seen publicly supporting activities for social improvement.

Khun Anooparb Theerarat, director of the Tourism Authority of Thailand's Southern Region Four division, says that gay groups that invest in Phuket are not a problem. Such special groups are within the boundary of Thai law and social morals. He noted that there are around 100 million gays and lesbians in the world and if they enjoy visiting Phuket this would be good for the country's economic growth.

He added that only one thing needed to be overcome and that was society's misunderstanding of gays. He urges people to view gay tourists as being "human tourists".

The Tourism Authority of Thailand has been giving advertising and promotional support to some portions of Thailand's recent Bangkok Pride and Phuket Gay Pride festivals.

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