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THAILAND - Feb 28, 2009

Pro-Taksin goons disrupt peaceful Chiang Mai celebration.

"Nearing the corner I saw them. First it appeared to be just a jumble of moving shapes and colors, mostly red," said attendee Jim M. “Hmm, must be a demonstration of some kind. Strange, happening right at the same time as the Gay Pride Parade!”

On Saturday, Feb 21, participants and organizers for Chiang Mai's annual pride parade and celebration had gathered at the Buddha Sattan, a religious center across from the Governor’s home, a frequent staging ground for public events and festivities in this cultural capital of northern Thailand.

Just before the parade was set to begin at 6pm, the gated exits were blocked by a group of red-shirted thugs - Rak Chiang Mai 51 - goons of ousted Prime Minister, Taksin Shinawatra, who fled Thailand to avoid jail after being convicted of corruption. Chiang Mai is Taksin's last major political stronghold and his dwindling supporters seized the opportunity to steal news coverage from the gathered media.

The hijackers, shouting verbal attacks through megaphones, claimed that the event, themed around HIV/AIDS prevention, would ruin the city's famed reputation for peaceful beauty and gentle way of life. They then began to forcibly dismantle the stage that had been prepared to welcome participants and international tourists.

"The place was packed, chaos ensuing, with cars and people waving placards and shouting, two or three speakers on top of motorized chariots crying out hate and more hate for all sorts of LGBT. Not your normal night out in Chiang Mai, I can tell you," continued Jim M.

Police, out in droves to assist on the parade route, stood by unwilling to clear the exits and allow the parade to peacefully pass the organized hooligans.

Inside the holy sanctuary, interviews were taking place, Buddhists meditated for non-violence, candles were lit, balloons released, tears flowed, and people hugged as the global anthem of hope, Imagine, was played.

"We accept the freedom of political expression but we cannot accept their [Red Shirts] barbarian invasion," said Niwat Suwanpattana, a member of the Northern Thai NGO, Coalition on AIDs Commission.

Busaya Khunakornsawat, a coordinator for the 2009 Gay Pride Festival, said the organising committee, fearing violence, had no choice but to cancel the planned events out of concern for safety for participants. She reminded the press that the focus of the event was to have been on promoting HIV/Aids awareness and education.

The ruffians remained, shaking their signs and blaring their slogans of hate, as those waiting along the parade route began to get word of the bullies' strong-arm tactics.

"If a traditional culture needs to be protected by hate," Jim M. opined, "perhaps it’s time for that culture to reexamine its roots."

Thai Youth Network has announced that February 21 will hereafter be observed each year as "Stop Violence Against Diverse Sex Lives Day."

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