The emergence of open gay, lesbian, and transgender (GLT) cultures in major world cities is a sociologically significant phenomenon. The Thai capital Bangkok is home to some of Asia’s oldest and largest GLT communities. Only a decade ago, Asian GLT studies was a neglected if not taboo field. However, the 1st International Conference of Asian Queer Studies in Bangkok in 2005 demonstrated the rapid maturing of this new field. Research libraries though have not kept up with this rapid academic development, and for a variety of reasons have not collected the publications of Thai GLT communities.
Since the 1970s, Thailand’s GLT communities have produced large quantities of Thai language publications including multi-issue periodicals and magazines and community organization newsletters. This large volume of vernacular materials, totalling several thousand items, documents the history of one of the world’s most important non-Western homosexual/transgender cultures and is a largely untouched research trove. Thailand’s GLT magazines are an academic resource of genuine international importance.
While extensive, like the communities they represent, Thai GLT magazines are socially marginalised and culturally stigmatised. Thai GLT publications have often been ephemeral and of an underground nature known only to the members of these marginalised communities themselves. They have rarely been distributed through mainstream bookstores or magazine outlets. As a result, there is currently no public archive of Thai GLT vernacular materials anywhere in the world, and research in this field is seriously hindered by this institutional deficiency. These materials are in danger of being destroyed and disappearing completely in the next few years. Since no Thai or Western library or archive has collected these materials, the only remaining copies are in the hands of private collectors.
This project, funded by the British Library’s Endangered Archives Programme, was part of an attempt by Thai community organisations, working in collaboration with the Australian National University, to preserve materials that have not been collected by any Thai institutional archive. In order to set the groundwork for this project, Thai community organisations were encouraged to physically salvage the materials that were finally digitised. These materials have never previously been collected in one location. This project also operated under the added disadvantage of a local situation where some authorities view the materials as deserving of destruction rather than preservation.
A total of 648 issues of Thai gay, lesbian and transgender community organisations and commercial magazines from 32 different series were digitised. A website hosted by the Australian National University has been created and pdf versions of each magazine issue have been posted there. Information on the website is in the process of being translated into Thai, to make this resource fully bilingually functional.
The original materials will be transferred to the Princess Maha Chakri Sirindhorn Anthropology Centre (SAC), Bangkok – the final transfer was delayed because of the disruptions caused by the massive flooding of Bangkok in late 2011.
The records copied by this project have been catalogued in the British Library’s Endangered Archives, where the fully digitized material has been made available online:
In memory of Parathakorn (Joe) Nimsang (Born 12 March 1979, Died 10 April 2014) whose tireless dedication to preserving Thailand’s heritage of endangered gay, lesbian and transgender publications was pivotal to the successs of the Thai Rainbow Archives Project.
[Information from the Endangered Archives Programme]