In Switzerland, Some Gays Stay In The Closet - From Nine To Five

Switzerland is gradually becoming more tolerant of gays. But many homosexuals say they're still reluctant to come out at work, where clear cases of discrimination continue to occur.

City worker at Gay Rights parade in Seattle (markjhandel)
City worker at Gay Rights parade in Seattle (markjhandel)
Caroline Stevan

GENEVA -- Arriving at the office Monday morning and inventing a romantic weekend with a lover of the opposite sex, eluding questions about one's personal life, pretending to laugh at jokes about "homos' and even putting up with remarks by a colleague who takes it upon himself to warn each new female employee that there's a lesbian working for the company. For many homosexuals, work is the last place they'd want to come out.

Gays often describe it as a damned if you do, damned if you don't situation. Switzerland has laws in place to protect homosexuals from workplace discrimination. And there are more and more professional organizations in place to support openly gay employees, including Pride UBS to Pink Cop, Medigay and Pink Rail. "Coming out is a protection," says Alexander Curchod, a lawyer and co-author of a book on gay rights in Switzerland.

But what works in theory doesn't necessarily pan out in practice. Indeed, there are many examples of discrimination against sexual minorities, from the gay lawyer who was denied partnership, to the homosexual salesman whose contract was not renewed. "In many places, as long as you remain discreet, it will be fine. For me, things became tricky when I first spoke out publicly in favor of domestic partnerships," says Barbara Lenthemann, the new secretary of Switzerland's Pink Cross.

Alicia, a transgendered person, experienced discrimination of a different kind. After sex-reassignment surgery she was demoted to a less paid and less interesting position. "I now have a significantly smaller budget and I no longer handle important matters," says Alicia. "Within 24 hours, I went from being someone who was listened to, to battling for people to say hello to me."

Publicly, at least, many companies have signed Switzerland's Diversity Charter or include a non-discrimination principle in their by-laws. "According to the labor law, companies should take preventative measures in order to avoid harm to employees. But a lot of employers, especially small companies, don't know about it," says Michel Rossinelli, the Charter's author.

Still, some work environments are naturally accepting when it comes to open homosexuality. Mathieu, who works in the world of luxury goods and cosmetics, has no problem at all sharing his sexual preferences. "It's so common, so obvious, that coming out is no a big deal." And Nathalie, an employee in a big Swiss company, says she benefited from paternity leave after her girlfriend gave birth to their child.

"There are areas where homosexuality is perceived as an added value, for example in fashion or in fields requiring a lot of flexibility and therefore no children," says Dominique Rachex. "In that case, we can come out much more easily than someone who works for a smaller company."

What about the army? Colonel Beat Steinmann, head of the Queer Officers Association, says the military remains a very macho environment. "Certain people have trouble imagining a homosexual in a combat tank," he says. Steinmann admits that it's difficult for officers to come out, since their careers depend greatly on their commanding officers.

"That said, the high command signed a statement on diversity in 2008, which makes the Swiss army a leader in that matter," he says.

Read more from Le Temps

Photo – markjhandel

Keep up with the world. Break out of the bubble.
Sign up to our expressly international daily newsletter!

How Thailand's Lèse-Majesté Law Is Used To Stifle All Protest

Once meant to protect the royal family, the century-old law has become a tool for the military-led government in Bangkok to stamp out all dissent. A new report outlines the abuses.

Pro-Democracy protest at The Criminal Court in Bangkok, Thailand

Laura Valentina Cortés Sierra

"We need to reform the institution of the monarchy in Thailand. It is the root of the problem." Those words, from Thai student activist Juthatip Sirikan, are a clear expression of the growing youth-led movement that is challenging the legitimacy of the government and demanding deep political changes in the Southeast Asian nation. Yet those very same words could also send Sirikan to jail.

Thailand's Criminal Code 'Lèse-Majesté' Article 112 imposes jail terms for defaming, insulting, or threatening the monarchy, with sentences of three to 15 years. This law has been present in Thai politics since 1908, though applied sparingly, only when direct verbal or written attacks against members of the royal family.

But after the May 2014 military coup d'état, Thailand experienced the first wave of lèse-majesté arrests, prosecutions, and detentions of at least 127 individuals arrested in a much wider interpretation of the law.

The recent report 'Second Wave: The Return of Lèse-Majesté in Thailand', documents how the Thai government has "used and abused Article 112 of the Criminal Code to target pro-democracy activists and protesters in relation to their online political expression and participation in peaceful pro-democracy demonstrations."

Criticism of any 'royal project'

The investigation shows 124 individuals, including at least eight minors, have been charged with lèse-majesté between November 2020 and August 2021. Nineteen of them served jail time. The new wave of charges is cited as a response to the rising pro-democracy protests across Thailand over the past year.

Juthatip Sirikan explains that the law is now being applied in such a broad way that people are not allowed to question government budgets and expenditure if they have any relationship with the royal family, which stifles criticism of the most basic government decision-making since there are an estimated 5,000 ongoing "royal" projects. "Article 112 of lèse-majesté could be the key (factor) in Thailand's political problems" the young activist argues.

In 2020 the Move Forward opposition party questioned royal spending paid by government departments, including nearly 3 billion baht (89,874,174 USD) from the Defense Ministry and Thai police for royal security, and 7 billion baht budgeted for royal development projects, as well as 38 planes and helicopters for the monarchy. Previously, on June 16, 2018, it was revealed that Thailand's Crown Property Bureau transferred its entire portfolio to the new King Maha Vajiralongkorn.

photo of graffiti of 112 crossed out on sidewalk

Protestors In Bangkok Call For Political Prisoner Release

Peerapon Boonyakiat/SOPA Images via ZUMA Wire

Freedom of speech at stake

"Article 112 shuts down all freedom of speech in this country", says Sirikan. "Even the political parties fear to touch the subject, so it blocks most things. This country cannot move anywhere if we still have this law."

The student activist herself was charged with lèse-majesté in September 2020, after simply citing a list of public documents that refer to royal family expenditure. Sirikan comes from a family that has faced the consequences of decades of political repression. Her grandfather, Tiang Sirikhan was a journalist and politician who openly protested against Thailand's involvement in World War II. He was accused of being a Communist and abducted in 1952. According to Sirikhan's family, he was killed by the state.

The new report was conducted by The International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH), Thai Lawyer for Human Rights (TLHR), and Internet Law Reform Dialogue (iLaw). It accuses Thai authorities of an increasingly broad interpretation of Article 112, to the point of "absurdity," including charges against people for criticizing the government's COVID-19 vaccine management, wearing crop tops, insulting the previous monarch, or quoting a United Nations statement about Article 112.

Juthatip Sirikan speaks in front of democracy monument.

Shift to social media

While in the past the Article was only used against people who spoke about the royals, it's now being used as an alibi for more general political repression — which has also spurred more open campaigning to abolish it. Sirikan recounts recent cases of police charging people for spreading paint near the picture of the king during a protest, or even just for having a picture of the king as phone wallpaper.

The more than a century-old law is now largely playing out online, where much of today's protest takes place in Thailand. Sirikan says people are willing to go further on social media to expose information such as how the king intervenes in politics and the monarchy's accumulation of wealth, information the mainstream media rarely reports on them.

Not surprisingly, however, social media is heavily monitored and the military is involved in Intelligence operations and cyber attacks against human rights defenders and critics of any kind. In October 2020, Twitter took down 926 accounts, linked to the army and the government, which promoted themselves and attacked political opposition, and this June, Google removed two Maps with pictures, names, and addresses, of more than 400 people who were accused of insulting the Thai monarchy. "They are trying to control the internet as well," Sirikan says. "They are trying to censor every content that they find a threat".

Keep up with the world. Break out of the bubble.
Sign up to our expressly international daily newsletter!