Thai ‘Drag Race’ star marches for democracy and equality

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With flawless makeup and costume that blends cabaret with catwalk and rainbow pride with royal court pageantry, Aunchalee Pokinwuttipob symbolises how Thailand’s protests are about much more than calls for a change of government.

Aunchalee, 26, is a transgender drag queen and reality television show winner who is riding the momentum of youth rallies against the military and royalist establishment, hoping to advance a drawn-out struggle for same-sex marriage and lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) rights.

Alongside the broader calls for greater democracy, is anger at government failure to change laws and policies that transgender Thais see as discriminatory.

“We really want human rights. We’ve wanted it for a long time. It’s related to freedom of speech and equality,” said Aunchalee, better known by the stage name, Angele Anang.

“This is a new phenomenon in Thailand, because they didn’t have this kind of opportunity to speak up in the past.”

Aunchalee’s outfits stand out in a sea of student protesters who often opt for black t-shirts: matching a technicolour dress with the golden “chada” crown of a Thai royal folk dancer, a rainbow umbrella with a silk dress cut to ribbons and a tight, low-cut shirt with a leather cap and frizzy white wig.

The demonstrations started in July, taking aim initially at prime minister and former junta leader Prayuth Chan-ocha, accusing him of clinging to power and harassing opponents.

They have since made unheralded calls for a curbing of the powers of a monarchy that the protesters say has enabled decades of military domination.

Starting from universities, colleges and schools, the appeal of the rallies has broadened, tapping festering frustrations with conservative elite rule over a country where younger generations are known for openness and free-wheeling attitudes.

It is a battle Aunchalee has fought at home in Ayutthaya near Bangkok.