BANGKOK, June 29 (Reuters) Writers of Thailand's post-coup constitution agreed today to give gay, lesbian, transgender and transvestite groups official status in the new charter to try to end discrimination.
Along with a guarantee of equal rights for men and women, the 100-member drafting council voted unanimously to include a reference to ''those of other sexual identities'' in the new charter, due to be put to Thailand's first referendum in August.
''This council has already guaranteed equal rights for the disabled, so why can't we give the same treatment to those who have sexual preferences,'' said charter write Chirmsak Pinthong, who sponsored the idea.
Earlier this month, the council rejected a proposal to guarantee the rights of those with various sexual orientations, saying it would create a legal status of a ''third sex''.
Gay rights groups welcomed the inclusion, saying it would pave the way for fairer treatment.
''The clause will guarantee our basic rights that have been ignored for such a long time,'' Natee Teerarojjanapongs of the Thai Political Gay Group told Reuters in tears.
''We hope it will help end all sorts of discrimination against us,'' said Natee, who said he and his male partner were refused life insurance by a number of companies who viewed homosexuals as carrying a far higher risk than heterosexuals.
On the surface, Thailand appears very tolerant of homosexuality, with many openly gay celebrities.
Transvestites, or ''katoeys'' as they are called in Thai, are commonplace in offices, schools and on television, and Bangkok is a world centre of sex-change surgery.
However, the predominantly Buddhist country remains deeply conservative at heart and still had many rules and regulations discriminating against non-heterosexuals, gays activists say.
Transvestites are barred from compulsory military service, but army chiefs made a small concession two years ago, branding them ''physically unfit'' rather than ''permanently insane''.
However, many cross-dressers turned away before 2005 still carry the ''permanently insane'' stamp on their military draft cards -- documents needed for job applications.
The inclusion of the gay rights in the draft constitution came a day after a Thai gay rights group launched a boycott of a Bangkok night club run by European hotel chain after bouncers refused entry to a male transvestite.
The club denied any discrimination.
REUTERS SKB DS1543