BANGKOK Thailand's community of "ladyboys" complained on Wednesday they were being marginalised in next week's general election because their ID card pictures were too confusing for polling officials.
It is the latest in a series of gripes among members of the Trans-Female Association of Thailand which groups transgenders and transsexuals known collectively as "katoeys" or "ladyboys".
"We have a big problem when we use our identity cards in banks, schools, hospitals and now when we vote," said Yollada Suanyoc, president of the 2,500-strong organisation.
"The picture may show a woman but it says 'mister' on the card. Or the picture may show a teenage boy and the person now looks like a woman."
Everyone in Thailand has to carry a national ID card with them at all times from the age of 15. It is renewed every seven years.
Transgenders and transsexuals are accepted in Thailand more readily than in most other countries, with one new airline hiring only ladyboys as cabin crew. They are especially common in cosmetics shops and health stores and in bars in some of Bangkok's racier entertainment districts.
But Yollada said the government had been slow to accept them and accused society of grouping transgenders, transsexuals and homosexuals as one and the same when each group had its own issues.
"The government says if they change our title and sex, it's going to make society confused," she said. "The government worries that they won't know about our past."
For now, she said, there was nothing they could do ahead of Sunday's election. Yollada joined tens of thousands of people who voted in an advanced ballot on Sunday as she was away from her home province.
"It took a long time for me to explain. Some people will be OK because the government officials know them. But for some, it will be a problem."
Bangkok is a world centre for people seeking sex changes, or sex "reassignments", but the Tourism Authority of Thailand said it did not have exact figures on how many people visited the city for such operations.
(Editing by Jason Szep and Robert Birsel)