Thai trans woman Muay Thai fighter, Nong Rose Baan Charoensuk is on a mission to strive for transgender rights in Thailand and around the world. She now has the popular Muay Thai brand, Yokkao behind her campaign as the brand’s founder, Philip Villa is supporting her with a 3-year sponsorship contract.
Nong Rose made the headlines in 2017 when she became the first transgender fighter to enter the ring of Rajadamnern Stadium. Recognized the world over as one of, if not the most prestigious Muay Thai arena, Rajadamnern Stadium had for many decades imposed a dress code that prohibited sports bras and long hair. The archaic rule essentially barred women and transgender fighters from entering the ring.
Famous Muay Thai promoter, Songchai Rattanasuban overturned the legacy dress code when he featured Nong Rose in the main event. Sporting a ponytail, heavy make-up and her signature pink sports bra, the trans woman fighter did not let her promoter or fans down, winning the historic bout via the judges’ decision.
Nong Rose is not the first transgender Muay Thai fighter to get into the media spotlight. During the late 90s, Parinya Charoenphol caught the attention of the whole of Thailand and subsequently the world. Parinya, now more commonly known as Nong Toom, ignited national interest when she fought with make-up (with short hair and bare chested) at Lumpinee Stadium. She was fighting to save up for sex reassignment surgery, which she eventually underwent in 1999. Her story was retold in the award-winning international film, Beautiful Boxer.
Although Thailand is generally seen as being an open-minded country towards LGBT visitors, there is still a persistent stigma towards her own transgender community. Thai transgenders often face discrimination at work and in the case of Nong Rose, she had been insulted many times by her opponents.
Despite the name calling and prejudice, there is no quit in Nong Rose. On the contrary, it spurred her to train and fight even harder. The 24-year-old now has over 300 fights (all against men) on her record along with several championship titles to her name.
Inspired by her story and fighting spirit, Yokkao founder, Philip Villa is joining her fight for inclusivity. Villa has been a passionate proponent in promoting Muay Thai to a wider global audience, supporting Muay Thai gyms and athletes in achieving their professional goals. On signing Nong Rose as a sponsored athlete, Philip Villa explains
“Transgender people should be given the same rights and respect as everyone else and I do believe that in the Muay Thai world when even females are not considered given the respect they so deserve, this will be the beginning of many changes within Muay Thai. For there to be a change, actions are required and this is my contribution to social equality.”
Now with Philip Villa and Yokkao on board her journey, Nong Rose’ inspiring fight for inclusivity is more optimistic than ever before.