Human Rights Watch highlight LGBT discrimination in Malaysia

Human Rights Watch have releases a new report saying persistent Malaysian government-sponsored discrimination threatens the rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) people in the country.

The 71-page report, “‘I Don’t Want to Change Myself’: Anti-LGBT Conversion Practices, Discrimination, and Violence in Malaysia,” claims that government officials have fostered a hostile climate in which LGBT and gender diverse people face discrimination and punishment because of their sexual orientation or gender identity.

Global watchdog Human Rights Watch and local organisation Justice for Sisters examined how criminal penalties, conversion practices that seek to change people’s sexual orientation or gender identity, and anti-LGBT rhetoric from government officials all undermine LGBT people’s basic rights.

“Malaysia’s current rehabilitation and criminalization approaches to LGBT people are based neither in rights nor evidence,” said Thilaga Sulathireh, co-founder of Justice for Sisters.

“The programs, while framed as compassionate, internalize societal and structural discrimination and foment self-hatred among LGBTQ and gender diverse persons and hostility among the rest of the population.”

To compile the report researchers interviewed 73 LGBT people in Malaysia between 2018 and 2021, including people living in Kuala Lumpur, Selangor, Negeri Sembilan, Kelantan, Penang, Pahang, and Kedah. The also spoke with journalists, human rights practitioners, lawyers, and others.

Malaysia’s federal penal code punishes oral and anal sex with up to 20 years in prison, with mandatory whipping.

Each state and the federal territories of Kuala Lumpur and Putrajaya also have Sharia – Islamic law – codes in place that typically criminalize same-sex activity as well as gender nonconformity via laws that prohibit “a man posing as a woman.”

The country’s laws against homosexuality can be traced back to it’s time as a British colony. Similar colonial era laws are in place in neighbouring Singapore, but are not regularly enforced.

The report also highlights that religious based conversion practices were regularly reported in their interviews, and that government officials often suggest that LGBT people are responsible for various challenges the country faces. In 2018 a government minister suggested gay people could cause earthquakes.

The researchers found that conversion and suppression practices relating to sexual and gender identity were common experiences among the people they interviewed and it was experiences by people from many different religious groups.

The idea that people can change their sexuality or gender via counselling is also promoted by government ministers, and the government has increased funding to the Islamic religious branch of government who provide retreats to “re-educate” LGBT people about sexuality and gender.

The report also found that transgender people in the country find it difficult to  change their gender on official documents with most requests being rejected.

In 2018 then Prime Minister Mohamad Mahathir declared that LGBT rights would never be accepted in Malaysia, while the following year tourism minister Datuk Mohamaddin Ketapi said there were no gay people in the country.

OIP Staff

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