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LGBTQ Malaysians deserve a better future

LETTER | I’m a Malaysian, and I’m proud to be gay. As a gay man living in San Francisco, a beautiful city that celebrates the diversity of the rainbow community, I have met so many people who have embraced and celebrated who I am as a person. San Francisco has served as a safe haven for so many members of the LGBTQ community who have fought years for their fundamental right to live freely without fear.

I spent the first 20 years of my life living in a state of fear in Malaysia. Despite my efforts to hide my sexuality, I was bullied and harassed by classmates, gang members, and even the police. I was told that being gay is wrong and that engaging in homosexual acts could lead to my arrest under Malaysia’s current anti-LGBTQ laws. I remember how afraid I was in high school when the Ministry of Education officially endorsed the widespread use of gay conversion practices disguised as boot camps.

Growing up, the TV shows and movies I watched did not feature any LGBTQ characters. Instead, I watched as government propaganda depicted the LGBTQ community in a starkly negative light in the form of Abnormal Desire, a distasteful government-backed musical that was staged in Istana Budaya, a national theatre that should have been a safe place for Malaysian youth from different backgrounds. I witnessed intense hatred and violence inflicted upon young LGBTQ Malaysians - who were forced to remain in the closet due to fear of persecution from their families, the government, or religious authorities.

After living abroad for so many years and reflecting on the current human rights conditions in Malaysia, I realize how detrimental the country’s repressive environment is to the well-being of young LGBTQ Malaysians. Today, LGBTQ youth in Malaysia continue to struggle to accept their own sexual identities due to conservative attitudes, regressive laws, and practices enforced by the government and the general public.

To have Najib Abdul Razak, the leader of one’s own country, denounce citizens who love members of the same-sex is abominable. To have Mustafar Ali, the director-general of the Immigration Department, introduce a travel ban on LGBTQ foreigners entering Malaysia is not only unconstitutional but also offensive. And to prohibit LGBTQ entertainers such as Denise Ho from performing in Malaysia is close-minded, and out of touch with the times.

This is 2018, and it is time for Malaysia to finally take a step forward. The Ministry of Health’s promotion of gay conversion therapy and guidelines on how to identify gays are harmful and threaten the lives of many LGBTQ Malaysians who are forced to continue to exist in the shadows. Malaysia’s archaic penal code criminalizing homosexual activity has fostered a repressive culture that disrupts innocent lives. Being gay is not a choice and should not be viewed as a crime.

The Najib administration has one of the worst human rights records in recent history. Under Najib’s harmful watch, queer school kids such as T Nhaveen are literally getting beaten to death, police and military forces are perpetrating dangerous discriminatory practices, and freedom of speech and expression around LGBTQ issues is being suppressed. It is time for Malaysian politicians to repeal anti-LGBTQ laws. We need anti-discriminatory structures in place to help protect Malaysians from all walks of life.

I hope the incoming administration will take an active stand in decriminalizing homosexual activity, and provide basic rights and legal protections to LGBTQ Malaysians. The regressive climate in Malaysia over the past few years has to stop, and I pray that a new leadership will be mindful of the transformative work that is needed to make Malaysia a safe and welcoming place for LGBTQ citizens.

No one should have to live in fear of revealing their sexuality or gender identity. No one should be forced to change their own identity in order to serve the interests of others who seek to oppress them.

It is time for the Malaysian government to realize that LGBTQ Malaysians deserve to live authentic lives without being targeted or harassed. The time for change is now, and I urge all Malaysians to fight for your freedom and make your voice heard at the ballot and beyond.

The views expressed here are those of the author/contributor and do not necessarily represent the views of Malaysiakini.

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