COMMENT | It was a rare positive outcome for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) people in Malaysia.
Earlier this month, the Health Ministry, in response to strident criticism from activists and the general public, reframed the terms of a youth video competition, removing language and criteria that stigmatised LGBT identities in favor of language that appears to affirm them. But will the rest of the government embrace this rights-respecting stance by the Health Ministry?
The National Creative Video Competition on Adolescent Sexual and Reproductive Health, which opened on June 1 with the stated theme “Value Yourself, Practice Healthy Lifestyle,” initially called for young people ages 13 to 24 to submit original videos on three topics: “sexual reproductive health,” “cybersex” and “gender dysphoria.” (The Bahasa Malaysia term, kecelaruan gender, has previously been translated by government agencies as “gender confusion”)
In the guidelines for the gender dysphoria category, teens were invited to address “prevention, control and how to get help” for people including “lesbian, gay, transgender (mak nyah), transvestite, tomboy/pengkid and others.”
Civil society activists sprang into action to demand changes. Nisha Ayub, an internationally recognised transgender activist and the co-founder of Malaysia’s Seed Foundation, told the media that the competition was “encouraging discrimination, hatred and even violence towards the minorities."
Pang Khee Teik, another activist, denounced the competition’s conflation of gender identity and sexual orientation, saying, “The very fact that they lump LGBT people under a category called 'gender confusion' shows that the authorities are very much confused themselves.”
Several Malaysian and international organisations, including the Malaysian AIDS Council and Human Rights Watch, issued statements or wrote to the Health Ministry in protest...