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LGBTIQ: We are the experts of our lives

A group of NGOs  |  Published:  |  Modified:

COMMENT | We, the undersigned, are concerned by the perpetuation of harmful policies and practices on lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, intersex and queer (LGBTIQ) persons and related issues by the Prime Minister’s Department (the division on Religion).

These policies and practices - a continuation of those introduced by the previous administration - are centred on prevention, rehabilitation or treatment, and enforcement of laws.

Not only are they non-evidence- and non-rights-based, but these policies and practices are also harmful and result in adverse impacts, which further exacerbate the discrimination, violence, victimisation and marginalisation experienced by LGBTIQ persons.

More importantly, the present policies and practices fail to address the urgent and actual issues faced by LGBTIQ persons: criminalisation, discrimination, marginalisation, as well as hate crimes and violence.

In several statements made by Mujahid Yusof Rawa, Minister in the Prime Minister’s Department (in charge of Religion), he emphasised that as citizens, LGBTIQ persons are entitled to their constitutional rights, which must be protected.

Despite this affirmation by the minister, LGBTIQ persons have yet to enjoy the full effects of these rights.

Post-GE14, LGBTIQ persons have been subjected to multiple forms of discrimination and violence: This includes, among other things:

  • Doxxing or dissemination of personal information or photos without consent;
  • Hateful and violent messages and threats;
  • Boycott campaigns;
  • Increased vulnerability of being reported to enforcement agencies;
  • Increased threats of prosecution and legal action; and
  • Vilification and demonisation in the media.

People associated with LGBTIQ persons have also been subjected to discrimination, intimidation and violence, including hateful and violent messages for supporting the human rights of LGBTIQ persons, doxxing and being reported to enforcement agencies.

There have been no serious efforts to address the wave of homophobia and transphobia since the election.

Rehabilitation, treatment and efforts to change sexual orientation and gender identity

The existing approach used by the Prime Minister’s Department (Religion) is based on a three-pronged strategy: prevention; rehabilitation or treatment; and enforcement of laws.

Rehabilitation, treatment or efforts to change sexual orientation and gender identity of LGBTIQ persons are widely discredited by global health organisations and human rights bodies due to its harmful and long-term impacts.

In 2009, the American Psychological Association issued a report concluding that the risks of conversion therapy practices include: depression, guilt, helplessness, hopelessness, shame, social withdrawal, suicidal tendencies, self-blame, decreased self-esteem and authenticity to others, and increased self-hatred, among others.

Released in 2013, a Report of the Special Rapporteur on torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment views conversion or reparative therapies as a form of torture and explicitly calls "all States to repeal any law allowing intrusive and irreversible treatments, including forced genital-normalising surgery, involuntary sterilisation, unethical experimentation, medical display, 'reparative therapies' or 'conversion therapies', when enforced or administered without the free and informed consent of the person concerned".

In June 2018, the World Health Organisation’s 11th revision of the International Classification of Diseases (ICD-11) removed all trans-related diagnoses from the mental disorders chapter as "evidence is now clear that it is not a mental disorder, and indeed classifying it in this can cause enormous stigma for people who are transgender. There remain significant health care needs that can best be met if the condition is coded under the ICD".

Gender incongruence is now reclassified under sexual health conditions in the ICD-11. Homosexuality was removed as a mental disorder in 1970 from the ICD.

Some countries are also moving in the direction to ban conversion therapy, as it is a harmful practice. Malta and parts of Canada and the United States have banned or regulated the practice of conversion therapy.

We believe that people should be able to understand and come into their gender identity and sexual orientation in an affirming environment.

Choice should be based on self-determination

Should people choose to be heterosexual, it should be based on self-determination, and not compulsion, sense of gratitude or due to incentives, amongst others.

Plenty of evidence continues to affirm that gender identity and sexual orientation is a spectrum, which includes heterosexual and cisgender persons.

The spectrum does not erase identities. Instead, it affirms and celebrates the diversity of humanity.

We are also concerned by the so-called “experts” engaged by the Prime Minister’s Department (Religion).

We emphasise that LGBT persons are the experts of our lives.

Policies regarding LGBTIQ persons should be made in consultation with them, who are directly affected by these policies.

We are concerned that the government is engaging with groups that promote the rehabilitation and criminalisation of these persons, instead of groups that uphold the human rights of LGBTIQ persons.

Impact of the government current policies and practices

The government’s overall approach towards LGBTIQ persons will result in negative socio-economic, health impacts and be costly not only for the affected individuals, but also the government.

This includes economic marginalisation, increased health risks, migration and brain drain, increased violence and hate crime, among others.

Decriminalisation and elimination of discrimination have been proven to be effective strategies all around and have had positive impacts in multiple areas.

This includes increased quality of life, reduction of HIV prevalence rates and boost to the economy, among others.

The current uninformed practices and policies leave behind LGBTIQ persons, thereby hindering Malaysia’s ability to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals.

As stated by Mujahid (photo), LGBTIQ persons are citizens and their constitutional rights must be protected.

As such, LGBTIQ persons have the right to live dignity and to be free from all forms of discrimination, harm and violence.

These policies and practices violate Article 5 of the Federal Constitution, which guarantees a person’s personal liberty and the right to live with dignity; Article 8, which prohibits gender-based discrimination; Article 10, which protects freedom of speech, assembly and association; as well as Article 9 on freedom of movement.

In 2018, the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women (Cedaw) in its Concluding Observations to Malaysia recommended that Malaysia “expedite measures to discontinue all policies and activities, which aim to ‘correct’ or ‘rehabilitate’ LBTI women” and “amend all laws which discriminate against LBTI women, including the provisions of the Penal Code and Syariah laws that criminalise same-sex relations between women and cross-dressing.”

We call on the government to:

  • End the allocation of funds to harmful and non-evidence- and non-rights-based programmes, including rehabilitation and treatment programmes that target LGBTIQ persons and seminars that increase misinformation regarding LGBTIQ persons;
  • End implementation of the ‘Pelan Tindakan Menangani Gejala Sosial Perlakuan (LGBT)’, a five-year government action plan to address social ills (LGBT);
  • Meaningfully engage with human rights-based LGBTIQ groups of diverse backgrounds, including ethnicity and religion;
  • Establish a working group between the Prime Minister’s Department (Religion) and human rights-based LGBTIQ groups to ensure the assistance provided to transgender persons are not conditional, and that government programmes are evidence- and rights-based to address the systemic discrimination experienced by LGBTIQ persons.

This is a joint statement by

  • Justice for Sisters
  • Diversity
  • Plusos
  • Pluho
  • Quassa
  • Pelangi Campaign
  • Transmen of Malaysia
  • PT Foundation
  • Malaysian Atheists and Secular Humanists 
  • The Malaysian Feminist 
  • Center for Independent Journalism

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

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