Malaysiakini News

Nisha Ayub did not throw us under the bus

Pang Khee Teik  |  Published:  |  Modified:

COMMENT | Some people are saying that Nisha Ayub and the trans community have thrown the lesbian, gay and bisexual communities under the bus during the press conference with the Minister in the Prime Minister’s Department, Mujahid Yusof Rawa.

I understand it can appear like that, but I disagree. Make no mistake, we have all been thrown under the bus together.

Nisha (photo, below) and many trans activists have always maintained they are trans advocates.

They have said they do not wish others to misrepresent their issues and likewise do not wish to misrepresent the issues of other communities.

Historically around the world, LGBT activists have often used this label, but yet have given very little attention to the trans communities, and when they do, sometimes misrepresent what the trans communities want.

Trans activists had to fight harder to be heard through many well-funded LGBT campaigns, often lead by white gay men and women, who are often campaigning for things that matter more to them.

For example, in the global North, the campaign for same-sex marriage means little to the trans.

The campaign around workplace discrimination often focuses on gay and lesbian employees as trans people have difficulty even to become employees.

This leads us to the class issue. The reality here is that most people within the trans women communities, due to their visibility, find it harder to get jobs, or if they do get jobs, find it hard to get good jobs, be promoted, or be allowed to be who they are at work.

Of course, there are a few lucky ones. But the majority of them struggle for their rights on top of struggling to make ends meet.

Struggling to make ends meet forces many of them to do jobs that compromise on their rights, safety and health. This is where society has left them further behind.

This doubles their invisibility within LGBT campaigns and reduces their opportunities to be heard.

Therefore, many trans activists took to saying: We will champion our own cause. We need to understand this in order to appreciate why some trans activists are fiercely trans activists.

Being an ethnic Chinese, a non-Muslim, a gay man, working in the arts, with good education and speaking decent English, I have certain privileges.

This allows me to use the umbrella term and say I am an LGBT activist. Not all of us have the same privileges.

Some people's struggles are so oppressed and under-represented that they need to work harder to be heard and need to focus on specific issues.

As for the press conference, I believe Mujahid was the one who was trying to define what LGBT is and is not, based on his own misconception of what we are fighting for.

It was he who assumed the rest of us want to "promote LGBT activities", whatever that means, and that we want same-sex marriage, when, to my knowledge, Malaysian LGBT activists have never called for that.

We only want equal rights: the same protection, the same access to health, education, work, shelter, family and all public services.

The same right to speak of our experiences of discrimination and violation. And when violated, the same opportunities to represent our issues and seek justice.

By defining LGBT for us, Mujahid (photo) divided the communities. I believe Nisha did not wish to challenge the minister in public, so she only suggested that she could not speak for the LGB, which is a position she has always maintained.

However, she did add that she believes the minister would meet representatives from the LGB, should we reach out to him, as a way of inviting him to meet us. She tried to open that door for us.

Based on their past actions, Nisha and members from the trans community have always stood with the LGBT activists when they can. Even while fighting their own incredibly hard battles.

We collaborated together in organising the historical now-banned festival Seksualiti Merdeka and many other events.

They have come to our workshops, retreats, meetings in solidarity. And we have also attended their events in solidarity. But we respect their right to identify and advocate in a way that is meaningful to them. Let us not allow politicians to divide us.

As for politicians, we appreciate that some of them are attempting to speak out for us, or attempting to find a middle path.

Please engage with us and dialogue with us so we can clarify what we are fighting for, to prevent further misunderstanding of our struggles for equality.

Stop saying you believe in our rights as a citizen and at the same time take away our rights to speak for ourselves. If we are citizens, let us speak.

I stand in solidarity with Nisha and the trans community. I hope all of us do, too.


PANG KHEE TEIK is the co-founder of Seksualiti Merdeka, an annual sexuality rights festival held in Kuala Lumpur, which has since been banned. He is a freelance arts consultant with a nose for creative human rights programmes.

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

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