COMMENT | We are witnessing an unprecedented global health crisis at a scale none of us has seen before. For LGBT communities in Malaysia, the mounting pressure of having nowhere to go during this time of uncertainty is a cause for concern that is more common than people realise.
Research shows that many LGBT people are vulnerable to violence and aggression by family members and others in their close networks. Other than physical, emotional and sexual abuse, other forms of violence include withdrawal of financial and emotional support, being forced to undergo therapy, and forced marriage.
As the world battles the pandemic, the lack of gender and sexuality inclusive responses further marginalises the group, as we see happening all over Asean.
In our country where anti-LGBT attitudes are growing, the effects are alarming. Queer Lapis spoke to a couple of Malaysians on the realities of being a survivor of violence in toxic, isolating environments.
'I have to listen to my father's hatred daily'
“I’m treated like a piece of garbage at home,” says Matt*, a research assistant in Penang who was forced to return to his family home after losing his job.
Covid-19’s shock to the economy has been causing enormous anxiety over job security nationwide, but for highly discriminated LGBT communities, circumstances are much worse.
“My entire life has ground to a halt, and no one can protect us from our homophobic parents who are taking advantage of the isolation to hurt us,” he tearfully explains.
He has not come out to his family yet, but they are suspicious of his sexuality and keep tabs on his text messages and call logs.
He shared a recent incident when his father began preaching to the family on how the so-called “deviancy of LGBT people” caused the pandemic. He claimed that God is giving LGBT people an opportunity to return to "normal".
The father’s views are, unfortunately, not uncommon. A post went viral on social media recently with over 30,000 shares, claiming that Covid-19 is a punishment from God because of the LGBT people and other associated "immoral" acts.
“He blamed me for all of us dying without explaining how and why except that religious leaders said so. How can anyone bear with this torture every single day?” Matt said.
Surviving these trying times in a religious family has been damaging to his mental health. He recounts the emotionally coercive ways his parents use to make him practice religion in front of them.
He believes the spiteful speeches of his parents and older siblings would see no end, and he is condemned to silence.
“I always question whether I can live to celebrate the end of the lockdown, getting through this period is a painful struggle”.
Forced to marry behind closed doors
In another case, Nora*, a closeted lesbian and final year university student studying sociology in Kuala Lumpur, speaks of how her parents have also exploited her return home.
She was shocked to find out that she was proposed for marriage behind her back.
“I was ordered to look through photos of men and their profiles. I was never asked whether I even wanted to get married,” she said.
Last week, a potential suitor and his mother visited her family. Nora refused to meet them and stayed in her room, but her parents not only verbally abused her but aggressively dragged her out.
“I have a bruise on my left arm from my mother's grip, and when I complained about her hurting me, she tightened her hold even more without batting an eye.”
Stuck at home, she cannot stay in touch with her partner, whose existence is unknown to her family. Only while everyone is asleep can Nora hear a word of solace from her girlfriend.
Nora says both of them live in fear of backlash from their parents and extended families that regard everything related to LGBT as a “grave sin”.
Domestic violence rates have increased across many parts of the world, including Malaysia as the stay-at-home order got enforced, and a number of NGOs have received increased emergency WhatsApp messages and phone calls. While these services don’t explicitly cater to queer people, they are known to be inclusive.
Gender-based violence is further amplified when queer identities are involved. Nora emphasises the issue of how violence against queer women is unaccounted for because most survivors fear persecution if they were to be out.
“No one cares in this country because I’m invisible, and now my family is subduing me, and I just can’t breathe anymore”.
The fear of authorities is not unfounded as Queer Lapis has received two reports of the police allegedly profiling LGBT people at roadblocks, and going through their phones to check their Grindr (an LGBT-centric dating app) messages and intimate photos. This highlights just how vulnerable LGBT people and other groups are during times of crisis.
Community and self-care are essential for survival
A pandemic is stressful enough, but add the extra layer of living with having a queer identity and the risks of mental health issues increase considerably.
According to Gia Kon, a queer-affirming counsellor with Soul Mechanics, the impacts of abuse on mental health cannot be understated. Suicide ideation, in particular, is a worrying trend among those who feel that they are helpless and alone in the world.
In addition to being a victim of domestic violence, “lack of physical contact and overthinking can cause you to have deep sadness and anxiety which could lead to acute health issues such as headaches and respiratory problems.”
During a crisis when families and the authorities are being abusive, we need to start depending on ourselves and each other for help.
It is important to reach out if in need. There are various people and organisations willing to provide support, whether it is money, a listening ear, or advice on escaping a dangerous situation.
Here is a list of essential contacts and services to help surmount these moments of panic. All hope is not lost, the resilient LGBT community is on the frontlines, and it can get through this.
* Names have been altered to protect privacy.
FATIMA QURESHI is a freelance journalist, podcaster and aspiring filmmaker keeping abreast of global politics and tech news. This article was originally published in Queer Lapis.
The views expressed here are those of the author/contributor and do not necessarily represent the views of Malaysiakini.
Keep up with the latest information on the outbreak in the country with Malaysiakini's free Covid-19 tracker.
Malaysiakini is providing free access to the most important updates on the coronavirus pandemic. You can find them here.
Help keep independent media alive - subscribe to Malaysiakini.