In a total of 196 countries, LGBT relationships are illegal in 76 and Malaysia is one of them. This article speaks of the LGBT community in the context of Malaysia. This piece hopes to look at why such hate towards a community exists, as well as, the possibilities of hope.
Malaysia’s Laws vs. The LGBT Community
The Malaysian law at present persecutes men and women for homosexual activities with whippings and up to 20 years in prison. This law is codified in Malaysia’s laws on homosexual activity in Section 377 of its Penal Code. According to an attitude survey conducted by the International Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans and Intersex Association (ILGA), 41% of Malaysians agreed that “there is a conflict between same-sex desire and their religious beliefs”, while 20% disagreed to this statement & the remainder were uncertain/were not religious. The response did not come as a surprise, as Malaysia’s foundation of such laws are based on religious views.
The responses received to the statement “if being LGBT should be a crime” were divided almost equally among strongly agree, strongly disagree and neither. However, when questioned if “human rights should be applied to everyone regardless of who they are attracted to”, a majority were unsure, 38% agreed that it should be applied, leaving a minority disagreement. This response is surprising as it could seem to depict an admirable number of acceptance towards the LGBT community as equals.
The Flip Side of the Coin
These statistics seemed to become less morbid once I observed a sense of acceptance within the responses. Acceptance which I noted from uncertain participants of the survey.
This acceptance is partially clarified further, through the interviews that were conducted with individuals who identify themselves with the LGBT community. In particular, 2 gays, 1 lesbian and 1 transgender individual. The interviews were initially decided upon to gather their everyday struggles, from coming out to fitting into society.
Views on Coming out
I realized that I had made my own assumptions of the LGBT struggles, prior to the interviews. This became apparent when inquiring as to how difficult it was to come out. The interviewees to my surprise responded by saying that they did not face major difficulties doing so. In particular, the parents of the Lesbian interviewee had responded to her coming out by saying,
So? As long as you’re happy and she’s a nice person, that’s the only thing that matters.
Similarly, when questioning as to how their friends reacted, their answers echoed acceptance too.
Coming out to my friends was never a problem. I’d make sure that my friends are accepting people, plus I’m only close with a handful of people.
I however, drew to the conclusions that the interviewees who came out, were fortunate to have family and friends who did not label or pose judgement based on their sexuality. This conclusion was based on research which depicts that many Malaysian parents in particular, would be upset if their children came out as such. When speaking to the gay interviewee, his response was that fear still overrules his decision to come out. This fear exists purely on the thought of rejection from his family, as it had been for his nephew. However, he hopes to come out eventually but is still waiting for the best and right time. These responses reminded me of the time inter-racial marriage was taboo, resulting in eloping being the only solution.
But what does one do when it is illegal to Love?
Why is there so much constraint on an issue that doesn’t harm any living being?
Views on Religion and Sexual Orientation
Despite ongoing debates globally on religion and the LGBT community, I found that each of the interviewees were unanimous in their response when it came to their beliefs. They clearly stated that they don’t encounter problems between their beliefs and their sexual orientation. Though some of them are still trying their best to distinguish the fine line between repentance and obedience, they continue to fulfill their other responsibilities as followers of their respective religion. In particular, they stand firm on the grounds that religion is a personal relationship with God and hence should not affect others.
I think we all contradict our beliefs at some points in our lives. We all sin.
This statement in particular strikes me as highly significant. For one reason it alludes to one’s journey of self-discovery as being inevitable. This journey could either make or break a person but it is up to the individual to make the most of it.
The second reason is the irony of the commotion over another person’s sexual orientation as a sin. A supposed ‘sin’ pointed out by other humans, who have their own sins. Here, forgetting that religion’s aim is to endorse Love, not hate.
So, where is the problem?
In Malaysia’s context in particular, it could be, politics.
Homophobia: A Power Tool
In February 2015, leading opposition leader, and former Deputy Prime Minister Anwar Ibrahim was jailed for five years after losing his appeal against his conviction on sodomy charges – charges believed to be politically motivated according to ILGA.
This, being of a political motive is further comprehended when taking into consideration, Malaysia’s Prime Minister, Najib Razak’s comparison of the LGBT community to ISIS. Here, he demeaned human rights activists too by associating them with un-islamic values similar to those of the Islamic State.
This sense of moral panic by alluding a community and its supporters to terrorism is highly problematic. Further, it could be seen as a justification to the previously mentioned survey’s statistics of whether the LGBT community should receive basic human rights or not.
In addition, statistics also reveal that 41% of Malaysians do not know if homosexuals were born that way or not. While similarly another 45% don’t know if those who don’t identify themselves with the sex assigned to them at birth were born that way or not. Hence it could be concluded that there is a sense of ignorance among the Malaysian public.
Thus sometimes in politics this ignorance be made use of.
Society : The LGBT Community & You
In layman terms, education. Specifically, human anatomy. It is surprising that it has not occurred to society that these communities would not exist in such detrimental conditions, if what they’re fighting for is a choice. Hence given that members of the community possess the same organs and blood types as heterosexuals, it should be common sense that they too should feel inclusive in a society. That they too, should have the same human rights heterosexuals are privileged to have.
Society in general should not be passive in political issues but educated enough to see beyond political propaganda. It is evident that the LGBT community is not hindering society by simply requesting equality. But their plight is viewed as evil by those in power & control. Hence as citizens who give them the authority, we should be smart.
Therefore, the first move society could do is to break the myths and stereotypes surrounding the LGBT community. Interact with those in the LGBT community, listen to their stories and share it. The fact that statistics show uncertainty in addressing LGBT matters should be of an advantage to the community. Using this benefit of the doubt, society should be educated in whatever way possible, before politicians take the upper hand.
Trumping all of this however is society’s role of being human and giving hope to those who need it. The problem wouldn’t be too severe if society at least tried to view everyone as just another human being. In particular, we as part of this society, we need to be more humane, promote more understanding and tolerance purely because we are capable of it, but just not choosing it enough.
By Lee Shing Wee & Amashi de Mel.