Malaysia LGBT groups at rally spark backlash

A Malaysian minister has sparked anger by criticising the presence of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) groups at the weekend’s International Women’s Day events.

The Joint Action Group for Gender Equality, a coalition of 12 women’s rights organisations, urged the government to reaffirm the rights of all Malaysians to peaceful assembly and expression, instead of harassing female activists and peaceful protesters.

Religious affairs minister Mujahid Yusof Rawa said the authorities in the Muslim-majority nation did not recognise same-sex practices as lawful.

“I am very shocked with the actions of certain parties… that misused democratic space in order to defend things that are wrong from the point of view of Islam,” he posted on Facebook.

Other groups condemned the LGBT representation at the march, including the conservative Islamic Parti Se-Islam Malaysia and the United Malay National Organisation (Umno), which ruled Malaysia from independence in 1963 until losing the May 2018 general election.

Women’s rights groups said the focus on the LGBT representation was a distraction from the event’s demands for a minimum wage and a ban on child marriage.

“Disproportionate attention was made to single out and target the presence of LGBT participants,” the parade’s organising committee said.

The Centre for Independent Journalism (CIJ) has condemned two Malay newspapers for their allegedly biased coverage of the LGBT representation.

The media-rights organisation said the Utusan Malaysia and Sinar Harian carried negative articles using words such as “cemar” (pollute) and “suntik” (inject) to describe the LGBT community.

The CIJ said the newspapers were deliberately inciting hatred towards those already marginalised and at risk.

“We are astonished that rather than report on the demands of the march, Utusan Malaysia and Sinar Harian disproportionately focused their reporting on the LGBT issue using negative words in their headlines claiming that it was culturally inappropriate to raise the issue of fundamental human rights for the LGBTIQ-identifying community,” CIJ said.

“The demonisation of the LGBT community and its allies has led to strong statements by individuals in positions of authority to call for broad-based rejection and opposition to LGBT rights.

“This borders on incitement to hatred and violence towards a section of Malaysian society who are already at risk and facing multiple forms of discrimination.”

Mujahid sparked controversy for ordering the removal of portraits of two LGBT activists from an art exhibition.

In September 2018, two women were caned for “attempting lesbian sex” in conservative Terengganu state. Mahathir denounced the government-sanctioned assault, saying it “did not reflect the justice or compassion of Islam”.

Malaysian law says oral and anal sex is against the order of nature and civil law carries jail terms of up to 20 years, caning and fines for offenders. Enforcement of the law is, however, rare.

A special women-only flight was arranged. Women’s day event organisers say their demands were neglected amid the weekend’s controversy. Picture credit: YouTube