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The global society has seen a gradual welcoming shift in people’s perception towards the LGBTQ community in the 21st century; with movements and anti-discrimination legislations being implemented in a range of countries such as New Zealand, the United Kingdom and Germany. Despite laudable progressions in sexuality and gender inclusivity being made across a multitude of countries, legal and social challenges are still experienced by LGBTQ communities in certain parts of the world; such as Poland and Hungary with regressive policies and rhetoric being newly implemented which threatens to put a spanner in the works regarding the general public’s perception on the LGBTQ community.
This article aims to have a transparent conversation about LGBTQ rights despite its controversial nature in Malaysia, and how today’s society, regardless of one’s sexual orientation, can contribute to a better, progressive and a more inclusive world for the foreseeable future.
What is LGBTQ?
LGBTQ is an abbreviation that stands for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer. These terms are also commonly used to encompass other unidentified sexual orientations that conform to heterosexual norms.
The term ‘lesbian’ used to define an individual who is sexually, emotionally and/or romantically attracted to people of the same sex; this term is commonly used to refer to women only.
The term ‘gay’ is used to define an individual who is sexually, emotionally and/or romantically attracted to people of the same sex; this term is commonly used to refer to men only.
The term ‘bisexual’ is used to define an individual who is sexually, emotionally and/or romantically attracted to people of genders both the same and different to their own; an individual that is attracted to both men and women.
The term ‘transgender’ refers to an individual whose gender identity and/or gender expression, differs from the gender they were assigned at birth. For example, a transgender man lives as a man today, but was initially assigned as a female at birth.
An umbrella term for sexual and gender minorities who are not heterosexual nor cisgender.
Occasionally, you may have stumbled across the ‘+’ sign in terms like ‘LGBTQ+’, which includes all of the possible communities summarised in the “LGBTQQIAAP” acronym. Here’s a brief breakdown:
- Q – Questioning
- A person who is still actively exploring their true sexual/gender identity.
- I – Intersex
- A person whose body cannot be definitively identified as male or female due to medical variation.
- A – Allies
- A person who identifies as straight but supports the LGBTQQIAAP community.
- A – Asexual
- A person who is not sexually attracted to people of any gender.
- P – Pansexual
- A person whose experiences sexual/romantic/emotional attraction towards other people regardless of their sex or gender identity. They can also be referred to as someone who’s gender-fluid or gender-blind.
Moving forward with this article, the term ‘LGBT’ or ‘LGBTQ’ will be utilised to streamline the article with a single term to represent all the various identities.
What’s been happening to the LGBTQ community lately?
On 15 June 2021, Hungary’s parliament passed legislation that effectively bans the promulgation of content in schools adjudged to promote homosexuality and gender change. Fidesz, the ruling party who has a dominant majority, overwhelmingly backed this notion whilst left-wing opposition parties boycotted the bill. Ultimately, this legislation was passed unanimously with 157 votes to 1, despite fervent criticism from human rights groups and opposition parties citing the legislation as “an affront against the rights and identities of LGBTI persons”.
The bill passed by Hungarian parliament harkens back to a federal law enacted by its eastern neighbour Russia back in 2013, which prohibits “gay propaganda” and justifying the need for the protection of children as a ruse to silence public discussions about LGBTQ issues. Such legislation practically builds a barrier between Russian children and their ability to obtain educational information about gender and sexual diversity, eventually becoming the fons et origo (source and origin) behind the stark increase and justification of homophobic violence among far-right nationalists in Russia. The European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) has adjudged Russia’s gay propaganda law to be discriminatory in nature, which reinforces stigma and hatred towards the LGBTQ community.
A Hungarian government spokesperson has attempted to justify the righteousness of the enacted law, stating that “children under a certain age can misunderstand such content and which may have a detrimental effect on their development at the given age, or which children simply cannot process, and which could therefore confuse their developing moral values or their image of themselves or the world.” Hungary isn’t a lone wolf in its assault on LGBTQ rights, with its neighbouring country Poland employing an increasingly aggressive stance towards the LGBTQ community in recent times, prompting ILGA-Europe to classify the status of LGBTQ rights in Poland being the worst among all European Union countries. Recent comments by Poland’s education minister describing an LGBTQ march to be “an insult to public morality” have continued to add fuel to the fire, forming part of a fresh two-pronged assault by both Hungary and Poland against the LGBTQ community. This not only threatens to further devalue the dignity and stigmatise members of the LGBTQ fraternity in the above mentioned countries, but also in other countries harbouring more conservative beliefs.
Hungary’s actions has drawn widespread international condemnation, essentially guaranteeing a possibly frosty reception from Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán in the upcoming EU summit where the topic of Hungary’s recent anti-LGBTQ law will almost certainly be brought up. The Director of Amnesty International Hungary, David Vig has described the legislation as a “dark day for LGBTI rights and for Hungary’”. Moreover, European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen called the Hungarian law “a shame”, and a blatant “violation of fundamental EU values”. Across the Atlantic Ocean, United States State Department spokeswoman Jalina Porter has stated that the new law “raises concern” about “freedom of expression”, with restrictions that “have no place in a democratic society”.
The sporting world too was not spared from the shockwaves generated by the controversy. On 23 June 2021, the Munich city council requested for the Union of European Football Associations (UEFA) — Euro 2020’s organiser and Europe’s football governing body — to illuminate the Allianz Arena football stadium in rainbow colours for Germany’s encounter against Hungary. The gesture was cited as an “important sign of tolerance and equality” by the Munich city council. This proposal came in on the heels after Germany’s goalkeeper Manuel Neuer had worn a captain’s armband in rainbow colours a few weeks ago against France and Portugal, prompting UEFA to launch an investigation into whether the armband gesture had breached its rules regarding on-field political statements; the investigation was shortly abandoned thereafter as it was assessed as a “team symbol for diversity”.
Ultimately, UEFA rejected the Munich city council’s request after deeming the gesture to be a political statement that was aimed at the Hungarian government. UEFA’s verdict was very much welcomed by Hungarian politicians, with Hungarian Foreign Minister Peter Szijjarto hailing it as “the right decision” whilst thanking God that “common sense still prevails”. However, the foregoing statement did not sit down well with the general public, with the mayor of Munich Dieter Reiter calling UEFA’s decision “shameful” and lambasted UEFA for forbidding the city in “setting an example for diversity, tolerance, respect and solidarity”.
Displeased with the result, several Bundesliga clubs have jumped in to fill the gap, pledging to light up their stadiums in rainbow colours during the match. Other prominent football clubs such as Barcelona and Juventus also tweeted their support, with rainbow colours added as backdrops to their club logos. Close to home, FC Bayern Munich expressed its solidarity in a tweet written in English from its president, Herbert Hainer. Hungary’s largest LGBTQ organisation, the Háttér Society expressed their disappointment at the UEFA’s ruling, stating that lighting up the Allianz Arena would have been “a major show of support”.
LGBTQ+ rights in Malaysia
Having read through the aforementioned news describing the appalling challenges faced by LGBTQ societies in select European countries, one may wonder how does the LGBTQ community fare right here in Malaysia? Well, back in 2015, Human Rights Watch released a detailed report stating that “discrimination against lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) people is pervasive in Malaysia”. Needless to say, discrimination against the LGBTQ community in Malaysia — a Muslim-majority country — remains rife, with homosexuality being conceived as a criminal offense under Section 377 of Malaysia’s anachronistic penal code, which carries a prison sentence of up to 20 years alongside mandatory canings.
A general lack of acceptance of LGBTQ people in Malaysia has persisted ever since independence was obtained from the British Empire back in 1957 — more than 60 years ago —, with colonial-era legislation prohibiting sodomy and oral sex still firmly in place till this day. The LGBTQ fraternity has been subjected to public humiliation at the behest of the local authorities, with two women from Terengganu being forced to endure public caning for same-sex relations back in 2018. Malaysian authorities have also forcefully utilised conversion therapy with the ultimate aim of changing one’s sexual orientation to heterosexuality, stating that homosexuality can be “cured” through extensive training.
Public displays of affection (PDA) between gay couples are generally frowned upon and the discussion of sexuality is widely considered to be taboo in the public eye. Members of the LGBT community are usually made targets subjected to substantial odium and ridicule, with certain members describing their own personal experience of being openly gay in the country as “lonely” and “depressing”.
Malaysia has also drawn considerable consternation in the eyes of the international communion through its treatment of the local LGBTQ community. This was further demonstrated back in 2016 when Malaysia joined forces with 16 other nations to block a United Nations’ attempt to recognise LGBTQ communities globally in an effort to combat anti-gay sentiments worldwide.
In 2021, the Malaysian government launched further attempts to crackdown on the local LGBTQ community through a proposal by suggesting the implementation of heavier punishments by increasing the length of prison sentences in Syariah courts; citing LGBTQ culture as not only against Islamic law but even “human nature”. This is hugely concerning especially given the growing intolerance towards the LGBTQ community in Malaysia over the recent years, further sowing the seeds of disconnection between the Malaysian government and members of the LGBTQ community.
It is hugely unfortunate even in today’s world, the mere mention of the term ‘LGBTQ’ remains a poisoned chalice in the eyes of the public. Many Malaysians who identify as a part of the LGBTQ community continue to live in fear, with the process of coming out so nerve-wrecking in a country where discrimination against them is dyed-in-the-wool in both the general public and the law of the land, that so many prefer to hide their sexuality, petrified of being another victim subjected to senseless violence.
Whilst some religious beliefs and societal norms in Malaysia have made it increasingly difficult to wholeheartedly embrace the LGBTQ community, it is imperative if the government adopts a more compassionate approach by respecting fundamental human rights which include one’s sexual orientation. An open mind when it comes to LGBTQ topics would be a commendable start.
It is not necessary for one to support it if it goes against your own set of personal values, but it is imperative to, at the very least, respect one’s sexual orientation as they are merely portraying their authentic, true self.
In a country where child marriages are deemed more socially acceptable than one’s sexual orientation, the journey for LGBTQ Malaysians remains a long, arduous struggle. It is important to note that members of the LGBTQ community are merely individuals who have sexual preferences that differ from traditional societal norms. At the end of the day, they are human too, just like me and you, and should be treated equally with dignity and respect. The existence of the LGBTQ community does not affect or degrade one’s quality of life in any way, shape or form. Homosexuality has never been a risk to the continuation of the human race, and never will be.
To members of the LGBTQ community that are reading this article, always remember that:
You are valid, and you are loved.
It’s time to stop the discrimination.
By: Chris Phang