A prominent Malaysian newspaper has come under fierce criticism from international activists, after publishing an article that essentially informs readers about vague, generalized, and stereotyped mannerisms and characteristics to look out for in men and women, in order to “spot gays” in public. The article appeared in the newspaper Sinar Harian and has highlighted Malaysia’s colonial era laws that criminalize homosexuality with up to 20 years in prison.
The article provides a bulleted list of ‘identifiers’ in gay men such as tight, brand name clothing; beards and mustaches; and frequenting the gym to watch other men. For women, identifiers include hugging and hand-holding with other women and belittling men. While the newspaper was widely mocked for the checklist, it also sparked fears of increased violence against LGBT people in a country that already punishes and actively discriminates against the LGBT community. It has also sparked fears of a witch hunt, particularly after an 18 year old man was killed by his classmates last year for being gay, and a transgender woman was stabbed and shot while at work, only months later.
Malaysia is one of around 72 countries in the world that continues to criminalize homosexuality and is also one of the few that imposes strict colonial era laws enacted in the 19th and early 20th centuries, and so has a history of persecuting LGBT people. The Disney film, Beauty and the Beast, caused controversy in the country due to the inclusion of a gay character in the film, and was eventually released with a 13+ rating. The Malaysian government’s health ministry also launched a video competition last year for young people, which involved cash prizes for the best ‘homosexuality prevention’ videos.
Malaysia’s strict laws and anti-LGBT propaganda are also the result of conservative religious influence in the country – particularly in media and political culture – which has risen in recent years, and according to activists, put many lives on the line. Arwind Kumar, a popular social media personality and activist in Malaysia, has lashed out against the article, stating that “there are much more important issues in this country which need to be addressed,” in a YouTube video that has attracted thousands of hits.
The realities of this article and the implications of it for the LGBT community in Malaysia are without a doubt dangerous and life threatening, as they heavily stigmatize and discriminate against the community, while simultaneously encouraging other citizens to discriminate and act as a type of vigilante against LGBT people. Until these laws are changed to protect LGBT people, articles like this only serve to belittle and create fear amongst a minority population.
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