Despite Malaysia being a multi-ethnic, multi-religious society, discrimination against lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) persons has reached “new levels of intensity” according to Human Rights Watch’s latest report on Malaysia. For this year’s International Day Against Homophobia and Transphobia, IREX spoke about the state of LGBT rights in Malaysia with Julian Sanjivan, a Community Solutions leader and a former manager at PT Foundation, the largest community based organization in Malaysia dealing on issues of gender, sexuality, and HIV.
“Prior to the recent elections in Malaysia, the LGBT community was used as a scapegoat for the current ruling party’s political mileage,” says Sanjivan. He goes on to describe an environment of state-sponsored harassment of the LGBT community, section 377 of the penal code that criminalizes consenting acts between same-sex individuals, and the anti-cross-dressing laws that prevent the transgender community from being themselves.
“We could read about it every other day in the media. From the Prime Minster publicly declaring that there is no place for LGBTs in Malaysia to the First Lady blaming homosexuality for being the cause of HIV to the numerous seminars going on about eradicating the LGBT phenomenon by the Education Ministry and the Deputy Education Minister openly declaring that homosexuality can be curbed and cured.”
The PT Foundation works with the most marginalized communities in Malaysia, specifically men who have sex with men (MSM), transsexuals, sex workers, and drug users. In addition to providing direct care services for those affected by HIV/AIDS, the organization offers HIV/AIDS education. Yet Julian describes how “outreach literature had been confiscated and even destroyed on numerous occasions.”
LGBT organizations continue to organize and to offer care and services to the most vulnerable communities in Malaysia despite numerous obstacles and episodes of violence. But the work is hard and takes a toll. As Sanjivan notes, “I had advised so many people about what they can do to seek justice when faced with similar situations. However, many fear the repercussions from the authorities, their families, and employers.”
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