Islam and Homosexuality
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The Apartheid of Homosexuality
by Baden Offord
Faculty of Arts
Southern Cross University (Australia)
Homosexuals, Dogs, Smoking, Pants, Shorts, Slippers Are Not Allowed In This Restaurant. Sign on the door of an Italian restaurant in Taiwan. (Sydney Star Observer, 13 August 1998)
What do the Vice-President of Zambia, Christon Tembo, the Prime Minister of Zimbabwe, Robert Mugabe, the Prime Minister of Malaysia, Dr. Mahatir Mohamad, the President of the United States, Bill Clinton, the United Nations High Commissioner of Human Rights, Mrs Mary Robinson, Prime Minister of England, Tony Blair, Chairman of the Truth Commission and former Archbishop of South Africa Desmond Tutu and the Dalai Lama, have in common? It certainly is not race, culture, politics or religion. It is the fact that each of them has spoken about/to homosexuality in 1998.
The issues and problems facing homosexuals in the late 1990s are many and complex. More often than not, these issues and problems are serious, centred on the oppression and liberation of homosexuals, on their widespread marginalisation and invisibility. Former chairman of South Africa’s Truth Commission, Desmond Tutu, considers homosexual ‘persecution as unjust as apartheid’. Tutu continues ‘For me it’s a matter of human rights and a deeply theological issue’ (Newsplanet, 17 November 1998). It is his second priority of concern after Third World poverty.
The issues and problems facing homosexuals are also experienced across culture, race, health, law, ethnicity, politics, religion and economics. Homosexuality has become a marker of the final years of the twentieth century. It defies borders – it does not matter which part of the world you examine, whether in Asia or Africa, the Americas, Europe or the Middle East, homosexuality has currency at an international level not witnessed before.
For example, the trial of Anwar Ibrahim in Malaysia has brought up many of the issues that are found in Indonesia, Singapore and Australia. The former Deputy Prime Minister was detained in September 1998 under Malaysia’s Internal Security Act and charged with, among other things, sodomy and homosexuality. In a Time interview that asked whether he was a homosexual, Anwar answered: ‘Definitely not. This is nothing but vile character assassination’ (16 November 1998:52).
Implicit in this answer are some of the key elements involved in relation to homosexuals and homosexuality in the world today. In Malaysia, homosexuality is illegal, enforced by laws that are inherited from its time as a British colony. The fact that Malaysia is also an Islamic nation proscribes homosexuality as a sin. Thus, homosexuality is doubly troubled. But it is actually troubled further. In 1992, Malaysian Prime Minister, Dr. Mahatir Mohamad made the statement that democracy would lead to homosexuality. This conflation of homosexuality with democracy was used by Dr. Mahatir to consolidate Malaysia’s cultural borders (and its postcolonial status), to maintain the purity and uniqueness of the Malaysian people. In this context, Dr. Mahatir is drawing on cultural specificity to delineate the indigenous from the foreign,and homosexuality is conceived of as alien and ‘other’.
It is in this sense that Anwar Ibrahim is ‘othered’ by the use of the accusation that he is homosexual. Anwar has been notable for his liberal views about democracy and transparent government (see his The Asian Renaissance, 1996). To simply do away with opposition and perceived threats to his authoritarian rule, Dr. Mahatir has inscribed upon his enemy the descriptor of "homosexual".
Prior to the Asia-Pacific Economic Co-operation Leader’s Summit in Kuala Lumpur in late 1998, amid the controversial jailing of Anwar and civil unrest and demonstrations, the role of homosexuality as a political and cultural tool of difference was propounded strongly by the Malaysian Foreign Minister, Dr. Abdullah Badawi. It was his contention that sodomy was a serious offence in Malaysia, ‘against the country’s religious and social values’ (The Weekend Australian, 7-8 November 1998). Dr. Badawi maintained that, "in certain places in Europe, perhaps Australia and America, they don’t treat it as something big, but to us it is bad, it is a scandal." (quoted in The Weekend Australian, 7-8 November 1998).
Following Dr. Mahatir’s accusations against Anwar, a People’s Anti-Homosexual Voluntary Movement was formed to combat the ‘dangers of homosexuality.’ In one blow, Dr. Mahatir succeeded in undermining Anwar’s credibility and deployed homosexuality as the number one ‘no-no’. Anwar, also a Muslim, entrenched the perceived, corrupting value of homosexuality by asserting in the Time interview that his character was ‘assassinated’ by this descriptor. So this is one sense of where homosexuality is located in Southeast Asia today, something that is ‘demonised’ and deeply troubled. It is conflated at once with democracy, corruption, and foreignness. Carl Stychin has stated that: it does seem clear that when a nation state perceives a threat to its existence, that danger is frequently translated into sexualised terms. Same-sex sexuality is deployed as the alien other, linked to conspiracy, recruitment, opposition to the nation, and ultimately a threat to civilization (1998:9).
The murder in October 1998 of Matthew Shepherd, a 22-year-old student and human rights activist, at the University of Wyoming in the United States, highlights something that is happening all around the world but which remains largely unnoticed. Any examination of the situation of homosexuals anywhere in the world will reveal entrenched covert and overt homophobia that is a fear and even hatred towards homosexuals. Homosexuality and homosexual identity are persistently demonised, usually for religious, political or cultural reasons.
In many parts of Africa too there is deeply entrenched homophobia, and the rhetoric of ‘demonisation’ is used persistently against homosexuality. Zambian Vice-President Christon Tembo said, in October 1998, that people championing the cause of homosexuals in the country risked being arrested. Gays and lesbians are perceived traitors of society, a sentiment shared vociferously by Robert Mugabe, Prime Minister of Zimbabwe (see for example "No Freedom for Gays In Mugabe’s Zimbabwe," Herald Tribune, 16 July 1998). In a strange resonance to Malaysia, Zimbabwe’s first president, Rev. Canaan Banana, has recently been on trial on charges of sodomy.
What is a homosexual to do in this context? What is to be done? How does she or he respond to the fact that in so many places around the world, homosexuality is constantly thrust forward as a demon in times of crisis or when there is some religious, political or cultural reason to do so? How does a homosexual respond to the fact that in March 1998 in Afghanistan, five men were brutally crushed to death by a wall for committing sodomy? Or the sobering fact that according to Luiz Mott, author of Epidemic of Hate (1996), a Brazilian homosexual is murdered every four days out of homophobic hatred? William Yang, the Australian gay activist has answered this by saying (Sydney Star Observer, 13 August 1998): ‘Being a gay man, you have to be politicised in some way, otherwise you’re a walking victim’. This is how the homosexual is activated. It is a response to implicit socio-legal, political, cultural and religious ostracisation and oppression.
Homophobia, or directed hatred against ‘other’ sexualities, is utilised in the battle of cultural, religious and national purity. For many political leaders in Asia and Africa it is a postcolonial stance, a defense against the threat of perceived Western cultural imperialism brought to the non-Western world through technology and capital. Sexuality is seen as an element in the construction and imagining of cultural borders, a barrier constructed to preserve indigenousness. Homosexuality in this sense is regarded as a ‘globalised’ Western virus that corrupts the local. However, there are in reality no borders when it comes to sexuality. The torture and murder of Matthew Shepherd illustrates that the presence of hatred towards homosexuals exists in the heart of the world’s most vocal and chauvinist democracy.
According to some commentators there is a global war against homosexuality (Melbourne Star Observer, 30 October 1998; also see ‘The War over Gays’ issue of Time, 26 October 1998). It can be witnessed in conservative and reactionary attacks upon homosexuality in many cultures, including: the United States with fundamentalist Christian groups (for example, ‘Religious Rights Launches A New Anti-Gay Crusade,’ (Herald Tribune, 16 July 1998); in Fiji where the latest drafting of the constitution caused immense controversy because of the inclusion of sexual orientation as a basis for non-discrimination (it was later dropped); in China where gays are often detained in jail for social gatherings; in Romania where gays have been tortured. Whether in the developed or underdeveloped world, in Asia, Africa, Europe or South America, homosexual oppression and persecution is present (Amnesty International, 1994, 1997; Human Rights Watch, 1998).
The hard fact is that sexual cleansing is just as real as ethnic cleansing, only there is a silence about the former. The American, Nobel Prize winning author Toni Morrison has commented that ‘Race is the least reliable information you can have about someone. It’s real information, but it tells you next to nothing’ (Time International, 19 January 1998). Ethnic and sexual cleansing take place because of complex histories and traditions. It is not just about the colour of skin or the inflection of voice. It goes beyond stereotypes. These kinds of ‘cleansings’ are bound up in questions of purity and dominance. It is all about cleansing the ‘other’ wherever it is found. And it is about making the ‘other’, in this case, the homosexual person, the so-called enemyof the state, the family and the individual.
As we draw toward the beginning of the twenty first century there are many mixed messages for homosexual people. On a positive note, there are some signs that homosexuality is receiving much-needed attention on the international scene. In October 1998, for example, the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, Mrs Mary Robinson, met with representatives of the International Lesbian and Gay Association to discuss the need to place homosexuality within the ambit of the United Nations. Also in October 1998, in South Africa, which has the first constitution in the world that affirms equality for homosexuals, old apartheid laws that criminalised homosexuality were at last removed.
However, on the downside there is persistent homophobia and heterosexism in Western and non-Western cultures, which translates into the apartheid of homosexuality. Thus, coequal with an emerging gay and lesbian voice in most parts of the world there is a critical tension evident in anti-homosexual measures and rhetoric. Oliver Phillips (1997:484) in his analysis of this phenomenon in Zimbabwe concludes ‘What is being more actively censured… is the identity of being lesbian or gay, for it is this identification of sexuality as signifying a social truth, and defining a particular lifestyle, which seems to carry the most significance’.
This view can be applied to Indonesia, Singapore, Australia and other polities in the world. On an international level, there is a war being waged regarding gay and lesbian issues (Melbourne Star Observer, 30 October, 1998). Evidence for such a war exists in some recent studies. These include The Socio-legal Control of Homosexuality by Donald J West and Richard Green, and The Global Emergence of Gay and Lesbian Politics by Barry D Adam et al.
However, there remain many regions and countries in the world that require further research, including Southeast Asia. Research has only just begun to reveal the extent of the apartheid of homosexuality.
Adam, B. D. , Duyvendak, J. W. & Krouwel, A. (eds.), The Global Emergence of Gay and Lesbian Politics, Temple University Press, Philadelphia, 1999
Amnesty International, Breaking the Silence, Amnesty International, New York, 1994
Amnesty International, Breaking the Silence: Human Rights Violations Based on Sexual Orientation, Amnesty International UK, London, 1997
Herald Tribune, 16 July 1998
Human Rights Watch, ‘Lesbian and Gay Rights’, Human Rights World Watch Report, Human Rights Watch, New York, 1998.
Anwar, I. The Asian Renaissance, Times Book International, Singapore & Kuala Lumpur, 1996.
Melbourne Star Observer, 30 October 1998.
Mott, L. Epidemic of Hate: Violations of the Human Rights of Gay Men, Lesbians and Transvestites in Brazil, Grupo Gay da Bahia, Sal vador Bahia, 1996.
Newsplanet, 17 November 1998.
Phillips, O., ‘Zimbabwean Law and the Production of a White Man’s Disease’, Social and Legal Studies, 6 (4), pp. 471-491, 1997.
Stychin, C. A Nation by Right, National Cultures, Sexual Identity Politics and the Discourse of Rights, Temple University Press, Philadelphia, 1998.
Sydney Star Observer, 13 August 1998.
The Weekend Australian, 7-8 November 1998.
Time, 26 October 1998.
Time, 16 November 1998.
Tlime International, 19 January 1998.
West, D. J. & Green, R. The Sociolegal Control of Homosexuality, Plenum, New York, 1997.
August 16, 2000
(Editorial) Sordid Trial Shows Hypocrisy of Making Sexuality a Crime
by Rekha Basu
A court case in the Asian nation of Malaysia ended last week with a stunning nine-year-sentence for a man who, until two years ago, was being groomed to lead his country. And it comes with a cautionary note about what can happen when draconian laws are allowed to remain on the books. Anwar Ibrahim, 52, Malaysia’s former deputy prime minister, wasn’t accused of taking bribes, torturing opponents or rigging elections. His alleged offense? Sodomy. In Malaysia, you can actually go to prison for having a same-sex relationship (even a consensual one), though Anwar maintained the charges against him were false.
And guess where else you could be convicted of the same thing? Eighteen American states still have anti-sodomy laws on their books. Five of them criminalize same-sex activity only. The other 13 apply equally to consensual acts between a man and a woman. For the moment, Iowa isn’t among them, but don’t take anything for granted. This year’s Iowa Republican Party platform calls for reinstating anti-sodomy laws. Some of those laws carry civil fines. Some have jail time. Though very few such cases are actually being prosecuted, the laws still pose a significant threat because sodomy charges can be used for political ends, according to David Elliot, a spokesman for the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force. One example he offers: Arizona’s anti-sodomy law was recently invoked when an openly gay Republican Arizona congressman named Jim Kolbe was invited to address the Republican convention in Philadelphia. An anti-gay group, the American Family Association, called for Kolbe to be arrested on his return to Arizona.
Politics are what critics say were at the root of the charges against Anwar in Malaysia, a nation of 22 million and a parliamentary democracy. Anwar’s supporters, including international human-rights organizations, have insisted from the start that the accusations were bogus ‚ in an effort by a vengeful government and politically manipulated judiciary to silence a popular opponent. Anwar, the married father of six and a scholar of Islam, was being groomed to take over from Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad when he broke with him over the Asian economic crisis.
Anwar was dismissed in 1998, and has since been carrying the torch for the opposition. He’s capable of turning out rallies of 30,000 people. The case against him began with three or four men claiming to have had sex with Anwar. Most of them eventually retracted, saying they were coerced, according to Zama Coursen-Neff of Human Rights Watch in New York. It finally came down to the testimony of his wife’s former driver, who had a little trouble keeping his dates straight. Last year, Anwar was tried and sentenced to six years for allegedly trying to interfere with the police investigation into the sodomy case. The latest conviction brings to 15 years his total prison time.
This is part of what’s wrong with criminalizing sexuality, a practice that violates international United Nations human-rights conventions, but is on the books in too many countries to count. Just how do you defend yourself against such charges? What witnesses would there even be to help prove them false? And what’s the point?
In this country, every news report about some anti-gay politician’s gay family member reflects a greater disconnect between reality and some of our laws and public policies. First it was Phyllis Schlafly spewing the anti-gay rhetoric, who turned out to have a gay son. Then we learned House Speaker Newt Gingrich, who took the hard line on civil rights for gay people, has a gay sister. Next up was the late Republican Congressman Sonny Bono, who opposed a bill banning discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation when he was on the House Judiciary Committee. His daughter, Chastity, is gay. And now we find out that vice-presidential candidate Dick Cheney has a gay daughter. Cheney reportedly cast a number of anti-gay votes while in Congress.
The fact is, whether or not we know it, just about every one of us has a gay friend or relative. And none of us wants our children, our friends’ children, our friends or our siblings to be turned away from housing or restaurants or jobs, denied the right to raise children or to serve in the military or be subject to criminal prosecution because of their personal lives. Isn’t it time to end the hypocrisy and set our laws right? Or will it take a sordid trial like Malaysia’s before people see the foolishness in them?
A Register Columnist Rekha Basu can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
November 30, 2000
Malaysian transsexuals act for reel in documentary
by Marty Logan
Kuala Lumpur – Every day Malaysia’s transsexual prostitutes face risks, from contracting HIV when they meet clients in seedy back rooms to being hurt in violent police raids. Sex worker Danisha decided to take one more risk by acting in a docu-drama to educate one of the country’s more vulnerable groups about safe sex. "Being transsexual like me is not an easy thing to do," Danisha told an audience after a screening of "Bukak Api" in Kuala Lumpur this week to mark World AIDS Day on Friday.
"To face it every day is very stressful for me, but the important thing is I’m very proud to be myself," he told the audience of about 200 people, mostly young and mostly not transsexual, during a discussion. "Bukak Api," which literally translates as "striking a light" and is popular slang for having sex, features real prostitutes working in Kuala Lumpur’s seedy Chow Kit area. A transsexual is someone who "feels, thinks, acts and wants to be the other sex, either female or male," while a transvestite is a man who will occasionally dress in women’s clothes for a thrill, Yee Khim Chong, a communications coordinator for local support group Pink Triangle, told Reuters.
The movie showed a wide range of the transsexuals’ lives — liaisons with clients in dark, grimy staircases, violent police raids, aging former streetworkers working as seamstresses and many prostitutes’ longing for their families left behind in Malaysia’s villages.
Shunned By Society
During the discussion after the film, transsexuals vented their anger at being pushed away by society, leaving prostitution as one of the few avenues of employment. "None of us like to be sex workers, but jobs are very difficult," said Khartini Slamah, dressed in a floor-length "baju kurung" (traditional dress), make-up and jewellery. "Even if we have qualifications and education … if you have a male IC (identity card) they want us to dress as a man," he said.
Pink Triangle, which financed the film and organised the discussion, puts Malaysia’s transsexual community at 20,000, of which about 65 percent are sex workers. Yee said there was a long list of mainly derogatory terms for transsexuals, including "lady-boy" and "lady-with-bell." There are no reliable statistics on how many transsexuals are infected with HIV — the virus that leads to AIDS, because the government places transsexuals in a group with homosexuals, Yee said. The Ministry of Health says 35,547 people in Malaysia have been infected with HIV to date, of whom 4,122 have developed AIDS and 3,111 have died.
According to the United Nations, Malaysia ranks fifth in the Asia-Pacific for the number of people infected per capita. Cambodia is number one, Thailand number two, followed by Myanmar and India. Singapore is ranked tenth.
Be Aware, Stay Alive
While Chow Kit’s sex workers are fairly well informed, Yee said in Malaysia generally "we can only say there’s an awareness about the term HIV/AIDS, but whether people understand how it’s transmitted and whether they practise safe sex, we don’t know." He said efforts by the umbrella group Malaysian Aids Council "have opened up the eyes of people in power" about HIV/AIDS. "I normally do not care for NGOs," Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad said in September, "especially those which only know how to demand others do their bidding, but I make an exception with the Malaysian AIDS Council."
Mahathir’s daughter Marina is president of the council, which is expected to release a report focused on discrimination against gay people on Friday.Malaysia’s laws do not refer specifically to homosexuality. But sexual acts "against the order of nature" are punishable by up to 20 years in prison and whipping. These outlawed sexual acts include anal and oral sex.
November 2, 2001
Malaysian PM rebuked for threat to UK gay ministers
by Nicholas Watt, political correspondent
Britain issued a rebuke last night to the veteran Malaysian prime minister, Mahathir Mohamad, after he threatened to expel gay British ministers if they visited his country with their partners. In a terse statement, the Foreign Office said: "Jack Straw strongly considers that people’s private lives are private." His remarks were seen as support for Ben Bradshaw, the openly gay Foreign Office minister, whose portfolio includes Malaysia. Foreign Office sources insisted that Mr Bradshaw, who met the Malaysian high commissioner to London within weeks of his appointment in June, would continue to cover the country.
The diplomatic spat flared up after Dr Mohamad threatened to throw out gay British ministers if they "come here bringing their boyfriend". In an interview with Radio 4’s Today programme Dr Mohamad, who had his former deputy, Anwar Ibrahim, jailed on charges of sodomy and corruption, said that homosexuality was unacceptable in his predominantly Muslim country. "The British people accept homosexual ministers but if they ever come here bringing their boyfriend along, we will throw them out," he said.
Peter Tatchell, the gay rights activist, said his comments were not surprising in the light of Malaysia’s poor human rights record. "In Malaysia, a consenting gay relationship is punishable by up to 20 years jail plus flogging and this is probably one of the harshest penalties for gay relations anywhere in the world," he said. Mr Tatchell warned that the prime minister’s remarks showed the nature of some of the countries involved in the international coalition against terrorism.
Some of Britain’s "allies" were "very unstable, very unreliable friends. "It does appear that the Malaysian prime minister does appear to be dictating to our government who it should send as its representatives," he said. Supporters of Mr Ibrahim rejected the charges against him, insisting that he was imprisoned after he dared to challenge the prime minister’s authority. Dr Mohamad claimed that the due process of law had been followed. "We can’t have a deputy who is homosexual, not in this country," he said. "So we had to take action. In this country a homosexual is not acceptable as the prime minister." Malaysia has condemned the September 11 attacks on Washington and New York.
But Dr Mohamad, who is under pressure from opposition Islamist parties, is refusing to support the bombing of Afghanistan. "We do not believe that attacking Afghanistan is going to help," he said. "If we are seen to be going all out unthinkingly supporting America we will lose support, even from our own people. They have to find the roots of the problem. People don’t blow themselves up for nothing. They must be thinking about something."
by Mel Ayu (Mel_Ayu99@Hotmail.com)
Being gay and a Muslim (and worse still, living in an oppressed society) means always being in such a confused state of mind. Any Muslim man knows that being gay is a NO-NO in Muslim society. Gays are condemned for a one-way ticket to hell ! On the other hand, he knows his sexual tendencies so where does he seek help? There is no such thing as a gay Muslim priest for therapy, or one to turn to for help. So it ends up that he lives in a deep closet. Either he is satisfied with only fantasies and make believes, or to cover up his true personality by a marriage of convenience and lead a secret double life.
A closeted gay Muslim is probably no different from any other closeted gay person in the world. Fears of being "exposed" to society, friends and family are fundamentally the same. Being in a strongly conservative religion, a closeted gay Muslim has a terrible traumatic conflict with one’s beliefs. Especially if one was brought up in a religious family.
You strongly believe in your faith, and practice what this faith asks you to do: regular prayers, fasting and so forth. You also believe what your faith tells you about gay sex and gay relationships: they are a great sin and you must stay away from it. There is that stigma that if ever you commit to any form of gay activities, all your good deeds called by your faith would go down the drain and you are condemned to hell. And yet, you can’t understand it, because, you recognize what you are, and how could you be condemned to hell for what you were made to be. It is so confused in this closet.
I have fully recognized and fully accepted myself as being gay. I do not get turned on by women at all, no matter how voluptuous. I have been to one famous striptease joint in Houston called "Rick’s Bar" which had really beautiful and very sensuous women but they did absolutely nothing to my little friend down there! If I had been to a male striptease place probably I would have been squirming in my seat!
I am the last born, the youngest, and the only son in the family. I have 2 sisters ahead of me so you can imagine how pampered and what a spoiled brat I must have been. We lived in Singapore during the very early years of my life, before moving to Malaysia where my dad was transferred as part and parcel of his job at that time. Being the only boy in the family I was left on my own to be very much a loner. I never seemed to go out and play with the boys, instead I seemed to make friends with girls much more easily.
I could not understand why. Ever since I could remember I had realized my sexual inclination/affinity towards my same gender . In other words, right from when I was a very young child. Of course, at that age I did not know what sex was all about. It was really more of this magnetic attraction to being held and cuddled by big muscular figures of a man such as Tarzan!
Finally, the big day came and I had my very first ejaculation. My very first orgasm was a result of an imaginary romance with a man, in my little boy’s bed. Of course, I was quite scared and did not understand why but there a current of energy drained through my body. I told my mum about it (but of course, I never told her how it came about) and she said that I was growing up and that was all part of me becoming a man.
My parents did notice my "softie" nature when I was a child. I never played with boys at home or at school, all my friends then were girls, so they got quite worried. My dad transferred me from a co-ed primary school to an all-boys school and then I was selected to enroll into an "elite" all-boys full boarding school, a very famous school in Malaysia.
It is difficult to grow up and live being gay in this part of the world. Especially in a country where it is a complete taboo. The constant pressure from family, friends and peers wondering why a guy remains single sometimes would just drive him to madness and cries with no tears. I grew up most of the time always thinking "Why am I like this?". Why my little friend could not respond when I look at the Playboy magazines, and instead it needed no help at all when I flip through the Playgirl magazines. Could it be because I was born with it, or could it be the environment I grew up in and the upbringing that nurtured my sexuality, or could it be a combination of both? Whatever the reason, I understand that being gay is to be branded as "abnormal" by Muslim society, even by the most "progressive" in Muslim society who make it appear as if an alternative gay lifestyle is okay to them.
I guessed the most feared feeling that a gay closeted Muslim would have is the fear of being "discovered" that he or she is gay. So much so, that total discretion is all important and would dare not appear in the public gay areas such as the gay bars. There is always this fear that you might bump into a nephew or an uncle there, or an office mate, or anyone that you know for that matter. If that happens, you would think that would be the end of this life.
What I can say here is food for thought to all the closeted Muslim gays. So what if you do bump into people you know at those places? Would you think that they would tell? Would they not also think to themselves, "If I tell, people would ask me the same question; what were you doing there?". People like us are very discreet about our lifestyles. So, truly, there is really nothing to fear. You will be surprised that, even if you do bump into say, a nephew, both of you will be so happy that you both can share your "secrets" together. You will feel so much more relieved that at least someone you already knew is in your "circle of friends" to confide with.
Why is it then it cannot be absorbed in the "norm" stream? Their reasoning boils down to nature. It is clear in nature that if homosexuality was the norm in any species that species would die out in a generation. Therefore homosexuality must, by their definition, be considered abnormal and contrary to the existence and continuation of any species.
That is why they believe God forbids homosexuality. They refer to a story in the Koran which parallels the one in the Bible about Sodom and Gomorrah–Prophet Yusuf or Joseph, take your pick–whereby it came to a stage where all the men were attracted to their own gender and that the women might never reproduce, so threatening the species . Since it has been mentioned in the Koran and the Bible, it means that homosexuality is not just a recent development. It has been in existence for a long time; it could well have been in-born for some individuals. I understand that being gay is not an accepted thing in Muslim society, on the other hand, society just cannot blame me for not being able to be anything but gay.
Even being closeted and very discreet with one’s "secret" personality, sometimes, accidents do happen. I remember one incident that happened to me that caught me off guard. I was in a seminar, and it was an active participating seminar. During the "breaking of the ice" in the beginning of the seminar, each participant was supposed to say something about another participant, such as "I like Abdul because he seems very friendly".
So, when it came to my turn, without thinking, I automatically said, "I like Chris because I think he is cute". Oh boy, what a blunder. That was an immediate give-away. Everyone chuckled and the seminar mediator (a lady) had the cheek to ask me so openly in front of everybody, "Are you gay?". Gosh! Lucky for me, I was quite witty and I replied immediately, "Oh no! I am into animals". That certainly shut her up and everyone just burst into laughter. Since then, I have learned how to handle the situation if somehow, by accident, my flamboyancy shows.
The world of the Internet now has opened up a new spectrum and opportunities for the gay Muslims to "come out". I, for one, have never had the guts to "hang out" at gay bars to meet people like us, and I have missed out on feeling accepted amongst people like us. The Internet provides that initial encouragement. I found several Personals Ads and I started to communicate, just to learn and exchange thoughts with people who are already "out". I began to understand the experiences they went through so that I could prepare myself too, if I did "come out". Once comfort had been attained, the encouragement grew higher to communicate with those into gay sex, and finally the true sexuality gets into practice.
The Muslim law on gay sex is very stringent indeed and perhaps could be termed as "barbaric" to the Western world, who always seems to look at the Muslim world as barbaric nations. The Muslim law applies to Muslims only. For example, if I am caught with my pants down with a non-Muslim guy, if found guilty, I will be sentenced to 20 years in jail plus 5 strokes of the cane on my butt! But, my non-Muslim bed partner gets off scott free. It may sound serious indeed and the law does sound harsh, but, as harsh as the law sounds, it is fair enough to a point that it is very difficult to prove anyone of such offence.
All the reason why you have never heard of anyone being sentenced for the "crime" here before. Even, the current trial of the deposed Deputy PM Anwar for his alleged sodomy case will be a tough case for the district attorney office to prosecute. As weird as it may sound, the law says to prove that one has committed gay sex, you must have at least 4 eye witnesses who actually saw the act ! So, how in the world could one get 4 eye witnesses for that unless it was a set-up or you have some kinky voyeurs on a cheap thrill ride !
Funny thing, you sometimes wonder how a certain event in history could change a society. The current case of Malaysia’s deposed deputy Prime Minister (Anwar Ibrahim) on trial for sodomy caught the public eye domestically, as well as internationally. One would think or predict that such a blow in a Muslim society would get everyone rushing back into their closets for fear of the authorities. Surprisingly you see so much more of Malay/Muslim gays beginning to surface in the local gayscene. I guess people are more or less aware of the situation thinking "if a respected man in a high position does it then there is nothing wrong with me,".
So one can assume that it is okay after all. In fact, it is so okay that when I was at a "straight" bar recently the bartender asked me where was I going afterwards. Without any reservations I just said that I was going to the gay disco in a tone loud enough for anyone around to hear. I felt quite okay saying it now. If that had happened a year ago I would have dug a hole right where I was when I said it and jumped into it.
I can see that there is a little bit of "acceptance" and tolerance now in Muslim society in Malaysia. While the government will never support it openly, neither do they support the anti-gay activist groups. I believe the Muslim gays in Malaysia will do just fine in the years to come. Certainly I do not foresee any kind of a gay pride parade coming up soon, but there will be one on one fine day.
June 5, 2001
Coming Out in the Open–Despite the Persecution of Anwar
by David Liebhold
Kuala Lumpur – Critics of the Malaysian court decision last month to convict Anwar Ibrahim (former Deputy Prime Minister of Malaysia) on sodomy charges argue that the prosecution was all about politics. The battleground was homosexuality, however, and the charge against Anwar was "carnal intercourse against the order of nature." But while Anwar’s nine-year sentence sent shivers down the backs of many Malaysians, one group that hasn’t been cowed is the country’s gay community. Indeed, it seems to be growing.
"More are coming out-especially young people," says Ashley Lee, an openly gay 26-year-old journalist. "Gay clubs, discos and saunas are sprouting up all over the place." Anwar’s two-year sodomy trial even boosted Ashley’s sex life, he claims: "A lot of guys started experimenting with gay sex." Many Malaysian gays initially feared that Anwar’s prosecution would mark the start of a crackdown against homosexuality. Such concerns have proven unfounded. Despite a growing number of gay bars and "cruising" areas in Kuala Lumpur and other cities, the police rarely launch raids. "The government knows there are a lot of gay people here," says Douglas Chee, the regional manager of a multinational company. "But they don’t really bother us much." And despite Anwar’s harsh sentence and an ongoing Islamic resurgence in the country, Malaysian gays are becoming more open about their sexuality.
That is partly due to the Internet, where popular chat groups like "Gaymalaysia" and "Sayangabang" (darling brother) have provided meeting ‘places’ for homosexuals who would not otherwise dare to mix in public. It may also be related to Malaysians’ increased exposure to foreign attitudes, as more students go abroad and more tourists come in, according to Hadi Zachariah, a sociologist at Kuala Lumpur’s University of Malaya.
Two years of regular references to sodomy in the mass media also appear to have left an impression on the local population. "The Anwar controversy has provoked unparalleled discussions on sex and sexuality-sparing not even the minds of the young, who demanded to know what the fuss around sodomy was all about," Tan Beng Hui, an activist on women’s issues, has written. But there’s no denying the fact that Islam-to which 57% of the population adhere, at least on paper-regards sex between men as a grave sin.
The Islamic Affairs Department operates a kind of morality police, with the power to arrest Muslims for transgressions against religion. Usually in response to tip-offs, officers arrest several gays each month, generally for being in a room together. "I know there is very little effect," concedes Abdul Kadir Che Kob, the department’s head of education and research for the Kuala Lumpur area. "Only one in 100 changes." (see following story)
Yet despite the Anwar affair, sex remains a touchy subject in Malaysia. AIDS prevention groups are forced to operate almost covertly, while the Department of Health’s public education mostly stops short of explaining that condoms can prevent the transmission of HIV. "On the one hand, we have the gay community that wants more rights," says Nik Fahmee, a program director with the Malaysian AIDSCouncil. "But in Malaysia you cannot talk about sex, so we find it difficult to talk about HIV and AIDSs."
That said, official prudishness is selective. A day before Anwar’s arrest, the government-controlled press published lurid front-page stories on two of Anwar’s alleged victims, who were charged with committing acts of "gross indecency" and went on to explain them in graphic detail. A few days later Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad told gaping reporters that during the act of sodomy, Anwar had been "masturbating this man."
The charges brought against Anwar are rarely raised in Malaysia. There is no centralized record of sodomy cases that have come before the Malaysian courts, but lawyers say there have been only a few instances concerning consenting adults, and no one can recall a sentence of more than three years. Given this official lenience, many gays believe it’s better to keep a low profile than risk a backlash. But there is a more outspoken faction. "Whose business is it what two people do in the privacy of their bedroom?" asks Chee, who says gays should press for the sex laws to be changed. "They call it ‘sodomy,’ but for me it is two people expressing their love."
While Islamic leaders may never accept homosexuality, there are deep wells of tolerance in the ethnically diverse nation-even among the Muslim majority, who are mostly Malays. "There is a Malay culture and there is an Islamic culture," says sociologist Hadi, "and they are not quite the same. Malay culture is very tolerant." Of homosexuality, that is. Political dissent might be a different matter.
With reporting by Mageswary Ramakrishnan/Kuala Lumpur
June 5, 2001
‘Homosexuality is a Crime Worse Than Murder’ An Interview with Malaysia’s Morality Police
by Mageswary Ramakrishnan
Officer Abdul Kadir Che Kob describes homosexuals as "shameless people" and homosexuality as a "sin worse than murder." Abdul Kadir is head of education and research at Malaysia’s Islamic Affairs Department, which operates as the morality police with 50 enforcement officers across the country. These officers are empowered to arrest Muslims — including unmarried couples, homosexuals, transvestites and transsexuals — suspected of breaking Islamic laws. Last year, 111 men were arrested in Kuala Lumpur for "attempting to commit homosexual acts."
Abdul Kadir spoke recently to TIME contributor Mageswary Ramakrishnan. Excerpts:
TIME: How does Islam perceive homosexuality?
Abdul Kadir: Homosexuality is forbidden in Islam. It is a crime worse than murder.
TIME: What do you think of homosexuals?
Abdul Kadir: They are shameless people.
TIME: Can it be wrong for two people to be in love?
Abdul Kadir: Love? How can men have sex with men? God did not make them this way. This is all Western influence — and the gay people expect us to be open- minded?
TIME: Your department made 111 arrests in Kuala Lumpur last year compared with 165 in 1998 and 166 in 1997. Is this an indication that the number of gays is decreasing?
Abdul Kadir: No, I don’t think so. Perhaps they have become smarter in avoiding us. Maybe the department received fewer complaints. We only act based on complaints. It is difficult to act otherwise. How would we know what is happening? We don’t know what is happening behind closed doors.
TIME: What do you do when you receive a tip-off?
Abdul Kadir: Usually people give us precise information like where these men are. We then go to the place, say, a hotel room. We knock and force them to open the door, but they are usually fully clothed by then. We still charge them for attempting to commit homosexual acts.
TIME: What about those who say that people have a right to choose who they want to be with?
Abdul Kadir: What right are you talking about? This is a sin, end of story.
TIME: What about gay women?
Abdul Kadir: We have never arrested lesbian women. There are no complaints, maybe because it is difficult to gauge who is a lesbian.
TIME: What happens when gay men are arrested?
Abdul Kadir: We charge them in court, but before that we put them through what we call Islamic counseling sessions. They recite the Koran everyday and we will tell them they have committed a grave sin.
TIME: Do these people change?
Abdul Kadir: It is difficult to make them change; it has to come from within. I know there is very little effect. Out of 100 people, only one will change.
TIME: If your approach is not working, then why not abandon it?
Abdul Kadir: No, we have to tell these people they are doing something very wrong in the eyes of Allah [God]. It is a major sin. Gay people think being gay is a fashion.
TIME: Malaysia has three major ethnic groups — Malays, Chinese and Indians. Is homosexuality more prevalent in some groups than others?
Abdul Kadir: It is prevalent among the Malays, I have to admit.
TIME: If homosexuality is just a fashion, why do you think so many Malay men are willing to risk arrest by your department?
Abdul Kadir: Like I said, this is a Western influence. They also operate very smoothly. Even if we know they are gay, we cannot arrest them unless we receive information about them.
by Marina Mahathir (daughter of the Prime Minister)
I Have seen the ‘Vagina Monologues’ (feminist play from New York).
More than a year ago, I saw it in Manila. And I loved it. It made me laugh, it made me cry, it made me want to rush out and write my own monologue. The hall I was in was chock-a-block full, mainly with women who at the end gave the three actresses who performed a standing ovation.
Was it vulgar? No, not unless you’re a very superficial and shallow person. An intelligent person would realise that it was a play about the female condition, the joy and the pain, the sad and the funny, and everything else in between. What woman would not have nodded in recognition at the monologue about the cold instruments we have to endure every time we go to the gynaecologist? Who would not have giggled at the truths in the one about the furtive way we talk about our body? Which woman would not have stifled a gasp upon realising that she is not the only woman in the world to sound like that?
The Vagina Monologues may be many things but vulgar it is not. So who are these people who insist that I cannot see it because it is too vulgar? I have seen it and I don’t find it vulgar. Why should some official tell me any different? Similarly with all those people who say that Malaysians are just not ready for the Vagina Monologues–how do they know? When will we be ready? Will we ever be ready if we are not allowed to see it? I find it exceedingly offensive and patronising that there are people who think that they can decide whether I am ready or not to see a play. Maybe they are not ready for it. If so, why assume that other people are not either?
I fail to understand why a play by women about women cannot be shown to women. What are people afraid we would do after we see it? Take off our clothes in public? Is a showing of the Vagina Monologues really going to change things in this country? Is it going to bring down the government?
In Jakarta, the showing of the Vagina Monologues (in Bahasa Indonesia mind you!) was front page news with a picture and a caption. Obviously there are more sophisticated and secure people in our neighbouring country. The logic that governs this type of censorship is one that eludes me. It is the same kind of logic that causes nipples to be blacked out in women’s magazines and sometimes whole pages ripped out. And yet I have seen full frontal photographs of men’s genitalia in photo magazines that escaped the censor’s notice.
Is that because they only look for body parts in women’s magazines? I’d like to know who has the job of blacking out all the nipples in these magazines. If they’re women, don’t they ever wonder why they need to do it? And if they’re men, are they having fun? I’d like to see the brief they get when they are recruited for this job. Do they get courses on how to recognise "vulgar" female body parts?
There are really two causes for concern in this issue. The first is that some anonymous people are given the authority to decide what we can and cannot see or hear based on some arbitrary criteria. What one person may deem vulgar may not be to another. Should this be decided based on personal biases or is there a more objective way of looking at it? Is it worthwhile making a big fuss over something that, realistically speaking, only a small group of people is ever going to see? The result of all this brouhaha is that a lot of people I know who would ordinarily never go to the theatre now say they want to see it.
But more importantly, why is it that almost anything that is censored has to do with women’s bodies? No vaginas, not even to talk about them (by the way, no vaginas have ever actually been on display in the Vagina Monologues anywhere in the world), no nipples (even cancerous ones), no nothing. I think women should feel insulted at these indignities heaped on our bodies. Has the other sex forgotten out of whose bodies (and indeed whose vaginas) they came out? Does that memory make them feel ashamed? Or is that the crux of the problem?
Perhaps the truth is that when women have the freedom to talk about themselves, to share their most intimate secrets with other women, a community is formed. This community starts to feel empowered because each individual member feels that she is not alone. When this feeling grows and grows, it becomes a powerful force for change. And that’s frightening to some people.
Why let women compare notes about the oppression they suffer? They might demand equal rights! Why let them seek solace and comfort in knowing that other women have suffered violence but have come out strengthened from the ordeal? They might start questioning the "right" of men to beat women! Oh dear, can’t have that!
Hypocrisy abounds in this story. At a performance of one of the monologues at a gathering of supposed intellectuals, one man became so incensed he got up and shouted an obscenity, the slang Malay word for vagina, at the actress. I don’t recall anyone censuring him! Worse, the monologue she was performing was not in the least bit raunchy. It was the one of the Bosnian woman who was raped during the war there. It is extremely sad and painful to listen to. Perhaps the man’s obscenity was an outburst of shame at the fact that Muslim men failed to protect Muslim women during that war, and that non-Muslims are now leading the fight for justice for those rape victims. It makes me wonder how we are going to deal with the stories of the similar use of rape as a weapon of war among the warring tribes in Afghanistan.
I think if our powers-that-be insist that they should be the arbiters of what is vulgar or not in the arts, they should come out with a whole list of what is deemed vulgar and what is not and make it public. Then we can all have a healthy debate about it and come up with some consensus about what is okay or not. That should not be too difficult. After all, the word "sodomy" has long passed into acceptable public usage.
(That said, official prudishness is selective. A day before Anwar’s arrest, the government-controlled press published lurid front-page stories on two of Anwar’s alleged victims, who were charged with committing acts of "gross indecency" and went on to explain them in graphic detail. A few days later Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad told gaping reporters that during the act of sodomy, Anwar had been "masturbating this man.")
July 31, 2003
What some religions say about homosexuality
Gay Malaysian I would like to provide further comments on the letter by Onyos Felk.
I am a gay Malaysian currently studying in England, practising in the Zen Buddhist tradition and in a homosexual relationship. First off, I would like to point out that the three main Buddhist traditions – Mahayana, Theravada and Vajrayana – are generally (though not always) quite tolerant of homosexuality, particularly so here in the West.
To provide a sample viewpoint from a Theravada Buddhist in Malaysia, I quote from a letter written by Ven Dr K Sri Dhammananda in response to a gay Singaporean: "The third of the five precepts we recite in daily Buddhist practice is: undertake the training rule to refrain from sexual misconduct. By misconduct, it is meant behaviour which harms the person who does the act or the other party. "This in a way means that if both parties are consenting adults, there is no harm done. In Buddhism we do not consider any action "sinful" in the sense that we transgress a divine commandment.
We act wrongly because of ignorance and therefore we commit an Akusala Kamma (unskilful action) which delays or interferes with our spiritual progress. "In this connection, Buddhism does not recognise that marriage is a divinely ordained institution which suddenly makes sex okay … Sex is caused by a craving just like craving for food, liquor, drugs, wealth, power. Attachment to any of these constitutes Akusala Kamma. Buddhism does not see homosexuality as wrong and heterosexuality as right. Both are sexual activity using the body, both are strong expressions of lust which increase desire for life and therefore trap us longer in Samsara. "We do not condemn homosexuality as wrong and sinful, but we do not condone it either, simply because it, like other forms of sex, delays our deliverance from Samsara.
(Dr K Sri Dhammananda is a very well known and respected Buddhist leader in the Malaysian Buddhist community and is the leader of the Sasana Abhiwurdhi Wardhana which manages the Buddhist Maha Vihara, founded by the Singhalese community in Malaysia. He is also the senior religious adviser to the World Buddhist Sangha Council, the president of the Malaysia Singapore Sri Lankan Sangha Council as well as religious adviser to over 50 different Malaysian Buddhist associations.) Most Western Buddhist teachers who are dharma heirs (ie trained and qualified to pass on the teachings of the Buddha) of their Asian Buddhist teachers are accepting of homosexual relationships, as long as they are consensual, monogamous and based on compassion.
Therefore a man who has a family and children and indulges in an occasional fling or two without the knowledge of his wife (something that is perhaps accepted in some parts of Malaysian society) is considered in Buddhist terms to be less ethical than a man who stays committed to another man (or woman to another woman) in a life-long monogamous relationship. From a Christian viewpoint, the debate on homosexuality is far more intense, particularly in the West, and has been on-going for over 20 years.
A very good example is the recent controversy in the Anglican Church (the Church of England) which has more than 70 million members worldwide, where the current Archbishop of Canterbury (the head of the Church) Dr Rowan Williams nominated an openly gay but celibate priest, Dr Jeffrey John to be the bishop of Reading, but later had to ask him to resign because of intense protests from conservative church branches, particularly in Africa.
Having being a Christian in Malaysia for many years, my experience is that the large majority of Christians in Malaysia are from the ‘conservative ‘ group which advocate a direct, literal reading of the bible where homosexuality is clearly prohibited. This however is not the only viewpoint on the interpretation of the bible, and there are many ‘liberal’ scholars, bishops and clerics in the West that make an alternative interpretation which welcomes monogamous, loving homosexual relationships. For example, in the US there is a large schism in the Presbyterian Church and the United Methodist Church regarding this issue and other issues like the ordination of women clergy.
I would like to stress that I am not advocating or promoting homosexuality, rather stating some facts on this issue from both the Buddhist and Christian viewpoint. There is ample quality material available on the Internet that debates this issue from both supporting and dissenting views for all other religions such as Islam, Hinduism, Sikhism and Bahai. There are also religious groups that involve gay people from all faiths in the West, even including Islam.
(For example, al-Fatiha) Last but not least, it is interesting to note that the Singapore Prime Minister Goh Chok Tong has admitted in an interview with Time magazine that Singapore has begun employing homosexuals within the government, in a reversal of its previous policy. However, they have still not considered decriminalising homosexuality due to pressure from religious groups.
9 August 2003
Local churches say no to gay bishop
by Clarence Chua
Petaling Jaya – Christian churches here have collectively stated that they would not condone the appointment of homosexuals as church leaders following the ascension of an openly gay bishop in America. Their rejection comes in the wake of the current controversy plaguing the Anglican Church in America where the Episcopalian House of Bishops voted 62 to 45 that Rev Canon Gene Robinson of New Hampshire can serve as a bishop.
Anglican Bishop of West Malaysia Diocese Rtd Rev Tan Sri Dr Lim Cheng Ean denounced the appointment saying, "It is clear that marriage of the same sex is against the teaching of the scriptures and we won’t condone it. "We will not communicate with any diocese that has taken such drastic steps. We won’t encourage any relationship with them." The selection has also brought heavy fire from churches of other Christian denominations who stressed the importance of chastity outside marriage and repeatedly appealed to the Bible to uphold the view that homosexuality is sinful.
"It is clearly stated in the Bible that homosexuality is immoral and unnatural sexual behaviour is sinful. So how can you allow a person to be a spiritual head when he is committing sin? "We condemn such acts as it does not project a life of holiness," said the National Evangelical Christian Fellowship Malaysia (NECF) secretary-general Rev Wong Kim Kong. Council of Churches Malaysia executive member Anthony Rao said the move would "divide the church regardless of which denomination they come from." "The council has not made a stand on this matter but I am sure that the general consensus would be – no gay ministers. Reasons are that the Bible does not call for it and culturally we are still not ready for it."
Robinson, a divorced father of two, has been in a committed male relationship with Mark Andrews for 14 years. He described his sexual relationship as "sacramental" and a reflection of Gods love. Conservative bishops have called on the Archbishop of Canterbury, head of the worldwide Anglican Church, to intervene in what they have called a pastoral emergency.
September 3, 2003
Malaysian Leader Attacks Gays & Western ‘Homo" Media In National TV Speech
by Peter Hacker, Kuala Lumpur
A nationally televised speech marking Malaysia’s national holiday by Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad was riddled with anti-gay epithets and threats. Speaking to a crowd of more than 300,000 following a massive parade in the capital, and broadcast live throughout the country, Mahathir said Malaysia’s achievements proved its policies worked.
He then claimed that foreign powers were trying dominate weak countries and warned that Western influences threatened Malaysia’s traditional values. "Western films idolize sex, violence, murders and wars," said Mahathir, a critic of U.S.-led globalization. "Now they permit homosexual practices and accept religious leaders with openly gay lifestyles." "They are very angry – especially their reporters, many of whom are homos – when we take legal action against these practices,"
Mahathir said. Same-sex acts in Malaysia are punishable by up to 20 years in prison and a flogging. Mahathir warned that "if there are any homosexuals in Malaysia they had better mend their ways," or face the maximum prison terms. Mahathir has often denounced homosexuality. In 1998, he fired his former deputy Anwar Ibrahim for allegedly committing sodomy, and in 2001, he said Malaysia would expel a homosexual British Cabinet minister if he visited with his partner. Mahathir will retire in November. His hand-picked successor, deputy Abdullah Ahmad Badawi says he will continue the country’s strict Moslem prohibitions against homosexuality.
October 31, 2003
Asia’s Longest Serving Ruler, Mahathir Mohamad, Steps Down
Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia – Abdullah Ahmad Badawi became Malaysia’s first new prime minister in a generation Friday, succeeding Mahathir Mohamad whose last two weeks in office were overshadowed by remarks about Jews. Mahathir’s retirement after more than 22 years in power ends an era of iconic Asian leaders — including Singapore’s Lee Kuan Yew, Indonesia’s Suharto and the Philippines Ferdinand Marcos — whose long tenures and strong personal styles left a powerful imprint on the region. Abdullah, Mahathir’s deputy, was sworn in as Malaysia’s fifth prime minister by King Syed Sirajuddin Putra Jamalullail, the titular head of state, in a ceremony at the National Palace attended by Mahathir and dozens of government dignitaries.
The region’s longest serving elected leader, Mahathir, 77, ruled mostly Muslim Malaysia since 1981, spearheading its rapid transformation from a tin- and rubber-producing backwater into a high-tech exporter and one of Southeast Asia’s wealthiest and most developed countries. But his successes were tempered by autocratic leanings and the free use of laws that allowed detention without trial, forced media self-censorship and banned opposition rallies “Champ and Chump,” said the headline of an editorial in The Guardian newspaper of London, an example of sort of mixed feelings inspired by Mahathir’s economic achievements as well as his tendency for outrageous remarks.
Ever a complex man, Dr. Mahathir’s energy and vision, but not his prejudices, will be missed,” The Guardian said. Mahathir said Friday that putting his country on the world’s radar was one of his greatest achievements — even if it was done by triggering international outrage with controversial comments. “Malaysia now is better known,” Mahathir replied when asked what he considered to be his greatest achievement abroad. “Our voice, even if they don’t agree, I think (there is) no way they can just ignore (it). We have made some impact.” Mahathir left office amid an international outcry at his comments in an Oct. 16 speech to Islamic leaders that, “Jews rule the world by proxy. They get others to fight and die for them.”
On Thursday, the U.S. House of Representatives passed a resolution 411-0 saying the remarks embody “age-old stereotypes” and could incite sectarian violence. That followed Monday’s decision by the U.S. Senate to withhold $1.2 million in military aid from Malaysia until the State Department determines it better promotes religious freedoms, including tolerance of Jews. U.S. aid to Malaysia is minimal, and Mahathir has scoffed at the Senate’s action, saying it shows that his comments about Jews were true and that America can keep its money.
Abdullah, 63, is considered moderate compared to Mahathir. While he has promised not to make any major policy changes, some countries and opposition groups hope that some of the harsher edges of Mahathir’s era will be tempered under Abdullah. Across town from the palace, Anwar Ibrahim, Mahathir’s former protege, spent Friday in a prison cell he says is plagued by rats. Mahathir fired Anwar in 1998 following disputes over financial policy. Anwar led protests against Mahathir before he was arrested and convicted on corruption and sodomy charges. Anwar, who is serving a total of 15 years in prison, claims the charges were fabricated to keep him from challenging Mahathir for power.
The government denies this. In remarks to The Associated Press passed through his lawyers, Anwar said Mahathir had eroded key freedoms such as free speech and democratic institutions such as the judiciary. “He came into the scene … with promises of reforms, but instead he put all promises asunder,” Anwar said. Mahathir returned to his residence at Putrajaya and was due to leave Saturday for a vacation in Europe. Mahathir has said he will write his memoirs, and will offer advice to the government if asked. Mazhar Mahathir, 19, one of Mahathir’s four sons and three daughters, said he was looking forward to spending more time with his father. “I am happy that I can be his son again,” Mazhar told AP.
8 February 2004
UN ill-advised on homosexual laws
by Hamidah Atan
Seremban– The United Nations has been ill-advised when it threatened to punish nations which banned homosexual activities through a new human rights resolution to be tabled in April. Minister in the Prime Minister’s Department Datuk Seri Dr Rais Yatim called on the UN not to deprive developing and Islamic nations of their basic laws and rights. "The municipal or domestic laws of a nation should not be dictated by the UN’s mechanism of laws, unless the former wants to comply," he said. Rais said the resolution, if approved, could be interpreted as UN intervening in a nation’s sovereignty. "We will have to see first how the contents of the resolution are written," he said. "We will also have to see how many countries will subscribe to it. There are countries, including Malaysia, that do not recognise sexual relations between males and such a law is sovereign and basic to us."
Director of a San Francisco-based International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission, Paula Ettelbrick, was quoted as saying that the resolution, to be tabled between April 15 and 25 in Geneva, would link all forms of human rights, covering sexual orientation choices for a person. Last year, Pakistan issued a memorandum stating that the resolution was against the teachings of Islam as well as other religions.
The memorandum also stated that if the resolution was approved, it would indirectly humiliate Islam and 1.2 billion Islamic followers all over the world. On the campaign to curb sexual crimes and abuse against children, Rais said the Government would amend the laws to protect children’s rights and safety as and when the need arose. Apart from on-going efforts to introduce harsher punishment for child rapists, the Government would also amend laws relating to sodomy where the victims were children. The Government would also consider amending provisions on unnatural offences under Section 377 of the Penal Code if more sodomy cases or unnatural sex practices whose victims were children occurred.
"For now, however, there is no necessity to amend the section," he said. "The law on sodomy as stipulated in the Penal Code is adequate. It provides harsh punishment for offenders convicted of committing unnatural sexual practices. "However, if frequency of cases develops over time, where the victims are mainly children, the Government will not sit still … just like what we are doing now against child rapists."
So far, Rais said his ministry had not received representations for a review of the laws. He was asked to comment on a case in Rantau near here where an 11-year-old schoolboy was allegedly sodomised by a 40-year-old man on Friday, who has since been arrested. Under Section 377c of the Penal Code, those convicted of such crimes are jailed for not less than five years and not more than 20 years. Offenders are also liable to whipping.
September 10, 2004
Former Deputy Prime Minister Anwar Ibrahim free after court overturns sodomy conviction
Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia – Former Deputy Prime Minister Anwar Ibrahim vowed to push for democratic reforms in Malaysia — including freer news media, fair elections and an independent judiciary — as he savored his first full day of freedom in six years Sept. 3 after his conviction on sodomy charges was overturned. Anwar said he would never have been released from prison if his former boss, Mahathir Mohamad, was still in power. He praised Mahathir’s successor, Abdullah Ahmad Badawi, for allowing the ruling.
The decision that freed him came exactly six years after Mahathir, a combative figure who transformed Malaysia into one of Asia’s wealthiest countries but was long accused of dismissing democratic procedures, fired Anwar as his heir apparent in a power struggle. Anwar then led anti-Mahathir demonstrations and was arrested on Sept. 18, 1998. He claimed the sodomy charges and other counts against him were “malicious prosecution” by Mahathir. Anwar is also consulting with lawyers on whether to fight to expunge references in the judgment overturning his sodomy conviction that there was evidence of homosexuality — a crime in mostly Muslim Malaysia.
September 9, 2005
Mahathir sacked Anwar to prevent Malaysia having ‘gay’ PM
Kuala Lumpur – Former prime minister Mahathir Mohamad has said he was forced to sack his one-time protege Anwar Ibrahim to prevent mainly-Muslim Malaysia getting a homosexual leader.
Mahathir defended his actions and maintained that Anwar was guilty of sodomy, a crime in Malaysia. Anwar has always denied the claims and insisted he was the victim of a conspiracy to blacken his name. "In our society, sodomy is not acceptable. Of course, among some media people even, they are gay. They don’t like my taking action against a person for the kind of things that they indulge in. So I became a bad guy because of that," he told reporters. "But I cannot have a person who is like that in my cabinet who may succeed and become the prime minister. Imagine having a gay prime minister. Nobody would be safe," he said.
Anwar, who was once Malaysia’s deputy premier under Mahathir, was jailed on sodomy and corruption charges in 1998 for allegedly conducting a sexual relationship with his official driver, then abusing his power to conceal it. Human rights groups and Anwar himself maintained the charges were trumped up to prevent him from challenging Mahathir, whose 22-year reign as Malaysian leader ended when he retired in October 2003. Anwar was released from jail in September last year after the sodomy charges were overturned. However, as the corruption charge still stands he is banned from politics until 2008.
Anwar said last month after a court awarded him 1.2 million dollars in damages over a book that aired the sodomy allegations that the decision had cleared his name and proved he was the victim of a conspiracy. Just days before that ruling he also won an apology from the former police chief who beat him after his arrest, as well as undisclosed damages, in a result he hailed as a step forward for human rights in Malaysia.
February 24, 2006
Malaysian Media Slanders Gays as Police Crackdown Hampers AIDS/HIV Education Efforts
Kuala Lumpur – Human rights in Malaysia took another downturn this week as the English-language newspaper, The Malay Mail, used their front page on May 22 to equate homosexuals with prostitutes. Referring to recent high profile police raids on Kuala Lumpur discos, spas and saunas popular with gay men, the paper used local slang to slur the country’s gay citizens: "Round-up of the Day! Chicks [female prostitutes], Ducks [male prostitutes] and Gays."
In a full page exposé, the paper chose to display pictures of patrons shot by police inside a private men’s club, unprecedented behavior from the local media. An article which appeared last week in the Malay press, luridly detailing suggestive activities inside a popular local men’s spa, seems to have been the trigger for the police actions against a number of clubs, saunas, and massage businesses. Subsequent one-sided articles have appeared in the press from a Muslim group asking for harsher penalties against homosexual activities and even interviewing a Mom who was surprised to learn that her son was gay and blamed Malaysian gay Internet sites for his natural inclinations.
The Kuala Lumpur police have been under intense public scrutiny recently since a woman in police custody being forced to perform humiliating squats in the nude was captured on a mobile phone camera and a group of senior citizens caught gambling at a closed coffee-shop during the recent Chinese New Year celebrations forcibly had their heads shaved. The current police crackdown, which is also affecting straight venues such as nightclubs, is seen by local business leaders as a PR exercise to recover respect from the more conservative elements in Malaysia’s multi-cultural society.
The raids, however, seem to have uncovered little evidence of wrongdoing other than license irregularities and traces of drugs in the urine of a small number of patrons. The media, however, has chosen to sensationalize the raids, highlighting police reports of men discovered showering in the nude, wearing towels, and finding three condoms and a pack of lubricant.
Meanwhile, business licensing board inspectors have forced gyms, spas and massage businesses to remove condoms provided by Malaysia’s main MSM (men who have sex with men) AIDS/HIV outreach organization, the PT Foundation, jeopardizing health and well-being during a time when HIV infection rates have risen dramatically among young gay men in neighboring Singapore and Thailand. According to a PT Foundation MSM Program spokesman, local businesses are too frightened of being cited by police and inspectors and so refuse to carry free AIDS prevention educational materials other than mild mannered posters.
PT Foundation also expressed concern that media exposés of such places only serve to drive MSM activity deeper underground, making it even more difficult for MSM-targeted harm reduction programs to work.
Contact: Utopia: Asian Gay & Lesbian Resources email@example.com
GlobalGayz.com interview: Modern Gay LIfe in Kuala Lumpur
MF is a twenty-seven year old accountant living in Kuala Lumpur who responded to the story about gay Malaysia in GlobalGayz.com. He agreed to be interviewed by e-mail.
Global Gayz: Please give me an overview of the ‘scene’ in Kuala Lumpur as you see it today.
MF: I am Malaysian and gay. In reality the scene in Malaysia, what can be actually seen, is just the tip of the iceberg. I am fortunate enough to attract both men and women, not that I consider myself good-looking but maybe rather interesting. It seems to me nowadays gays are extremely blatant in exhibiting their sexuality. Sometimes I suspect that almost half of the male population could actually be gay or rather have tendencies.
GG: Are you out? To your family? To your friends?
MF: I am quite in the closet. However according to my friends, I’m quite flamboyant. I’m a professional singer so I guess I am somewhat of an extrovert. If you had met my friends and me you’d probably have had quite a different view of being gay in Malaysia, especially if you’re a Muslim. Of course our religion does play a huge role.
GG: Are you a religious Muslim or a ‘secular’ Muslim? And does this affect your sexual life?
MF: Am I religious? Now that is a bit hard to explain. My explanation could be too long winded to be typed out. However your observation of the gays (in your gay Malaysia story on your web site) are not far off the mark. It’s just that there’s the closet married guys who are active, indeed MORE active than your average gays would be.
My views in this may actually anger some people. I have been celibate since 2001. Meaning no remotely sexual acts since then. I have a gay friend who’s still a virgin at 36. Never had anything sexual with another person in his life. Why? Religion, guilt, family to be sure.
Anyways, the tip of the iceberg, well yes. I wonder sometimes if just about everybody is gay nowadays. I was accosted quite a few times before by people you’d have thought do not have an inkling of a gay bone in them yet they were the most aggressive ones.
GG: Sounds like there is a lot of sexual frustration and hiding yet daring behavior.
MF: Sexual suppression is quite the norm because of religion, customs and peer pressure. So there are gay people who wanted to change and lead a straight life, get married and have children and probably leave it all behind as have quite a few of my friends.
Yet there are ‘straight’ people living the ‘down low’ — people in straight relationships (married/couples) who are discreetly active in the gay scene.
GG: Where are you on this point?
MF: I am on the fence. I do not deny I’m gay, even if closeted; the door is slightly ajar so to speak. Would I want to get married? Hmmm I do want to…or do I? My friends and I discuss a lot about this; if we don’t want to marry and also don’t want to do things gay, what’s the point of being gay yet not submitting to what feels natural?
Though I may not be religious but I do have strong ‘spiritual’ convictions and so do many of my friends. It is hard to explain really; without a doubt I would have given even Freud a major headache!
GG: Do you have friends who are not ‘on the fence’ and are proud to be gay?
MF: Yes, I have friends who are so in tune with themselves I do envy them for their resoluteness in just being themselves, unabashed, free to do what they want to do and not feel that it is bad. On the streets, gays are everywhere if you know what to look for. Yes, there are places specifically for cruising, but nowadays even in the mosque there were reported cases where people cruised in there–appalling, an assault to my righteousness! See how contradictory I am?
GG: Sounds like you are having a hard time with being gay and Muslim–or being gay and not being gay. Most of us don’t have a choice about ‘being’ gay or not (called sexual orientation/attraction) , but we do have a choice whether to live a gay life (called sexual behavior), that is, loving a male partner, or having sex only (or mostly) with other males, and, third, identifying ourselves as gay (sexual identification).
MF: Where I stand is like limbo. Resolute in admittance to be gay but utterly averse to submission to it—at this point in my life. In Malaysia, this maybe not the norm but definitely I am not the only one with this conflict, I’m sure.
GG: Are there many drag queens in Malaysia/ KL?
MF: The drag queens! They’re a whole other story. To tell you the truth even I’m still a bit perplexed when it comes to his transformation. It is a whole nother society. They even have a peculiar lingo that is not easy to understand and of course with a dash of theatrics and bizarre antics. I do have a friend who likes to "drag" and get guys but not for money. He does it for pleasure. Favorite type of guys are in unifrom like private guards and especially soldiers. He knows where soldiers congregate at specific hangout places like the transit camp for soldiers in Kuala Lumpur. He is sometimes even going "outstation" meaning outside of Kuala Lumpur, like trips to another state but still going to places where soldiers are aplenty– favorite haunts, parks at night, where the soldiers hangout to find some casual sex. I once ask him, what if I go there, would the soldiers want me, he said, maybe not the soldiers but the queens would probably fight for me. He did however mention there are quite a few gay soldiers who’d probably dig me. Hmmm… being me I abstain but couldn’t help but be interested.
GG: So while your friend is out having fun with gender-bending, you are home alone with no sex?
MF: To tell you the truth, I’ve had my share of anonymous, out in the open (albeit dark corners at a cruising place called "Jurrasic Park") but that was way back in 2001. Only one time. Other time was a sauna–again one time (I was there with an x bf). Not that I totally abstain but only for the past 5 years. Even then I was always in constant dillema with myself. In a drop of a hat I think I can actually turn around and succumb to my desire but so far that has yet to happen again. Just as recent as 3 days ago, I had a designer–clearly gay–at a boutique blatantly fondled me while I was trying some material for clothes. He tried to be inconspicuous but after twice of brushing my privates spot on! Come on you might as well give me a blowjob! Anyway I left with his pride intact. So what if he cops a feel. Doesn’t kill me. I think I do exude a certain strong sexuality and flirtatiousness that people always miscontrue as being interested sexually. I do it because it’s natural for me to it. I am a singer, we do it all the time. Well, I do. Talking about this made me remember of encounters that left people bewildered about what I am. I do attract both men and women but I turn down both sexes all the same–for now! (laugh)…I’m not done yet.
December 12, 2006
Prominent Malaysian transsexual sees progress in societal acceptance
Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia – Transsexuals are gaining more acceptance in mostly Muslim Malaysia, a well-known transsexual said Tuesday, a little more than a year after she held a high-profile but controversial wedding with an accountant. Jessie Chung, an ethnic Chinese Malaysian who had sex-change surgery in 2003, said her country’s transsexuals are "luckier than those in some other places" because anti-discrimination campaigns by nongovernment groups have helped to change the way in which many people view them.
"I know this because when I walk down the street, strangers who recognize me often approach me with encouraging words," Chung told reporters. "Our society is becoming more open-minded." Chung, a Christian in her 30s who was born male, made national headlines by becoming the first transsexual to have a public wedding, on Nov. 12, 2005. She married accountant Joshua Beh in front of 800 guests in a ceremony conducted by independent church pastors.
However, the government has ruled the marriage invalid because it is considered a same-sex union. Chung’s identification documents state she is a man, since Malaysian transsexuals cannot legally update their gender status even after changing their sex. Sex-change surgery is legal in Malaysia, but activists have long said transsexuals here face widespread prejudice and often cannot find employment, forcing some into illegal sex work. Outreach groups estimate there are at least 50,000 transsexuals in Malaysia.
Chung’s wedding sparked public debate about transsexual issues, such as Islamic laws that put Muslims who cross-dress at risk of being jailed and fined. Some 60 percent of Malaysia’s 26 million people are ethnic Malay Muslims, but there are large ethnic Chinese and Indian minority communities, mostly Buddhists, Christians and Hindus, who are not subject to Islamic laws. Chung, a semiprofessional singer formerly named Jeffrey, marked her wedding anniversary by launching an album of mainly Mandarin-language ballads that convey her experiences. Producers hope to market it at home and in Singapore, Taiwan and other Chinese-speaking territories.
December 13, 2006
Transsexuals in Malaysia get more acceptance in Muslim society
Transsexuals are gaining more acceptance in mostly Muslim Malaysia, a well-known transsexual said Tuesday, a little more than year after she held a high-profile but controversial wedding with an accountant. Jessie Chung, an ethnic Chinese Malaysian who had sex-change surgery in 2003, said her country’s transsexuals are "luckier than those in some other places" because anti-discrimination campaigns by nongovernment groups have helped to change the way in which many people view them.
"I know this because when I walk down the street, strangers who recognize me often approach me with encouraging words," Chung told reporters. "Our society is becoming more open-minded." Chung, a Christian in her 30s who was born male, made national headlines by becoming the first transsexual to have a public wedding, on Nov. 12, 2005. She married accountant Joshua Beh in front of 800 guests in a ceremony conducted by independent church pastors.
However, the government has ruled the marriage invalid because it is considered a same-sex union. Chung’s identification documents state she is a man, since Malaysian transsexuals cannot legally update their gender status even after changing their sex. Sex-change surgery is legal in Malaysia, but activists have long said transsexuals here face widespread prejudice and often cannot find employment, forcing some into illegal sex work. Outreach groups estimate there are at least 50,000 transsexuals in Malaysia
May 9, 2007
New Zealand AIDS foundation’s new safe sex campaign targets asian gay men
“Be proud and strong – Renew your commitment to safe sex, no exceptions,” reads a campaign poster featuring five out and proud gay Asian men from Singapore, the Philipines, Malaysia, Hong Kong and Tahiti.
The New Zealand AIDS Foundation’s Gay Men’s Health team is to launch its first resource aimed at raising HIV awareness among Asian gay and bisexual men on Friday May 11 in Auckland. The resource comprises a poster, featuring five out and proud gay Asian men – including Gay Men’s Health Promoter Valeriano (Val) Incapas – with the heading “Be proud and strong – Renew your commitment to safe sex, no exceptions.” http://www.fridae.com/newsfeatures/images/NZAFasianposter.pdf
“Gay men make up a significant part of the growing Asian migrant population, as many Asian countries are very vocal in condemning homosexuality,” Incapas says. “Gay men in Asian countries often are forced to move where they feel they can live and express themselves more freely, countries like New Zealand.” Asian gay men are also part of the wider community of men who have sex with men, who are the highest risk group for HIV infection in New Zealand. 70 new gay and bisexual diagnoses were recorded in 2006 – one every five days.
“Up until now, there has been a lack of visible role models for Asian gay and bisexual men to encourage open discussion about the importance of condom use in preventing HIV,” Incapas says. “Without the skills of handling themselves in a community with different social rules, and often coming to New Zealand with no condom culture, Asian gay men can be vulnerable to being taken advantage of.”
The poster features men from Singapore, the Philipines, Malaysia, Hong Kong and Tahiti. All the men are profiled on an accompanying flier, along with individual messages about why they value safe sex.
“This is about standing proud and taking a leadership role in our own communities to help turn the HIV epidemic around,” Incapas says. “But HIV isn’t confined to one particular group or ethnicity – as gay and bisexual men, we are all susceptible because of the risk of transmission via anal sex. We must all renew our commitment to using a condom every time.”
Shanghai Lil’s Bar and Lounge
133 Franklin Rd
7pm, Friday 11th May
Source: New Zealand Aids Foundation press release
03 August 2007
Fear for safety/ torture or ill-treatment of transexuals in Malaysia
Ayu, a male-to-female transsexual, was seriously beaten by state religious officials who detained her while she was talking to friends at the Old Melaka bus station in Kota Melaka, Melaka (Malacca) state, southwest Malaysia at around 11.30pm on 30 July. Ayu may be at risk of further abuse, and other transsexual people may also be in danger. Ayu was reportedly approached by three enforcement officers from the Melaka Islamic Religious Affairs Department (Jabatan Agama Islam Melaka, JAIM), a local government body tasked with enforcing social norms based on Sharia law.
The officials, all dressed in civilian clothes, reportedly punched and kicked Ayu when they detained her. One of them reportedly kicked her hard in the genital area. They only identified themselves as JAIM officials when bystanders intervened to try to prevent the assault. When she said she was in serious pain, they took her briefly to the local JAIM office, before transferring her to Melaka General Hospital. She had to undergo surgery on 31 July for a pre-existing abdominal hernia condition, which had been aggravated by the assault.
JAIM ordered the hospital authorities to report the names of other transsexuals who came to visit Ayu in hospital. It is unclear whether any were reported, but Amnesty International fears that other transsexual people in Melaka, and in Malaysia generally, may face similar abuses. According to media reports, a JAIM official later clarified the reasons for Ayu’s detention, namely that she had committed the ‘offence’ of ‘men dressing up as women in a public space’ which is punishable with a fine of RM1,000 (approx. US$288), a six-month prison sentence or both under Section 72 of the Melaka Sharia Offences Enactment.
However, a social worker with the Malaysian non-governmental organization, Pink Triangle, claimed that the officials had contravened procedures by failing to take Ayu to a police station after they detained her. Ayu was discharged from hospital on 2 August. It appears that JAIM officials have not yet pressed charges against her, agreeing to release her on ‘compassionate’ grounds under a guarantee from a friend.
However, the officials reportedly warned Ayu that if she failed to appear in court when charged, her friend would be fined RM1,000 (approx US$288). In response to media questions, a JAIM official reportedly denied the assault allegations claiming that Ayu was sent to hospital because ‘she was sick’.
Abuses against transsexual people appear to be rising in Malaysia at the hands of both the ordinary police and so-called ‘religious police’ like JAIM. There are fears that such actions may be creating a climate of viligantism among community groups and society at large against those whose sexuality or gender identity is perceived to deviate from the ‘norm’. In April 2007, it was reported that the authorities in Terengganu state were planning to set up a ‘rehabilitation centre’ for transsexual people due to fears that men were becoming more ‘effeminate’ and that many transsexual people were ‘back to their old habit’ even after serving time in prison. While the scope and target of their operations may differ in different parts of the country, ‘religious police’ may impose sanctions on anyone deemed to be engaged in ‘indecent behaviour’, such as transsexual people, couples kissing in public (both mixed and same-sex), Muslim women deemed to be dressed inappropriately, or even young people wearing punk-style clothing.
Please send appeals to arrive as quickly as possible, in English, Malay or your own language: Urge the authorities to conduct a full, immediate and independent investigation into allegations that Ayu was assaulted by JAIM religious affairs officers and to ensure that those found responsible for the violence against Ayu are brought to justice; Call for immediate guarantees that Ayu and other transsexuals in Melaka, will not be subjected to further abuse from JAIM officers; Call on the authorities not to press any charges against Ayu which are based on her gender identity and violate her fundamental human rights to freedom of expression and freedom from non-discrimination; Express concern that JAIM ordered the hospital to report other transsexuals visiting Ayu and calling on the authorities to ensure that transsexual people in hospital are able to receive visitors without harassment or discrimination and in line with regular hospital practice for all patients; Urge the authorities to reform all laws, regulations and policies which
discriminate against transsexual people in violation of their human rights.
Appeals Should Be Sent To:
Datuk Seri Mohd Ali Mohd Rustam
Chief Minister of Melaka
Aras 1, Blok Temenggong,
Seri Negeri, Hang Tuah Jaya,
75450 Ayer Keroh, Melaka, Malaysia
Fax: +60 6232 8620
Salutation: Dear Chief Minister
Dato’ Alias bin Md. Saad
Director, Islamic Religious Department of Melaka
Jabatan Agama Islam Melaka (JAIM)
Imarah B, Kompleks MAIM, Bukit Palah, 75150 Melaka, Malaysia
Fax: +60 6283 4022
Email: jaim@melaka. gov.my
Salutation: Dear Director
ACP Johari bin Yahaya
Chief of Police
IPD Melaka Tengah
PDRM, Jalan Banda Kaba, 75561 Melaka, Malaysia
Fax: +60 6282 3848
Salutation: Dear Chief of Police
Dato’ Sri Abdullah Ahmad Badawi
Pejabat Perdana Menteri
Aras 1, Blok Utama, Bangunan Perdana Putra,
Pusat Pentadbiran Kerajaan Persekutuan, 62502 Putrajaya, Malaysia
Fax: +60 8888 3444
August 13, 2007
Gay pastor leads service, his partner watches with pride
by Audrey Edwards
Kuala Lumpur – Angel Ayala sat in the second row of people, watching with pride as his partner Rev Ou Yang Wen Feng calmly led the faithful through a two-hour Sunday service at a hotel here. And through it all, Ou Yang, a self-confessed gay pastor knew he was not alone because of Ayala’s presence. “He has been very supportive and it was important to know that I was not alone,” Ou Yang said in an interview yesterday after the service attended by about 100 people.
He said it was important to show other gay people that it was possible to come out together, and to heterosexuals that gay relationships were not just about sex but about “spiritual and emotional love.” The pair has been together for four-and-a-half years and hope to marry when same sex marriages are legalised in New York. Ayala, a finance manager said he supported Ou Yang’s plan to set up a church in Malaysia. Ou Yang, 37, is a Malaysian pastor who serves at the Metropolitan Community Church (MCC) in New York. He is also currently pursuing his doctorate at Boston University.
He hopes to set up an MCC branch here in 2010, before which, friends would help him start a cell group that he said was open to all regardless of their sexual orientation. Earlier during a press conference, Ou Yang, when asked about opposition from other churches in Malaysia, said as a Christian minister, he would pray for them. The service also saw Metropolitan Community Churches founder Bishop Troy D. Perry giving a sermon. Also present was his partner of over 22 years, Phillip De Blieck. Perry said he was thankful for having De Blieck as he was that “special someone” who was there for him through good and bad times.
They married under Canadian law at the MCC of Toronto in 2003 and hope to get the marriage recognised by the California State Supreme Court by this year. Perry believed the church would be a blessing for the gay and lesbian communities in Malaysia. He also spoke of his promise to his partner that he would stand by him, when De Blieck was diagnosed with HIV two decades ago. When asked about his former heterosexual marriage and his two sons, Perry said he was in contact with one of his sons and is a grandfather of three. De Blieck, 43, said his “greatest gift” to the world and the church was to always be supportive of Perry’s work. “When I met Troy, I did not know who he was. And I think one reason Troy fell in love with me was because he knew I was interested in him as a person and not the title,” he said.
August 13 2007
Malaysia to block planned gay church
Kuala Lumpur – Muslim-majority Malaysia will block a plan by the country’s first and only openly gay pastor to establish a church embracing homosexuals, bisexuals and transsexuals, a minister said on Monday. Reverend Ouyang Wen Feng, an ethnic Chinese Malaysian ordained in the US, caused controversy after saying he wanted to set up the church by 2010. The government would block the plan, Tourism Minister Adnan Tengku Mansor told AFP, adding the country had always sought to portray itself as a "family-oriented" holiday destination.
"We have no intention of being portrayed the same way like other cities such as Bangkok or those other cities in that league," Mansor said, apparently referring to the Thai capital’s sex industry. We are here to be seen as a multicultural country with people who are good, excellent followers of their respective religions," Mansor added. Homosexuality falls under a Malaysian law prohibiting sodomy, which is punishable by up to 20 years in prison and whipping.
Ouyang’s plan to start the church had stirred anxiety, Reverend Wong Kin Kong, the secretary general of Malaysia’s National Evangelical Christian Fellowship, said last week. This was "because Christians do not want others to assume they condone such a thing," he said. But Ouyang remained unfazed and urged a congregation of about 80 people – including his male partner – to "reclaim faith and celebrate our sexuality" in an underground mass on Sunday. "For some of us, especially our gay brothers and sisters, we have experienced first hand that Christianity has been used to persecute minorities," Ouyang told the mass, according to press reports. – Sapa-AFP
August 23, 2006
Famed Malaysian Columnist, Oyoung Wenfeng, Comes Out in New Book
by News Editor
Well known and regarded former newspaper columnist in Malaysia, Oyoung Wenfeng, has come out in his latest book – an autobiography written in Chinese – which was launched in Kuala Lumpur on Monday and in Singapore on Thursday, Aug 24. Oyoung Wenfeng’s latest offering, Is Present the Future? – An Asian Gay Man’s Coming Out Journey, was launched on Aug 21 in Kuala Lumpur and was attended by some 150 people, including gay, lesbian and straight readers as well as the press, television, radio and online media.
Oyoung, a Christian theology scholar, academic in sociology and former newspaper columnist in Malaysia, gave the audience a stark and detailed, but nevertheless touching and emotional, account of his life which took a dramatic turn with his coming-out as a gay man at the age of 32 during his recent years of teaching and research in the US. Malaysian dance artiste Lee Swee Keong opened the event held at Galleriiizu with a melancholic dance performance inspired by the classical Chinese story of ill-fated romance The Butterfly Lovers. Rev. Pat Bumgardner, Senior Pastor of the Metropolitan Community Church in New York, spoke about coming-out issues and related how she was a witness to Oyoung’s coming-out in New York, where he currently lectures on sociology at St Peter University and is doing research for his doctorate in divinity with Boston University. Oyoung is also a PhD candidiate in sociology at the City Univeristy of New York (CUNY).
The 36-year-old Kuantan-born author is known to many Malaysians as a passionate speaker and newspaper commentator who was provocative at times. As a social commentator, his sharp and incisive writings on social ills in Malaysia and the US engaged both passionate supporters and indignant critics. His column Under the Statue of Liberty ran in Malaysia’s largest circulating Chinese newspaper Sin Chew Daily for eight years, with his popularity sustained by his vocal analysis and critique of social issues. In 1996, he won the Best Journalist Award by National Chinese-language newspapers.
Oyoung is known to stand his ground despite being attacked by his opponents from conservative quarters.
While he wrote passionately about gay pride, LGBT equality and queer studies (his weekly commentary on Fridae’s Chinese website has been running since February this year), his own sexuality has been somewhat ambiguous in the public eye as he was married to a psychologist for seven years. His recent publication God Loves Gays, a close examination of biblical interpretation of the relationship between gay Christians and their faith, was widely read and discussed in Malaysia and made its way into the bestseller list in the Chinese-language regional news magazine Yazhou Zhoukan. That book was followed by two other groundbreaking works Gays Love God and Sociology of Body. The former examines the relationship between gays/lesbians and their religion while the latter looks at how society relates to the human body from a sociological perspective, exploring issues like birth, sex, food, customs, ethnicity – and literally one’s skin colour, aging, illness and death and the many ways the human body is used and abused to control and manipulate, or to please and entice.
With this new book Is Present the Future?: An Asian Gay Man’s Coming-Out Journey, Oyoung returns to his own life story for inspiration. He hopes for it to be an inspiration for gay men and lesbians who are struggling with similar issues. At the book launch, the otherwise passionate speaker was calm and collected, as he expressed his guilt in having to lead a life of deception in the public eye with regards to his marriage to his ex-wife, who was mostly silent at the event. While he said that he is not advocating for gays and lesbians come out publicly as he has, he hopes for his book to provide some form of support to those who are struggling to accept their own sexual orientation. He also warned against gay individuals marrying to hide their true sexual orientation as it traps an innocent party in an unhealthy relationship. In his book, Oyoung gave credit to his ex-wife Chun-Yu for giving him the courage to step out of their marriage to date men and recounted a period of time when his Puerto Rican boyfriend Angel and his ex-wife lived as a family in the same New York apartment.
Is Present the Future: An Asian Gay Man’s Coming-Out Journey is available in bookstores across Malaysia and on Fridae Shop (international delivery available).
A book launch and meet-the-author session will be held in Singapore on August 24 (Thursday) at 7.30 pm, at Xpose Cafe and Restaurant (280 South Bridge Road, near Mosque Street and Upper Cross Street). For more details, please click here.
5th September 2007
Malaysian court annuls same sex marriage
by PinkNews.co.uk writer
A Shariah court in Malaysia has annulled a marriage between a two women, one of which is a transvestite. The court, in southern Malacca, said Mohamad Sofian Mohamad and Zaiton Aziz would have to separate because Mohamad Sofian had female genitals, despite her male attire and close cropped hair. Originally named Mazinah Mohamad, she was allowed to change her name due to an administrative oversight and the couple married in a Malacca mosque in 2002. But the bride’s family soon filed a lawsuit against the couple on the basis that the groom was actually a woman.
Mohamad Mokhtar Karim, a lawyer for the state, told AP: "From the examination results, he’s entirely a woman. He dresses like a man, but if you look at him, personally, I think he looks like a woman. He has got breasts and everything," he continued. Malaysia is governed by two different kinds of court – Shariah courts to govern Muslim civil matters and the state’s secular courts which apply to the 40 percent of the population which is not Muslim. Same sex marriages are illegal under both systems. A pre-op Chinese transsexual had her marriage to her male partner made invalid by the government in 2005.
November 6, 2007
Malaysian police say they broke up gay sex party, arrested 37 men
The Associated Press – Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia: Police in Malaysia, where sodomy is a crime, broke up a gay sex party and arrested 37 men, including a Briton and a Chinese national, a senior official said Tuesday. Police, acting on a public tip-off, raided a fitness center in northern Penang island Sunday while a sex party was in progress and arrested the 37 men, aged between 20 and 45, said local police chief Azam Abdul Hamid. Apart from the two foreigners, all of the men are ethnic Chinese Malaysians including three who work at the center, he said. Police found used condoms strewn all over the floor, seven tubes of lubrication jelly, 20 gay magazines, four pornographic VCDs and six boxes of new condoms, he said.
"Based on our information, the center was regularly used for these gay activities," Azam told The Associated Press. "This is against our culture, our way of life." Investigations are ongoing but he said the operator of the premises could lose his business license if he is found to have abused it, and the men, who have been released, could be charged with committing unnatural sex acts. Homosexuality is not specified as a crime in predominantly Muslim Malaysia but it is covered under a law prohibiting sodomy, which is punishable by up to 20 years in prison and whipping. Azam said police are also surveilling other centers suspected to be involved in gay activities under an ongoing operation to check vice activities in Penang island, a major tourist and technology hub.
November 7, 2007
Talking About Sex in Malaysia
by Douglas Sanders
In the academic setting of an Asian studies conference, Malaysian Muslim women academics could talk about sex and homosex. But any references in mainstream media remain taboo. Doug Sanders recalls impressions of the recent conference held in Kuala Lumpur.
In the academic setting of an Asian studies conference, Malaysian Muslim women academics could talk about sex and homosex. But any references in mainstream media remain taboo. Doug Sanders recalls impressions of the recent conference held in Kuala Lumpur. Some of us queer academics have been flaunting our respectability at the International Convention of Asia Scholars’ biennial conferences – Singapore 2003, Shanghai 2005, Kuala Lumpur 2007. These big academic parties are co-hosted by the International Institute of Asian Studies in the Netherlands and a local university or research body.
Singapore was our first try at inclusion. Would we be banned in Singapore in 2003? No! Why not? Who cares what is said by boring academics to other boring academics in an event hosted by the very respectable National University of Singapore? The same proved true in Shanghai and Kuala Lumpur (where the support staff was 90 percent women in Muslim headscarves from the host Universiti Kebangsaan).
Headscarves and new fiction
The high point of the KL conference for me was a session on Aug 3 titled Mapping Malay Sexuality in Malay/Malaysian Texts. The four academics making presentations were all Muslim women, three in plain long dresses and white headscarves. The chair, also a Muslim woman, had no headscarf. (She’s of Arab descent, I was told.) One panelist commented that when she was an undergraduate she was told that the only graphic description of sex that was permissible was something like: “I embraced her and she became a mother.” But, we were told, there had been a boom in popular commercial fiction in the 1960s, depicting very graphic sex. The books are remembered as “dime novels.” The stories were heterosexual and usually had some return to religion at the end.
This literature was part of the “swinging sixties.” Authorities closed it down in the 1970s and 1980s. It restarted around 1999. Now there is a literature in English that is seen as quality writing, with significant sexual content. The first paper dealt with a novel by Shahnon Ahmad, a “Malay laureate”, a leading author. According to the author it is a “novel of ideas.” Or is it just a story of bedhopping? The heroine at 27, with bravado, goes about having sex with 19 men. In the end she asks herself whether she has done the right thing. Some remorse or at least some self-questioning restores a moral sense at the end. Another paper dealt with Malaysian Women bloggers. Two-thirds of bloggers in Malaysia are women, compared to 56 percent worldwide. Currently there is a “war on bloggers” and two individuals have been charged.
So far all the sexual references had been hetero. Then Washima Che Dan, Lecturer, Department of English Language, Universiti Putra Malaysia, presented a paper “Language, Gender and Sexuality in Dina Zaman and Karim Raslan’s Works.” She focused on the story “Neighbours” in Karim Raslan’s collection of short stories entitled Heroes. A middle-aged, middle class, overweight, bored housewife is charmed by the handsome husband who is moving into the house next door with his wife. She spies on the neighbours from the upstairs balcony where she takes her morning coffee. Oooops. She discovers that the neighbour’s wife, under the Muslim dress, is a male. And the wife is the active partner in sex. The housewife is not so much shocked by what she has learned as filled with guilt over her intrusion. Her improper behaviour has led to her discovering what she did not want to know and had no right to know. The shock of it all is her fault, not that of the neighbours. She has disrupted the public façade of normality that the neighbours have carefully maintained.
One of the Muslim academics gave me her copy of Karim Raslan’s book. It has another story of gay sexual repression by a Malay Muslim playing a colonial role in Sabah in Eastern Malaysia. The stories are beautifully written. It seems you can get away with more in Malaysia if you write in English, not Malay. The conference panel was seen by the women academics as a bold venture. One, after reading a passage from a novel, said almost reflexively: “I actually read that out – and on a Friday!” (Mosques hold a congregational prayer weekly on Fridays and is considered to be obligatory for men.)
Malay, Chinese, Indian
At the conference, the Malaysian government stated and restated its basic national line: Malaysia is multi-ethnic, stable and peaceful. It is a successful example of “unity in diversity.” It can teach other countries about how to live together in peace and harmony. None of the Malaysian academics, off the record, took the governments line seriously. They all know of the race riots of 1969 and the long controversies over the affirmative action programs designed to boost the economic status of Malays (in relation to that of the Chinese).
For Malaysians at the conference, their sense was that the races were drifting further apart, each becoming more insular. Separate religious and educational systems had much to do with this. The legal system is part of the problem, with rigid rules against conversion and intermarriage enforced on Muslims. Shortly after the conference there was a national controversy over whether Malaysia was a Muslim state or not. Prime Minister Badawi had to intervene to kill the debate, declaring that the country was neither Muslim nor secular.
Sex in Malaysia
There are a few gay bars in Kuala Lumpur and a number of gay saunas. But there is no public discussion of sexual diversity, no discussion of the criminal law still in place (good old 377). The New Straits Times, Wed, Aug 8, 2007, had an expose on prostitution entitled “The dark side of sex in the city.” It told the tragic story of three female prostitutes, sick or diseased, working in the Chow Kit area of Kuala Lumpur. There was no mention of the transsexual prostitutes working in the same area, much less of any male prostitution. On a “crisis” in the spread of HIV, the article quoted “Pink Triangle chairman Hisham Hussein,” without noting that the organisation is a gay focused group that works on HIV prevention with transgender prostitutes. Prostitution was depicted as sordid and apparently exclusively heterosexual.
There were a few sensual images on public view – on the posters outside a mainstream video store – and on the cover of the Malaysian edition of FHM, an internationally printed men’s magazine with mostly Caucasian models and stories. In August, 2007, the Thai gay film Me… Myself was playing in KL. It is a pleasant romantic comedy, which treats the causes of homosexuality as inborn (for the lesbian character) and the result of being raised by kathoeys (for the male hero). Neither find their fate a happy one, which presumably made the film suitable for Malaysian eyes.
In the trendy Life&Times section of the New Straits Times on Aug 10, 2007, we got images of “an interior designer’s home.” Thirty-nine-year-old Jason Mah’s home had an eclectic mix – Asian and western, antique and contemporary. “His home doubles up as an interior design office for him and his partner Bernie Lee.” Both are seen smiling and casually dressed in the lead photograph. A nice couple, I thought. Perhaps conscious of the lack of reference to female companions in the pictures or the story, the last paragraph has Jason Mah referring to his home as a “bachelor pad.”
As in the sex novels, some sense of propriety is inserted at the end of the article.
Doug Sanders is a retired Canadian law professor living in Bangkok. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.
November 22, 2007
No sex party going on at penang fitness centre, say those arrested
by SH Lim
Following the recent raid of a fitness centre in Penang where 37 men were arrested, it has emerged that contrary to media reports, there was no “sex party” in progress when police raided the establishment. SH Lim gives readers an insight of the case and how the community has responded. “I did nothing wrong,” Eric Goh wrote to PT Foundation, a community-based organisation providing HIV/AIDS education and sexuality awareness and empowerment programmes, in Malaysia. Goh is one of the 37 – 35 Malaysians and two non-nationals – who was detained by the Malaysian police for two days. Acting on a public tip-off,” the police on Sunday, Nov 4, at about 7.30pm, raided G-Word Fitness Centre, in Penang the Associated Press reported. In the same article, it said that the police informed that it found “used condoms strewn all over the floor, seven tubes of lubrication jelly, 20 gay magazines, four pornographic VCDs and six boxes of new condoms.” George Town Officer in Charge of Police District (OCPD) Asst Comm Azam Abd Hamid was quoted as saying that at the time of the raid “a sex party was in progress.”
But not so according to Goh and some others.
“We were fully dressed when the police came in,” Goh said in an email to the PLUPenang newslist that he and his UK friend were there for a quick workout before meeting his family for dinner but instead ended in the lockup “for two unforgettable humiliating and tragic nights.” The detainees were released after signing a bond. Although the case is not closed at the time of publishing this article, observers say those arrested are unlikely to be charged. One detainee informed that he and the others were sent to a lock-up, then to court before a magistrate and remanded for two days. “We were all put in handcuffs and chains like criminals,” he said. Other detainees told of similar experiences. “What we went through was beyond words. The humiliation, the verbal insults, striping to our underwear in a dirty and cold cell full of graffiti and bugs; shit and shower in the same place; handcuffed and chained even when we went to the toilet and while eating. Those with high blood pressure and diabetic problems were without medication for 48 hours,” Goh added.
Help from the Community
Throughout this ordeal, some organisations and individuals stepped up to the plate working round the clock to help. PT Foundation was in contact with the Legal Aid Centre in Kuala Lumpur, and with people from PLUPenang. Darryl, P.H. Yap and Bern Chua contacted friends in Penang to find a lawyer to represent the detainees. Yap and Chua spent full days at the station and in the magistrates’ court, liaising between those detained and the lawyer. P. H. Yap and his friends bought food and refreshments – reportedly paid for by the owner of G-Word – for the detainees. “I am sure many others lend a helping hand. I am very encouraged by their actions, and wish to thank them for their selfless community spirit,” said Raymond Tai, Head of MSM Programme, PT Foundation.
Why the Raid?
A local newspaper, The Star, owned by the Malaysian Chinese Association (MCA), a national political party, quoted the police as saying that the raid was part of its ongoing “Ops Bersih (operation clean) aimed at keeping all types of vice activities in check.” Other reasons have however been posited. According to some people, the rather “harsh” treatment arose because the owner of G-Word Fitness Centre was not around and was not contactable during the raid. It was speculated that things might have turned out quite differently if the owner was there to smooth things over with the police. Shanon Shah of Amnesty International Malaysia pointed out that “raids like this don’t happen in isolation. One raid leads to another, and it’s usually a political tactic to divert the people from more pressing issues of concern. The thing is, we have to keep an eye out.” The case is being closely watched by the gay community as well as local and international human rights organisations.
The Penal Code
Section 377 of Malaysia’s Penal Code, which prohibits "carnal intercourse against the order of nature” and acts of “gross indecency,” hangs like the proverbial sword of Damocles over the heads of gay men. Although the laws do not explicitly mention homosexuality or homosexual acts (after being amended in 1989 to be gender neutral), the laws are available as a tool to intimidate, harass, extort and exploit gay men and gay-friendly businesses. The attendant publicity – the potential outing – is that very thing which makes gay men vulnerable. The press too is not ashamed to exploit this vulnerability selling itself with sensational news. There are no known cases of the laws being used against consenting adults, gay or straight, except in the controversial case of former Malaysian DPM Anwar Ibrahim who was convicted in 2000 for sodomy. The conviction was later reversed in 2004. The Malaysian government’s approach to Penal Code 377 is no different from the Singapore government’s application of Section 377A of the Penal Code. Both governments continue to perpetuate prejudice and execute a law that unjustly discriminates and leaves a segment of the population vulnerable to exploitation. The Singapore government, after an open debate, has nonetheless proudly and publicly declared that anal intercourse between heterosexual couples is legal but not so for gay men. The Malaysian government says nothing but continues to invoke that code when dealing with gay men’s sexuality. In the context of AIDS prevention and outreach programmes, Raymond Tai of PT Foundation said: “This draconian Penal Code 377 continues to allow the authorities to drive gay-friendly saunas underground, operating as ‘fitness centres,’ ‘spas,’ etc. This in turn encourages extortions by enforcement officers and poses a big challenge for us at PTF to do safer sex outreach to these places.” PTF’s current recourse is to engage in closed-door discussions with government and enforcement officers so that PTF is able to take small practical steps to keep its community protected.
What Needs to be Done
Anal intercourse between consenting adults regardless of their sexual orientation must be decriminalised. Simply because the law is inhumane and unjust. There is no longer any justification for the discrimination of gay people and the criminalisation of the anal intercourse. With decriminalisation, the gay community would be less vulnerable to unreasonable searches and raids. In the mean time, gay-focused and human rights organisations within and without country – PT Foundation, Suaram, Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, women’s groups and others – will need to engage with the civil society to widen the democratic space for Malaysians, where there is real respect for equality in a diverse society. Malaysians need to be educated more about their civil liberties and mobilised to stand up and speak out against discrimination of minorities. The socio-political climate needs to change before taking on Section 377. At present, the local gay organisations lack a locally based organised response mechanism to manage situations like the raid on G-Word. PT Foundation advocates for more grassroots-based organisation to mobilise and is offering to train interested groups and volunteers in basic human rights, arrests and detention issues so that they can assist should more raids occur.
PT Foundation is seeking the Legal Aid Centre’s advice on this matter, and encourage all those who are concerned to write in. PFT is also offering para-legal training to those who wish to volunteer their services, hiring staff and seeking volunteers for a number of programmes they are running, for details please check the web site and/or email email@example.com.