Gay Malaysia News & Reports 2008-09

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1 U.S. State Department Country Reports on Human Rights Practices 2007 3/08

2 Malaysian Cops Crack Down on Gay Life 5/08

3 Activist Toni Kassim dies (updated) 6/08

4 Former minister facing another sodomy accusation 6/08

5 Malaysian transvestites appeal one-week jail sentence 7/08

6 In the spirit of merdeka: Malaysians hold first ever sexuality rights festival 9/08

7 LGBT offerings at Freedom Film Fest in Johor Bahru, Kuching and Penang 9/08

8 Malaysia’s Mulsims ban lesbian sex and other "masculine behaviour" 10/08

9 Malaysian police target gay people in Saturday afternoon raids 11/08

10 Malaysia’s PT Foundation turns 21 11/08

11 Malaysia’s fatwa council explains how ‘tomboys’ become lesbians 11/08

12 Islam ‘recognizes homosexuality’ 2/09

13 What you didn’t hear on the Oscars if you live in Malayasia 2/09

14 Kuala Lumpur: 32 arrested in drug raid at "gay party" 7/09

15 Rethinking Malaysia’s sodomy laws 7/09

16 Getting “Body 2 Body: A Malaysian Queer Anthology” to press 8/09

16a Do homosexual couples in Malaysia live in fear? 8/09

17 Malaysia bans Baron Cohen’s ‘Bruno’ film 9/09

18 Coalition for Sexual and Bodily Rights in Muslim Societies 12/09

19 Director of human rights group calls for repeal of sodomy laws 12/09

March 13, 2008 – State Department

U.S. State Department Country Reports on Human Rights Practices 2007: Malaysia

Malaysia is still among the world’s human rights abusers despite rapid economic growth. It is an "authoritarian" nation that denies its people
basic human rights and freedoms, harasses bloggers/journalists and persecution based on sexual orientation and tortures prisoners.

Some important excerpts;

"…the Malaysian government "abridged citizens’ right to change their government. No independent body investigated deaths that occurred during apprehension by police or while in police custody."

"…laws against sodomy and "carnal intercourse against the order of nature" exist and were enforced.
Religious and cultural taboos against homosexuality were widespread."

Internet Freedom:
There were no government restrictions on access to the Internet. However, in July Prime Minister Abdullah warned that Internet users,
particularly bloggers, "do not have the freedom to do whatever they like…It is not for them [bloggers] to claim that they are immune from the law simply because their Web sites are hosted overseas where they have the right to say anything."

In August a university student studying overseas released a satirical video highlighting political corruption. The student rewrote the national anthem lyrics, and the video was widely viewed. Responding to the video, UMNO Youth chief Hishammuddin Hussein said, "UMNO Youth warns that freedom has its limits and we will not tolerate those who touch on the issue of national stability, harmony, cultural values, and the personality of national leaders." He called for legislation that would allow the government to recall from overseas citizens who "smeared the country’s image."

On July 13, police detained and held incommunicado Nathaniel Tan, a prominent political blogger, activist, and staff member of the opposition People’s Justice Party for five days allegedly for violating the Official Secrets Act. Police did not allow Tan contact with his family or legal counsel until after a legal activist spotted him with police at the magistrate’s court. Police allegedly attempted to have Tan arraigned without the presence of his lawyer. On July 25, police questioned for eight hours the online political commentator Raja Petra Kamaruddin. In both cases, senior UMNO party members filed police reports alleging the men had posted seditious articles on their blogs. Both Tan and Kamaruddin regularly published articles and commentary on their Web sites regarding political corruption. Police investigations of both Tan and Kamaruddin’s alleged criminal activities were ongoing at year’s end, and neither had had formal charges filed against them.

Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and Association:
The decision to grant a permit rests with the district police chief; however, senior police officials and political leaders have influenced the
granting or denial of some permits. Police granted permits routinely to government and ruling coalition supporters but used a more restrictive approach with government critics, opposition parties, and human rights activists.

On September 8, police in Terengganu used water cannons and tear gas to disrupt an opposition party-sponsored rally on election reform after demonstrators refused to disperse.

On November 10, in defiance of warnings by the prime minister and the police, tens of thousands of demonstrators led by major opposition political leaders assembled and marched to the National Palace to petition the king for electoral reform measures.

On November 25, the Hindu Rights Action Force (HINDRAF), a small activist NGO, organized a demonstration in Kuala Lumpur with the intent to present the British High Commission with a memorandum asking for Queen Elizabeth II’s intervention on their behalf. HINDRAF’s leaders intended to highlight the marginalization of the country’s Indian minority.

On December 9, police arrested eight persons, including five lawyers, for participating in an "illegal assembly." The eight had organized a march involving approximately 60 persons to mark International Human Rights Day in Kuala Lumpur. Police also arrested the Bar Council’s Human Rights Committee chair, Edmond Bon.

On December 11, police arrested 26 members of the Coalition for Clean and Fair Elections, a coalition of opposition parties and NGOs seeking reforms to the electoral process.

On December 13, police arrested five HINDRAF leaders–P. Uthayakumar, M. Manoharan, R. Kenghadharan, Ganabatirau, and T. Vasantha Kumar–under the ISA and indicated they would be held without trial for a period of two years.

Respect for Political Rights: The Right of Citizens to Change Their Government; The law provides citizens the right to change their government peacefully, and citizens formally exercised this right in practice through periodic elections based on universal suffrage; however, while votes generally were recorded accurately, there were irregularities that affected the fairness of elections and this right was abridged in practice.

Opposition parties were unable to compete on equal terms with the governing coalition (which has held power at the national level since independence in 1957) because of significant restrictions on campaigning, freedom of assembly and association, and access to the media.The lack of equal access to the media was one of the most serious problems encountered by the opposition in the 2004 national elections and in subsequent by-elections. Opposition leaders also claimed that the election commission was under government control and lacked the independence needed to carry out its duties impartially.

Full report on:-

May 12, 2008 – Edge Boston

Malaysian Cops Crack Down on Gay Life

by Kilian Melloy, EDGE Contributor
In the ancient world, establishments such as this Roman bath house were esteemed as places of health and comeraderie. That’s not so in some countries today. Police in Penang, Malaysia staged a raid on a fitness center, rounding up over a dozen men and arresting them for alleged homosexual activity. The story appeared in the May 12 online edition of The Star. The article reported that the police raid took place early on the morning of May 10, leading to the discovery, according to authorities, of six completely undressed men in the restroom, with the other men rousted from elsewhere in the building.

The police also said that they had confiscated a large number of condoms, and that, in the words of an assistant police commander, Azam Abd Hamid, "We also found used condoms littered all over the place." The article cited Hamid as saying that 14 men were arrested at the center and had been detained as an investigation into sexual activity at the fitness center continued. The men were all between the ages of 20 and 30, according to the Star article. Said Hamid, "This was the third time the center was raided since last November." Hamid added that the police would be advocating that the fitness center be shuttered.

The article recounted that one of the earlier police raids took place last Nov. 5, when an alleged sex party was in progress at the center. At that time, 34 men were arrested, including one man from the U.K., the Star article said. The raids have been part of a police effort, dubbed "Operation Rose," which has targeted certain areas of town where gay men and transvestites congregate. It is illegal to be gay in Malaysia, with men arrested for being gay subject to hard time in jail and fines. Some gay Malaysians react to their plight by seeking asylum abroad in places such as Canada, where gay refugees from a number of countries that criminalize their sexuality have begun to gravitate in recent years. However, despite the promise of a life free from anti-gay persecution in Canada, some asylum seekers still find themselves confronted by prejudice and ignorance.

In a Mar. 5 article the Calgary Herald detailed how gay asylum seekers are sometimes deported despite the near certainty that once back in their home countries, they will be arrested and jailed for their sexual identities. Part of the problem stems from officials charged with deciding who will be granted refugee status and who will be shipped back. Such officials may not know, or care to know, the dangers faced by gays and lesbians in countries such as Iran and Malaysia. The Calgary Sun article quoted the co-president of the gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender commission of the New Democratic Party (NDP), Matthew McLauchlin, who said, "There have been women told they couldn’t be lesbian because they have long hair and showed up for the interviews in high heels." Said McLauchlin of the government functionaries who make such decisions, "These people have no training whatsoever in how to deal with these issues."

Kilian Melloy reviews media, conducts interviews, and writes commentary for EDGEBoston, where he also serves as Assistant Arts Editor.

June 4, 2008 – The Star Online

Activist Toni Kassim dies (updated)

by Lisa Goh
ShahH Alam: Human and women’s rights activist Zaiton Kasim passed away at 5am Wednesday, after months of battling cancer.
She was 41. Zaiton, who was affectionately known as Toni, passed away in her sleep at her sister’s home in Batu Tiga, Shah Alam. She was laid to rest at about 1pm at the Batu Tiga muslim cemetery. Her peers described her as "witty, passionate, a wonderfully caring person, one who had an infectious smile and a great sense of humour, a defender of human rights, one whose heart and soul was in her advocacy".
Asian-Pacific Resource and Research Centre for Women (Arrow) director, and a close friend of Toni, Saira Shameem said she was "multi-diversed and a very strong lady".

"She was involved in so many things – film, TV, drama, human rights advocacy, women’s rights, Islam, AIDS and so many other issues. Toni was the kind of person who never said ‘No’ to any challenge, especially if it was about helping others," she said.

Among the non-governmental organisations (NGOs) Toni was involved in were Sisters in Islam (SIS), Suara Rakyat Malaysia (Suaram), the Joint Action Committee (JAC) and Women’s Candidacy Initiative (WCI), where she became the first independent woman candidate to run in the 1999 general election.

"She contested for the Selayang seat. She didn’t win, but she reduced the majority-vote by about 30,000 votes. She was planning to run again in the recent general election, but she was already ill then," Saira said.

Toni was diagnosed with fourth stage duodenal cancer in February, and had undergone chemotherapy once. She also practised reiki as an alternative treatment. Women’s Aid Organisation president Meera Samanther said the best thing about Toni was her ability to relate and reach out to the man on the street. "She had that knack and ability that not many people have," she said.

SIS programme manager Norhayati Kaprawi said Toni’s passing was "a great loss to all of us".

"Advocacy was her life," she said.

June 30, 2008 – PinkNews

Former minister facing another sodomy accusation

by Staff Writer,
A leading opposition politician in Malaysia temporarily took refuge in the Turkish embassy in Kuala Lumpur yesterday after his assistant accused him of sodomy. Former Malaysian Finance Minister Anwar Ibrahim said he wanted the government to guarantee his safety after his 23-year-old aide made the allegations. The 60-year-old politician said the claims were false.
"Certain people in the hierarchy are involved in these allegations," he said, according to the BBC.

The former Finance Minister was first accused of being gay in 1998 by the then-Prime Minister and fired from the cabinet for challenging his authority. He had acted as his deputy for five years. Ibrahim was then tried, convicted and handed a lengthy sentence of 15 years for sodomy and corruption. He believed the trial was intended to restrict his political rise. He was later released in September 2004 after the conviction was overturned. This March he led the People’s Justice party in the general elections, where they gained support from the National Front coalition.

Human rights groups said that the charges that Ibrahim had gay sex with his brother, his driver and his speechwriter are untrue, and were used to smear him to stop him from succeeding to the prime ministerial role. In July 2007 Ibrahim missed his chance to bring corrupt former Prime Minister Mahathir bin Mohamad to court for calling him a homosexual. After 22 years as Prime Minister, Mahathir bin Mohamad retired in 2003. In 2006 he said that he would not allow his former deputy to become PM as he was a homosexual. Ibrahim’s case was thrown out of the High Court after a judge ruled that the lawsuit was "unsustainable," due to a similar lawsuit against bin Mohamad in 1999.

28 July 2008 –

Malaysian transvestites appeal one-week jail sentence

Four transvestites arrested in a raid at a beauty pageant held in a Kelantan resort have appealed a one-week jail sentence imposed by a Syariah (Islamic) court for "dressing as women."
The four were among the 16 Muslim men arrested by the Kelantan Islamic Religious Affairs Department in a raid during a beauty pageant held at a resort in the northern state of Kelantan in Malaysia, according to media reports. Mohamad Abdul Aziz Mohamad Noor, the religious department chief, was quoted as saying that the four transvestites were sentenced to seven days jail and fined 1,000 ringgit (US$310) after being found guilty by the Islamic Syariah court for wearing female outfits. They are currently on bail. The official revealed that one transvestite was released because "he wore a Malay traditional outfit" while the other 11 who were wearing evening gowns will be charged on Aug 24. The 11 are currently on bail.

The New Straits Times newspaper reported that most of contestants were teachers and bank employees. It was reported that another group of 50 transvestites who were preparing to join the "Miss Universe Asia 2008" contest managed to escape arrest – several of whom dived into a nearby river. About 300 people were at the hotel to watch the event. Abdul Aziz said it was the first time that authorities had made such a mass arrest in the state. He said the "immoral" activities of the transsexuals, including dressing up and acting like women, were contradictory to Islamic practices.

Kelantan has been ruled by the Pan-Malaysia Islamic Party (PAS) since 1990 and is considered the most conservative state in Malaysia. Town council officials recently attracted criticism after banning women from wearing bright lipstick and high-heeled shoes so as to prevent immoral activities or rape. It also called for stricter enforcement of laws on separate male and female queues in shops. While Malaysia has both Islamic and secular courts, the Syariah Courts have jurisdiction only over Muslims, who make up 60 percent of Malaysia’s 27.5 million people.

02 September 2008 –

In the spirit of merdeka: Malaysians hold first ever sexuality rights festival

by Sylvia Tan
Some 400 people are estimated to have walked through the doors of Central Market Annexe over the weekend to attend Seksualiti Merdeka, Malaysia’s first ever sexuality rights festival. Update: Audio clip added. As thousands of Malaysians marched in a massive parade at Merdeka (Freedom) Square on Sunday to celebrate the country’s 51 years of independence from Britain, the LGBT community created its own slice of history with its first ever sexuality rights festival held across the Klang River at Central Market Annexe.
The festival comprised film screenings, talks, workshops and the closing event Malaysian Artistes for Diversity which featured Nikki, a former Malaysian Idol contestant; Shanon Shah, an award winning singer; and Rafidah, a popular TV show host.

“This is a moment in history. This is the first time anything like this has ever been done in this country. This is the first time a panel that has been constituted in this way has come to talk on the same issue from a variety of perspectives; that we can get a vice-president of Keadilan Rakyat who is a people’s representative human rights lawyer to come and talk to us. It’s a citizen’s duty… to start engaging MPs on larger issues like these.” Said Shanon, a well-known writer-musician-activist, at the forum on violence faced by transsexuals. He had stepped out of his moderator’s role to make the comment.

At the first forum on Saturday were four panelists: Sivarasa, Member of Parliament for Subang and a vice-president of the opposition Parti Keadilan Rakyat (People’s Justice Party); Dr Wan Halim Othman, a clinical sociologist; Nisha, a transsexual social worker with PT Foundation; and academic Dr Teh Yik Koon, a researcher and author of The Mak Nyahs: Malaysian Male to Female Transsexuals. Transsexuals in Malaysia face harassment and/or even police brutality as cross-dressing is punishable under Islamic laws or the Minor Offences Act under the Penal Code for non-Muslims. In July 2007, a male-to-female transsexual was so severely beaten by Malacca Religious Affairs Department (Jaim) enforcement officers that she required a hernia operation.

Dr Teh further highlighted that while Malaysia has disallowed Muslims from having gender realignment surgery since 1983 and post-op transsexuals including non-Muslims are unable to have their new gender reflected in their identification documents, Islamic countries such as Iran and Egypt permit gender realignment surgery and legally recognise post-op transsexuals who are permitted to marry someone of the opposite sex. Reports from Iran have however suggested that sex change operations have been prescribed as a "cure" for effeminate gay men as homosexuality is punishable by lashings, imprisonment and/or execution.

Speaking to a crowd of about 100 on Sunday was historian Dr Farish A Noor who highlighted the Panji Tales, a collection of ancient mythical Javanese tales which incorporate themes of gender bending and cinta sejenis (meaning same-sex love in Malay). Referencing Malaysia’s colonial-era Section 377 which prohibits "unnatural" sex as well as commonly used refrains that homosexuality is a western import, Dr Farish appealed to the audience to be acquainted with the sexual geography of pre-Islamic Southeast Asia as it is "evidence of what we today term ‘alternative’ lifestyles which was then perfectly normal."

The prominent political scientist and human rights activist further cited anatomically correct and sexually explicit stone carvings which prominently depict male genitalia at the Candi Sukuh and Candi Ceto temples in Central Java which are believed to have been built in the 15th century.

"The sad thing is that the Panji stories depicting much of social life in much of Southeast Asia at that time have been completely forgotten (today)… Like the Kama Sutra, its Southeast Asian cousin Serat Centini is a text about sexual conduct which normalises sexual and emotional attraction that go beyond the simple male-female dichotomy. The Serat Centini openly talks about the conduct of same-sex love and attraction. And if all these stories right up to the 15th century – the idea of same-sex attraction was seen as the norm – what is the ultimate moral tale of the Hikayat Panji Semirang, is that love overcomes everything else. The entire quest of Panji Semirang is to consummate this love.”

Although Seksualiti Merdeka might be construed to be somewhat provocative, co-organiser and Arts Programme Director of The Annexe Pang Khee Teik says its aim is mainly to empower the community. "There are those of us who long to be a part of the nation’s Independence celebration, even if the nation has persistently persecuted, ignored and forced us into the closets." As same-sex relations are forbidden under both Shariah (Islamic) laws and the Penal Code, he says many gays and lesbians mistakenly believe that it is against the law to be gay when the law "simply targets the sexual acts and not the identity."

Having read his gay stories in public over the last few years without any ramifications, he says he believes that the perception of persecution "can be countered with an increase in the amount of positive role models and stories that we put out there." The three-day also included a forum on sexual diversity in Malaysia by Dr Sharon Bong on sexuality, faith and family relations; Benjamin McKay on cruising in malls in the Malaysian capital and Wong Yuen Mei who highlighted the pengkids (Malay vernacular to mean masculine lesbian) culture; a lecture on homophobia by Singaporean Anj Ho; a "Heartbreakers Anonymous" storytelling session; an interactive workshop on sexuality; film screenings and music performances.

September 12, 2008 – Fridae

LGBT offerings at Freedom Film Fest in Johor Bahru, Kuching and Penang

by News Editor
Malaysia’s Freedom Film Festival, which ended its run in Kuala Lumpur last weekend, will be in Johor Bahru this weekend (Sep 12-14), followed by Kuching (Sep 19-21) and Penang (Sep 26-28) with four LGBT-themed films among 30. Now in its fifth year, the annual KOMAS FreedomFilmFest (FFF2008) is screening 30 films from all over the world including four LGBT-themed ones, and others related to its theme: "Democratic Space – Making Room for Human Rights.”

The Queer Cinema session has been scheduled for Sunday, Sept 14 in Johor Bahru (Sept 21 in Kuching and Sept 28 in Penang) where three films Sambal Belacan in San Francisco by Singapore-born filmmaker Madeleine Lim, Pang Yau(Friend in Cantonese) by Malaysian Amir Muhammad and It’s Over by Korean Lee Jung-a will be screened. The award winning Pecah Lobang which explores the life of a Muslim transsexual sex worker in Malaysia and cross-dressing which is considered a crime under the Syariah court system for Muslims will be screened on Sat, Sept 13 in JB (Sept 20 in Kuching and Sept 27 in Penang). Penang-born Poh Si Teng’s film which means “busted” in Malay was one of two films that won the Most Outstanding Human Rights Film award at this year’s festival.

Freedom Film Festival winners
Saturday, 8pm
Pecah Lobang (Poh Si Teng / 2008 / 30mins)
Pecah Lobang explores what it’s like to be a Muslim transsexual sex worker in Malaysia. Shot in the Chow Kit red light district, the documentary revolves around Natasha, a Muslim Mak Nyah, who refuses to live life as a man. Unable to secure employment because of discrimination, Natasha turns to sex work and lives in constant fear of the police and religious authorities. Crossdressing is a crime under the Syariah court system for Muslims and the penalties are severe. But it wasn’t always so. How did Malaysia become so heavy-handed on the transsexual community?

Queer Cinema
Sunday, 11am-1pm

Sambal Belachan in San Francisco (Madeleine Lim / 1997 / 25mins)
Sambal Belachan in San Francisco contains intimate interviews with three Singaporean women who emigrated to live openly as lesbians share their feelings of exclusion both from their families and culture of origin and the United States. This rich film raises provocative questions about the nature of home and belonging, and speaks compellingly for a community whose voices are seldom heard.

Pang Yau (Amir Muhammad / 2003 / 13mins)
Against the bustling backdrop of Kuala Lumpur’s Chinatown, a Malay-Muslim narrator reminisces about a teenage relationship between himself and an ethnic Chinese classmate. Pangyau, the Cantonese word for friend, is not just the story of a close friendship, but a prism through which the writer gets to examine his feelings about the the ways in which race and religion have been used in the national socio-political discourse.

It’s Over (Lee Jung-a / 2006 / 13mins)
A love triangle between three Korean high school students leads to a surprise ending, at least for one of them.

FreedomFilmFest dates
Sept 5 – 7, Kuala Lumpur: The Annexe Gallery Studio Theatre, 1st & 2nd Floor, Central Market Annexe, Jalan Hang Kasturi
Sept 12 – 14, Johor Bahru: Tropical Inn: 15 Jalan Gereja. Nyam +6016 778 2707
Sept 19 – 21, Kuching: Old Court House: Jalan Tun Abang Haji Openg. Ahmad +6019 438 3706
Sept 26 – 28, Penang: Wawasan Open University (WOU) 54 Jalan Sultan Ahmad Shah. Josh +6016 462 2650

Screenings are open to the public and entrance is free. To see screening schedule and venue details, visit

October 24, 2008 – PinkNews

Malaysia’s Mulsims ban lesbian sex and other "masculine behaviour"

by Tony Grew
An Islamic body in Malaysia has issued a ruling that bans lesbian sex or other "masculine" activities for female Muslims.
The National National Fatwa Council’s ruling could have legal ramifications in the country, which is 60% Muslim.

"It is unacceptable to see women who love the male lifestyle including dressing in the clothes men wear," council chair Abdul Shukor said yesterday. (Masculine behaviour) becomes clearer when they start to have sex with someone of the same gender, that is woman and woman. In view of this, the National Fatwa Council which met today have decided and taken the stand that such acts are forbidden and banned."

Homosexuality is not specified as a crime in Malaysia, but Section 377 of the penal code prohibits sodomy, which is punishable by up to 20 years in prison. The same law is still in force in other former British colonies, such as India and Singapore. There is also a prohibition on "gross indecency with another male person," with up to two years in prison for those found guilty. Cross-dressing is illegal under public decency laws.

Malaysia is governed by two different kinds of court – Sharia courts to govern Muslim civil matters and the state’s secular courts, which apply to the 40% Malaysians who are not Muslim. It has been reported that yesterday’s ruling may lead to the criminalisation of lesbian sexual acts. Last year a Sharia court in Malaysia annulled a marriage between a two women, one of whom is transgender.

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.

November 3, 2008 – PinkNews

Malaysian police target gay people in Saturday afternoon raids

by Staff Writer,
More than 70 men were arrested in a series of raids by police in Malaysia. It is reported that Chinese, US and European citizens are among them. A massage parlour and health club were targeted along with two other properties by anti-vice police on Saturday afternoon.
They were hosting "sex parties" according to local press reports, and porn magazines, DVDs, condoms and lubricant were siezed.

"The case had been classified as an act of gross indecency under Section 377D of the Penal Code," Deputy state CID chief Supt Nashir Ya said. Homosexuality is not specified as a crime in Malaysia, but Section 377 of the penal code prohibits sodomy, which is punishable by up to 20 years in prison. The same law is still in force in other former British colonies, such as India and Singapore. There is also a prohibition on "gross indecency with another male person," with up to two years in prison for those found guilty.

November 27, 2008 –

Malaysia’s PT Foundation turns 21

by Sylvia Tan
Programme Director Raymond Tai takes time out from organising its annual RED Carnival to speak to Fridae about reaching young MSMs who "suffer from the ‘not me’ syndrome" and the challenges they face with the rise of political Islam. First started in 1987 to cater solely to gay men in Malaysia, Pink Triangle Malaysia – as it was then called – has since evolved to provide support and care services to four other vulnerable communities: Maknyah (a Malay term for a male-to-female transgenders), commercial sex workers, drug users and people living with HIV.

Now known as PT Foundation, the non-profit community-based volunteer-run organisation is the first NGO in Malaysia to offer HIV/AIDS counseling, prevention, support and care services. This weekend, volunteers will be out in full force at its RED Carnival held in conjunction with World AIDS Day. Held at Sungei Wang Plaza in downtown Kuala Lumpur, the event is organised yearly to raise the public awareness and create opportunity for public engagement in HIV preventions and education work.

PT Foundation now provides free anonymous HIV screening in Kuala Lumpur and Penang and is appealing for donations to continue to offer the facilities and services to enable gay men and MSM to make informed and responsible decisions in their own lives. (Link to donate online is provided at end of article.) Raymond Tai, PT Foundation’s Programme Director, tells readers how he got started 20 years ago and the challenges of having to work in an environment where harassment and raids by enforcement officers and tabloid ‘scoops’ are commonplace.

æ: When did you join PT Foundation? When and how did it all begin?

Raymond: Almost from the beginning – 20 years ago, one year after PT was founded. When it was set up in 1987, PT was called Pink Triangle Malaysia and we catered solely for gay men in Malaysia. Back then there was very little support for newly coming out gay men, so we started a phone counseling hotline for gay men to call on any issues relating to being gay including acceptance, relationship, safe sex, coming out to parents, family members, and friends.

At that time, the first cases of HIV hit Malaysia, and there was intense fear among the gay community and much stigma and prejudice against gay men as HIV carriers. Hence the counseling line also became a HIV information and counseling line, and we soon also offered HIV tests, referrals and support group for people living with HIV. This was later expanded to provide coverage to other, most at risks populations. PT Foundation became the first NGO in Malaysia to offer HIV/AIDS counseling, prevention, support and care services. PT turns 21 on this 21 Dec 2008 and it’s been an amazing journey!

I was fortunate as I came out 26 years ago when I was in the UK doing my studies. I had the benefit of being able to see a counsellor, be part of a support group, and I had friends who were accepting, and – in UK then – being gay was becoming more acceptable.

Hence when I came home to Malaysia, I wanted to offer my services to help other gay men deal with their sexuality, so I joined PT Foundation. What has kept me at PT is the friendship and camaraderie that I gained from PT’s other volunteers and staff. It has helped me in my coming out process, and at being a better person – more compassionate, less judgmental, and empowered.

æ: How does the group reach and engage gay men/MSMs to disseminate info?

Raymond: We use the time-tested NGO way of using Outreach and In-Bring. We outreach to gay men at clubs, saunas, massage centers and parks. We invite them to our drop-in center to take part in support group sessions, HIV screening, social outings, sports, coffee evenings, and other community events. The Internet has been a valuable tool as well, and PT is now investing more efforts to reach young gay men and other MSM through the Internet.

æ: What are the biggest issues facing gay men in Malaysia today?

Raymond: Local HIV screening among gay men indicates that 10 percent of those tested in the past 12 months are HIV positive. We are also getting an alarming incidence of gay men being warded in hospitals with AIDS which means they did not know of their HIV status for many years and only found out when they got admitted to hospital with opportunistic infections. We are now conducting a venue based HIV prevalence study among MSM to ascertain the actual prevalence and to use this study to seek more resources to convince gay men to practice safe sex.

Related to the increased rates of HIV in Malaysia is the widespread use of recreation drugs such as ecstasy during sex. We know that in many such instances, the use of condoms is often compromised or not used correctly; this has lead to higher incidence of unprotected sex among gay men. Coupled with the rise of group sex parties and bare-backing, the scenario for gay men in Malaysia is very worrying.

The marginalisation of gay men in Malaysia (as a result of the highly moralistic and conservative society, a hostile media and the rise of political Islam) has also led to a lack of a gay community culture and consciousness. This makes it difficult to inculcate a healthy responsible gay community that would look after itself and members of the community. Many gay men do not even identify themselves as gay. For some of them, it is all about anonymous sexual encounters, Internet hook ups, and one night stands. In such an environment, it has been challenging to engage gay men to change their unsafe sex behaviour.

Many gay men have never taken a HIV test, and do not discuss HIV with their partners before they engage in sex. This is compounded by the stigma that HIV+ gay men face within the community… how many HIV postive gay men are comfortable in revealing their HIV status to their friends and sex partners? This has lead to a false sense of security among gay men – because they are not aware of many of their friends who could be HIV+, the assumption is that HIV only happens to ‘other’ people, not to their friends and the men that they are dating and/or are sleeping with.

æ: It was reported that PT Foundation almost had to close after 2005 due to lack of funding, how are things looking now?

Raymond: PT has been engaging the Ministry of Health, the Ministry of Women, Family & Community Development, and the Malaysian AIDS Council on the need for financial assistance to engage most at risk populations, and they have responded positively. Unfortunately there are strict guidelines on how we can utilise the funds, and the funding is subject to annual review. It is also not enough to upscale our programmes.

We need a longer term revenue generation strategy that includes a more diversified source of funding; we would like to appeal to the gay community to donate generously. One small step is the donation page we have now launched on this website.

æ: What is the general attitude in Malaysia towards homosexuality?

Raymond: Historically there has been a tremendous level of ignorance to the point of bigotry among the masses, thanks to decades of entrenched prejudice and homophobia spread by the government, the local media and the religious bodies in Malaysia. Nevertheless, there is an emerging generation of Malaysians who are open minded, willing to learn and with the ability to make informed opinions and values. It is this younger generation that we are hoping will create a Malaysia that respects human rights and diversity.

æ: What are the challenges in trying to get the safer sex message across to MSMs?

Raymond: The older gay men suffer from HIV/AIDS fatigue – after two decades of dealing with HIV, some have let their guards down, possibly thinking that AIDS is no longer a fatal disease.

The young ones suffer from the ‘not me’ syndrome. Because it is not talked about, and they don’t know any of their gang who are HIV positive (because gay men who are HIV+ do not reveal their status), there is a false sense of security that it is OK to not use condoms. ‘Chem sex’ is becoming a trend, often leading to unsafe sex.

All these is compounded by the dis-enabling environment that we operate in in Malaysia – the constant harassment and raids by enforcement officers on clubs, saunas, and massage centers, and the media ‘scoops’ of such places in the local tabloids have made it difficult for PT to conduct outreach work to these venues and the operators are reluctant to make condoms and lubes freely available in every locker and cubicle.

æ: What kind of HIV/AIDS treatment services are available to MSM in Malaysia? Are the treatments subsidised?

Raymond: The Malaysian government has made great strides in this area. All first line HAART treatment is free in all government hospitals and clinics. The Government also pays for two of the three second line drugs. Almost all the main drugs are available including the cheaper generic drugs. There is no discrimination against MSM.

æ: PT won the UNAIDS Red Ribbon Award for its Transsexuals Programme in 2006, and was one of the top five nominees for the 2007 New Straits Times Humanitarian Award for its programme on sex workers. PT also won the Malaysian NGO of the Year Award in 2008 by Resource Alliance International, and the Dr Siti Hasmah Award in 2008 by the Malaysian AIDS Foundation for ‘Most Significant Contribution to HIV/AIDS work in Malaysia’. Can you tell us more about the programmes?

Raymond: PT Foundation is a non-profit, non-governmental community-based organisation. We work with five vulnerable communities – MSM (men who have sex with men), Maknyah (Malay term for a male-to-female transgenders), commercial sex workers, drug users and people living with HIV – to help reduce HIV infection, and provide support and care to these communities. PT Foundation’s approach is non-judgmental and non-confrontational, and dependant on volunteers.

Some of our services include running five drop-in centers that provide a safe space in the Klang Valley for the five different communities. We also conduct outreach to all these communities via peer-based outreach programmes at backstreets, brothels, saunas, massage centers, parks, hospitals and homes. We distribute condoms and lubricants by the thousands every day. We offer free and anonymous HIV screening and counseling to all the communities. For the drug user programme, we also run a needle and syringe exchange programme, methadone treatment referral, and provide free food, rest, shelter and basic healthcare. In the Sex Worker and Maknyah Programmes, apart from giving free food, rest, shelter, and healthcare, we also offer religious classes and skills workshops. All the programmes also have access to free legal aid. The Positive Living Programme offers counseling and support group service to people living with HIV. The MSM Programme also has a social support programme for gay men including weekly sports activities, monthly coffee gatherings, online forums, and community events.

World AIDS Day RED Carnival 2008
Venue: Fiesta Street at Sungei Plaza, Bukit Bintang
Date: 29th & 30th November (Sat-Sun)

PT Foundation now provides free anonymous HIV screening in Kuala Lumpur and Penang and is appealing for donations to continue to offer the facilities and services to enable gay men and MSM to make informed and responsible decisions in their own lives. (Link to donate online is provided below.)

For more details on drop-in centres and free anonymous HIV screening, visit

To find a World AIDS Day event in your city, click on to

November 27, 2008 – PinkNews

Malaysia’s fatwa council explains how ‘tomboys’ become lesbians

by Julia Ziemer
A Malaysian religious leader has spoken for the first time in detail about the ramifications of the fatwa passed last month that ruled against women indulging in activities deemed as ‘masculine,’ including lesbian sex and dressing like a man. The fatwa is currently at the ‘muzakarah’ stage, which means it has the status of official advice to the Islamic community. But it could be implemented into the national Sharia law later on.

Malaysia is governed by two different kinds of court – Sharia courts to govern Muslim civil matters and the state’s secular courts, which apply to the 40% of Malaysians who are not Muslim. Director-general of the National Fatwa Council, Datuk Wan Mohamad Sheikh Abd Aziz, explained the meaning of ‘pengkid,’ which has been translated as ‘tomboy’ by the English-speaking media, as "a married woman or maiden whose appearance or image is like that of a man." The fatwa ruling is directed specifically at the ‘pengkid’ woman.

Speaking to the New Straits Times he added that the manner of dress was only one aspect of ‘masculine’ behaviour by women the council sought to condemn. "Although this also includes the dressing of the person and not just the way she behaves, the way of dressing is just one aspect of what makes a ‘pengkid’" he said. When asked why the council went to such lengths as to rule on what women could wear, Mr Aziz identified seemingly innocuous actions such as dressing in a masculine way as something that could lead on to greater ‘crimes’ such as lesbianism.

"Not only is the act forbidden, but any act that may lead to the actual act is also forbidden," he told the NST. "If we allow this practice (of pengkid) to continue to develop, it will become a tradition, and then a norm. When it becomes a norm, then people will think no longer think of it as a wrong. This is something we do not want to happen. Actually, we are trying to save these women (from becoming lesbians)."

Under Sharia law in Malaysia, engaging in lesbian activities can incur a fine of up to RM 5,000 (£898), imprisonment for up to three years, a whipping of up to six lashes, or a combination of any of these. Mr Aziz described how the fatwa was part of a larger aim by the council to prevent the spread of homosexuality which he describes as a "contagious" disease brought into Malaysia from abroad. Referring to the current trend for more masculine dress among Malaysian youths he said, "I think we have become stuck in a western values trap that makes the dress code an excuse to denigrate our religion and values."

When the fatwa was passed last month it was greeted with protests from two non-Muslim organisations in Malaysia, Katagender and Food-not-Bombs who wrote a petition to the council. "The views expressed by the council reflect a deeper discrimination against anyone who does not conform with what is considered "mainstream" and also anyone who does not fit into a stereotypical heterosexual relationship. Everyone has the right to form loving relationships with the person of their choice, regardless of their sex and the sex of their partner," it said.

Malaysian women’s group Sisters in Islam also criticised the council’s decision in a statement: "Many Malaysian women sport short hair, wear trousers, shirts and don’t wear make-up. It is culturally normal for Malaysian women to be body comfortable with each other. Many women hold hands, hug their friends or kiss their friends on the cheek. And how do the authorities define ‘manly’ behaviour? Not gentle and demure enough? Talking too loud? Who would and how could one define and determine whether a woman is a tomboy or a lesbian?"

03 February 2008 – The Jakarta Post

Islam ‘recognizes homosexuality’

by Abdul Khalik, The Jakarta Post
Homosexuals and homosexuality are natural and created by God, thus permissible within Islam, a discussion concluded here Thursday. Moderate Muslim scholars said there were no reasons to reject homosexuals under Islam, and that the condemnation of homosexuals and homosexuality by mainstream ulema and many other Muslims was based on narrow-minded interpretations of Islamic teachings. Siti Musdah Mulia of the Indonesia Conference of Religions and Peace cited the Koran’s al-Hujurat (49:3) that one of the blessings for human beings was that all men and women are equal, regardless of ethnicity, wealth, social positions or even sexual orientation.

"There is no difference between lesbians and nonlesbians. In the eyes of God, people are valued based on their piety," she told the discussion organized by nongovernmental organization Arus Pelangi. "And talking about piety is God’s prerogative to judge," she added. "The essence of the religion (Islam) is to humanize humans, respect and dignify them."

Musdah said homosexuality was from God and should be considered natural, adding it was not pushed only by passion. Mata Air magazine managing editor Soffa Ihsan said Islam’s acknowledgement of heterogeneity should also include homosexuality. He said Muslims needed to continue to embrace ijtihad (the process of making a legal decision by independent interpretation of the Koran and the Sunnah) to avoid being stuck in the old paradigm without developing open-minded interpretations.

Another speaker at the discussion, Nurofiah of the Nahdlatul Ulama (NU), said the dominant notion of heterogeneity was a social construction, leading to the banning of homosexuality by the majority. "Like gender bias or patriarchy, heterogeneity bias is socially constructed. It would be totally different if the ruling group was homosexuals," she said.

Other speakers said the magnificence of Islam was that it could be blended and integrated into local culture. "In fact, Indonesia’s culture has accepted homosexuality. The homosexual group in Bugis-Makassar tradition called Bissu is respected and given a high position in the kingdom. Also, we know that in Ponorogo (East Java) there has been acknowledgement of homosexuality," Arus Pelangi head Rido Triawan said.

Condemnation of homosexuality was voiced by two conservative Muslim groups, the Indonesian Ulema Council (MUI) and Hizbut Thahir Indonesia (HTI). "It’s a sin. We will not consider homosexuals an enemy, but we will make them aware that what they are doing is wrong," MUI deputy chairman Amir Syarifuddin said. Rokhmat, of the hardline HTI, several times asked homosexual participants in attendance to repent and force themselves to gradually return to the right path.

February 25, 2009 – The Boston Globe

What you didn’t hear on the Oscars if you live in Malayasia

by Ty Burr
The words "gay" and "lesbian," basically. When the Academy Awards were broadcast in Malaysia, the national satellite provider, Astro, bleeped those words from the acceptance speechs by "Milk" star Sean Penn and writer Dustin Lance Black. Because, you know, homosexuality only happens in America. The following public letter was forwarded to me by a friend who has lived in the country in the past and still has many connections there. It’s written by Pang Kee Thaik, the curator of an arts center in Kuala Lumpur called The Annexe. Just a reminder that it’s not free speech if the government and the media don’t recognize the words exist.

I want to thank Astro for screening this year’s Oscars, which gave us the very heartwarming wins by the screenwriter and the lead actor of the movie "Milk". Congratulations too to the movie "Milk", about the first openly gay man elected to public office in California who was then assassinated, for winning Best Original Screenplay and Best Actor. The acceptance speeches by screenwriter Justin Lance Black and actor Sean Penn were both moving, bold and timely. They spoke up about the need for equal rights, to love, to share this land, and to be heard. This year, the Oscars celebrated the kind of diversity that the arts is able to champion; it’s the kind of diversity that desperately needs championing in a world so overwhelmed by racism, war, and hatred.

This is part of Justin’s speech:
"When I was 13 years old, my beautiful mother and my father moved me from a conservative Mormon home in San Antonio, Texas to California, and I heard the story of Harvey Milk. And it gave me hope. It gave me the hope to live my life. It gave me the hope one day I could live my life openly as who I am and then maybe even I could even fall in love and one day get married. I wanna I wanna thank my mom, who has always loved me for who I am even when there was pressure not to. But most of all, if Harvey had not been taken from us 30 years ago, I think he’d want me to say to all of the gay and lesbian kids out there tonight who have been told that they are less than by their churches, by the government or by their families, that you are beautiful, wonderful creatures of value and that no matter what anyone tells you, God does love you and that very soon, I promise you, you will have equal rights federally, across this great nation of ours. Thank you. Thank you. And thank you, God, for giving us Harvey Milk."

And this is Sean’s:
"For those who saw the signs of hatred as our cars drove in tonight, I think that it is a good time for those who voted for the ban against gay marriage to sit and reflect, and anticipate their great shame, and the shame in their grandchildren’s eyes if they continue that way of support. We’ve got to have equal rights for everyone," said Penn. However, if you caught the Oscars on Astro, you would have noticed something so bizarre almost to be ironic. The words "gay" and "lesbian" have been censored from both these speeches. For me, this act of censorship defeated the very victory won by these two men. The two moments of silence rang out like the gun shots that killed Harvey Milk.

We live in a time when understanding is needed, when artists need to be bold in addressing the manifold injustices of the world. Hence, such a movie had to be made, such acceptance speeches to be uttered. But by its act of censorship, Astro has sent a message to all Malaysians that gays and lesbians are still shameful things to be censored from the public’s ears. As a gay man, I am truly offended. After all these years of contributing to the country through my work, of helping people regardless of their orientation, being proud of who I am and helping others be proud of who they are, I can assure you that the only thing wrong is how much hate gays have to endure simply for the way we love.

What is Astro trying to achieve with the censoring of the words "gay" and "lesbian"? Do they think these words will promote homosexuality? Let me assure you that homosexuality cannot be promoted, it just happens. Just as a person’s sexuality becomes apparent to him or her when the hormones kick in in the teen years; you don’t need sex promoted to you by the TV, your body does its own promotion. Meanwhile, words like "terrorist", "rapist" and "murderer" gets passed and nobody gets their panties knotted over how these words might promote terrorism, rapes and murders. On the other hand, words like "gays" and "lesbians" that describe people among us who happen love the same sex get treated like it is a crime to even mention in public. Is Astro promoting hate over love? Just what kind of society does Astro want to be creating? One where people can talk about terrorism but not love?

You want to know what breeds social ills? It is the kind of insecurity and low self esteem that results from such continual shaming through the media, that then leads to machismo, violence, bullying, and other superficial ways with which men employ to compensate for their insecurity. Does Astro not know that many of its own staff are gay? I won’t name them, but trust me, I know many of them (and I congratulate Astro for smartly tapping into such a pool of talents). But is Astro now ashamed of its many talented gay and lesbian staff?

And does Astro not know too that a huge number of its viewers are gay and lesbian? Otherwise, why bother to screen "Brothers & Sisters", "Queer Eye for the Straight Guy", "Six Feet Under" and other popular TV series that show how gays and lesbians are not only part of society but play vital roles in shaping that society for the better? Is Astro ashamed of its gay and lesbian viewers? And if this is some national guideline, then Astro needs to question it if it hopes to be fair to its viewers. Stop censoring the words that describe who I am. I am a Malaysian. I work hard for the right to be here, and I work hard for the right to love, just like everyone else. Thank you.

Pang Khee Teik

1 July 2009 – fridae

Kuala Lumpur: 32 arrested in drug raid at "gay party"

by Sylvia Tan
32 people were detained after testing positive for methamphetamine at a club, described by local press as being "packed with about 500 patrons, mostly men dancing in an erotic manner." Malaysian police raided a restaurant cum lounge in the capital city of Kuala Lumpur on early Sunday morning and detained 32 people – 28 men and four women – after they were found to have tested positive for methamphetamine, according to the state-run Bernama news agency.

The report, which was carried in newspapers including The Star and The New Straits Times on Sunday, quoted Kuala Lumpur narcotic police investigating officer ASP Mohd Ashril Md Johar as saying that the venue described as a "gay club" was “packed with about 500 patrons, mostly men dancing in an erotic manner.” The police spokesperson said there were about 500 men and 34 women at the venue which the police had monitored for a week prior to the raid.

According to Hafidz Baharom who was present during the raid, the venue located at Jalan Yap Kwan Seng is said to have been hosting a "gay-friendly party" on the night – as it usually does on Saturdays – when the police raided the establishment at 1.30am. He told Fridae that all local patrons had to submit to a urine test while foreigners at the club were asked to leave.

Although the report said that Eramin 5 was found "strewn all over the floor", Baharom, a writer and contributor for The Malaysian Insider said that he did not see any pills as described. "There were no pills on the upper floor where I was, nor were there any pills in the lounge where the police had set up their urine test counter." But he conceded that he did not get a "good look at the outside balcony on the second floor."

Baharom says this is the second raid on this club in the past eight months; the prior raid being a "gay-friendly" fundraiser event known as ‘Red Carnival’ and was organised by Malaysia’s PT Foundations in November last year. He also noted the presence of the state-run Radio Televisyen Malaysia (RTM) camera crew during the raid, snippets of which was shown on the TV news on Sunday.

The 32 people have been charged and released pending a second urine test. They face up to three years jail sentence and a fine of RM5,000 under Section 15(1)(a) Dangerous Drugs Act 1952.

26 July 2009 – Malaysian Bar

Rethinking Malaysia’s sodomy laws

by Claire Brownell
They’re colonial relics, they’re rarely invoked, and other Asian countries have effectively taken them off the books. But because Malaysia’s sodomy laws are tangled up in politics and religion, they’re probably not going anywhere for a while. In 2007, Singapore modified their sodomy laws, expressed in Section 377a of the island-state’s Penal Code, to exclude heterosexuals who perform consensual oral and anal sex. On 2 July 2009, India repealed its own Section 377. In contrast, Malaysia’s most recent addition to the history of sodomy laws is its second charge against parliamentary Opposition Leader Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim.

When asked what it would take to get Malaysia to follow suit and repeal its sodomy laws, gender and sexuality rights activist Alina Rastam laughs. "A miracle?" she asks. Nevertheless, could the time finally be right for Malaysians to rethink the relevance and righteousness of sodomy laws?

Simranjit Kaur Gill of the Women’s Candidacy Initiative says the group has researched charges brought under Section 377 of Malaysia’s Penal Code. The act criminalises "carnal intercourse against the order of nature", or oral and anal sex. Their research found seven charges from 1938 to the present. Four of those seven charges are connected to Anwar.

So why does Malaysia need a miracle to repeal an act that is mainly used to persecute a political opponent of the government?

Zulkifli Noordin, Parti Keadilan Rakyat (PKR)’s Kulim-Bandar Baru Member of Parliament, says Section 377 shouldn’t be judged by the number of charges laid. The act should remain in place because it is consistent with the Islamic values shared by the majority of Malaysians, he says. "It has been in human civilisation to treat sodomy as an offence [for thousands of years]. So there must be some reason why," he tells The Nut Graph. It’s stated there in the Bible, it’s stated there in the Old Testament, it’s stated there in the Al Quran. So I think, to be safe, we should just follow God’s law."

Ironically, the Barisan Nasional government also has little motivation to repeal a tool that has proved useful against its most powerful opponent.

Latheefa Koya, who is PKR’s information chief and a member of Anwar’s legal defence team, says the charges were politically motivated. It’s hard to see its disproportional use against Anwar in any other way, she says. A sodomy charge hits at the root of Anwar’s credibility, Latheefa says. "He had an image of someone of high moral standing, who’s Islamic in his background. So the best way to destroy that is trump up a charge with sexual connotation in it. And if you can’t get that person to be seen with women, then you might as well deal with sodomy."

When contacted by The Nut Graph, the Attorney-General’s Chambers declines to offer an explanation. Its public relations officer says in an e-mail that the office could not reply to inquiries connected to an ongoing case. Latheefa says she personally thinks Section 377 should be repealed because there’s no point policing the private actions of consenting adults. But PKR would not be pushing for the law to be taken off the books any time soon, she adds.

"It would be wrongly seen that we are only trying to get rid of the law because Anwar is being charged. So in that context, it is complicated," she says. It’s also clear that there are major differences in opinion even among PKR members about Section 377, as seen in the differences between Latheefa’s and Zulkifli’s views. Anwar’s trial has created a classic catch-22. The government is politically motivated to keep the law the way it is. And the opposition is afraid that challenging the very law that is making their leader look un-Islamic would be seen as, well, un-Islamic.

More legal complexities
Section 377 isn’t the only act criminalising homosexuality and sodomy in Malaysia. There are also many parallel offences under state-level syariah laws. These range from improper conduct in public spaces to sexual relations between persons of the same gender.

When deciding whether to prosecute Anwar under civil or syariah law in 1999, the High Court referred to a decision from a case in 1884 called Brett MR in R v Tonbridge Overseers. The judge in this case stated that where an offender commits an offence triable by either the civil court or a syariah court, he or she may be prosecuted in either one. What is less clear is who decides which court will try the case, and how that decision is made. "There’s no official policy. It’s decided on a case-by-case basis," says Edmund Bon, chairperson of the bar council constitutional law committee and another member of Anwar’s legal team.

Bon (Courtesy of Edmund Bon) But The Nut Graph has to go through four different answers from four different lawyers before Bon’s final explanation that there is no formal procedure in place. The differences between these answers cannot be explained by lack of experience or expertise.There’s really only one conclusion to be drawn: the system is complicated, often arbitrary, and full of ambiguous legal grey areas.

Potential for crackdowns
The combination of Section 377, the syariah laws, and the Internal Security Act (ISA) gives the police and Islamic departments a powerful arsenal to crack down on "unnatural sex", and any attempt to challenge the definition of "unnatural sex", if they want to. The broad scope of these laws means they can be applied to heterosexuals and non-heterosexuals, Muslim and non-Muslim alike.

But Latheefa says that’s not a scenario Malaysians need to worry about. Islamic law requires four witnesses for offences related to sex and sexuality, because charges are intended to be infrequent. Charges under Section 377 are meant to be rare for the same reason, she says.

"The whole philosophy behind such offences is to say that we look at it very seriously, but in order to establish it, you would probably have to [commit] it in public," she says. Zulkifli makes a very similar point: "I don’t think the government is interested to barge into all these gay clubs and whatnot, unless somebody lodges a report," he says. "But if it’s rampant, if people start having [homosexual] sex at every corner, then maybe we will take action."

That may be how Zulkifli defines "rampant," but keeping the law the way it is means the police and government have the power to arbitrarily decide. Anwar Alina says giving them that power without checks and balances is dangerous. "Anything that is discriminatory is disturbing. Having these laws remain is an issue, even if they’re hard to enforce," she says. Ironically, Alina says Anwar’s sodomy trials have helped sexuality rights activism to develop in Malaysia. The 1998 trial pushed the issue into the public eye. Today, many non-governmental organisations are taking stands on sexuality rights, and are even starting to conduct training workshops on the issue.

Nevertheless, Alina says the movement is still in its infancy 10 years later. "There have been advances since Anwar’s trial in 1998, but they’re really just a drop in the ocean." That said, many people thought it would take a miracle to change India’s sodomy laws, too. Look what eventually happened.

21 August 2009 – Fridae

Getting “Body 2 Body: A Malaysian Queer Anthology” to press

by News Editor
“Lame” submissions, pushy contributors, secret identities… Amir Muhammad, publisher of Body 2 Body: A Malaysian Queer Anthology, shares the challenges of getting the first book of its kind in Malaysia to press.

Body 2 Body: A Malaysian Queer Anthology, the first book of its kind to be launched in Malaysia, sold some 260 copies at its launch last weekend at Seksualiti Merdeka – the second sexuality rights festival to be held in Kuala Lumpur.

Edited by Jerome Kugan and Pang Khee Teik, the 240-page book – a collection of 23 fiction and non-fiction essays – tells of “Malaysian queer experiences, including gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender, with stories ranging from coming out to coming home, breaking up to breaking down, changing sex to changing heart.”

Body 2 Body will be launched in Singapore on Aug 22 as part of Indignation festivities, Singapore’s month-long pride season. Kugan, Pang and three of the contributors’ Ann Lee, Brian Gomez and O Thiam Chin will be at the launch to talk about the book.

Amir Muhammad of Matahari Books, the book’s publisher, reveals that the project had been in the making since 2003 but didn’t get off the ground until 2008 after a second Call for Entries was made, and the challenges he and the two editors faced including the lack of submissions, “lame” submissions from contributors who insist on being anonymous, and deciding to demonstrate not just sexual diversity but also linguistic diversity.

A false start in 2003
Amir: The germ of this idea actually began in 2003 when two friends of mine, Jerome Kugan and Pang Khee Teik, started an Internet mailing-list (yes, kids, this was before Facebook groups!) devoted to the idea of publishing a local gay anthology. There was a lot of discussion on the group but not many people discussed the actual anthology! When it came to submissions, the book (which didn’t have a confirmed title then) received 15 but the editors decided that most were too lame. The anthology never happened.

Fast forward five years, and the country had changed. Well, the three of us had changed, at any rate. In 2003 I was making little documentaries; Jerome and Pang shared the same Brickfields flat (with two other free spirits). In 2008, I was now publishing books; although Jerome and Pang no longer lived in the same place, they now worked together, thus providing the opportunity for even more mischief.

I floated the idea of resurrecting such an anthology by sending out a fresh Call for Entries. Jerome was quite skeptical at first, saying we won’t get many entries, and that most of them would be lame. But I said we should give it a shot and see if we had a book on our hands.

So in November 2008, we sent out a Call for Entries. It appeared only online, through blogs such as mine and Sharon Bakar’s, and of course on Facebook. The only print publication to give it publicity was KLue. I decided to stick to the deadline and not give extensions. We were pleasantly surprised that we received 59 entries. Since I wanted each of the editors to have a story in there (because they write so well!), we can say it’s 61 entries.

What were we looking for? Our Call for Entries included these lines:
Writings should depict queer or alternative sexuality in Malaysia, or of Malaysian queers’ experience in the world.
Possible Genre: fiction, true-life accounts, essays, memoir, excerpts from novel or play. We do not accept verse.
Queer includes gay, lesbian, bisexual, transvestite, transgendered, intersexed.
Writers can be Malaysian or non-Malaysians. Writers can be queer or straight.
Writers should use their actual names. A pen name is allowed when the writer has been publicly associated with that name.

Why QUEER was chosen over GLBTQ for the book’s title
Amir: The word ‘queer’ was chosen because it’s catchier than the politically correct GLBTQ, which stands for Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, Transsexual and Queer. We figured that most Malaysians probably didn’t even know what LRT [Light Rail Transit] stood for, so we couldn’t expect them to recognise GLBTQ.

Someone complained about the word ‘queer’ in her blog, saying that the book will then perpetuate the idea of ‘weirdness’. We encouraged her to write an essay about this for the book itself, and she agreed but never submitted. But this is an expected hazard for any anthology.

The whole process of getting entries involved a bit of drama that, when looking back now, had the tinge of slapstick. Three of the writers in particular kept bugging me online, literally on a daily basis, to find out two things: when the selection would be made, and whether the book was going to be banned. For the first question, I kept giving the same date; and for the second, I said that I lacked a crystal ball. Despite their eagerness, these were the three men who kept expressing reservations about appearing in such a book, and kept threatening to withdraw, and then changing their minds. Talk about drama queens!

Luckily for my mental health, the editors (from whom the identities of the writers were kept a secret) decided that the entries sent by these three were too lame for inclusion. There’s a moral in there somewhere, I guess.

No anonymous contributors, please!
Amir: By insisting on no pseudonyms, this anthology actually received a much better response than the earlier, aborted 2003 one, which had indeed allowed anonymity. Perhaps the 2008 political tsunami had made Malaysians braver? Or perhaps the era of Pak Lah [a commonly used term when referring to former PM Abdullah Badawi] did herald a new openness? Or maybe it’s just a happy coincidence.

Insisting on real (or at least identifiable) names helped to separate the wheat from the chaff, as it were. When we floated the Call for Entries in a gay personals site, the thread had hundreds of comments. Many of them were by people who wanted to submit, but under a fake name. We told them that we would make an exception only if the entry was particularly strong. Guess what? Not a single entry was sent.

But then again, we weren’t seeking a book BY gay writers. (“Don’t worry,” I told a blogger friend, “we won’t check your credentials.”) The pieces could be written by anybody, as long as they related to queers and queer issues.

I was disappointed that we didn’t get many essays. The few that we received were in the ‘coming out of the closet’ subgenre but in whiny, corny form; we felt like shoving the writers back in the closet, where they could do some reading to improve their prose.

Not just sexual diversity but also linguistic diversity
Amir: A minor but thematically significant point: we decided, while editing, not to italicise non-English words. So you can read about ‘pondan’ [a Malay term to mean a gay or effeminate man] and ‘pengkid’ [origins unknown but typically taken to mean butch lesbian], for example, without having their ‘foreignness’ shoved in your face. I think it’s important because this isn’t merely an English book but a Malaysian English one. And also to show that it’s about time we accepted that we have difference (or to use the Tourism Malaysia word, ‘diversity’) in our midst, whether sexual or linguistic!

This is the first anthology of its kind in Malaysia. Homosexual sex is, according to the Penal Code, illegal. And although transvestites and transsexuals are very much part of the Malaysian fabric, discussions about them are deemed taboo, thus allowing discrimination to fester.

This collection of 23 pieces (19 fiction, 3 essays, and one really strange mock-essay) perhaps isn’t going to change any laws or even many perceptions. At the time of writing this, it wouldn’t even have been launched, so I have no idea how people will take to it. But it’s a worthwhile idea whose time had come, and what better way to find out than by doing it?

Any anthology is a mixed bag: so you get the raw and the cooked, the rough and the smooth, the cat and the canary. But we think it’s a fun package. There’s merriment, murder, mutton curry and even massage – but not actually of the ‘body 2 body’ type. Perhaps some things should be kept off the printed page, after all.

31 August 2009 – The Edge Malaysia

Do homosexual couples in Malaysia live in fear?

We talk to Pang Khee Teik and Jerome Kugan, co-organisers of Seksualiti Merdeka 2009: Our bodies, our rights.

by Melody Song
If you ask me who I’m really afraid of, I am most afraid of gay men,” says Pang Khee Teik. It’s a startling confession coming from the 36-year-old arts programme director of the Annexe Gallery, who had just days before organised the second annual Seksualiti Merdeka, an event aimed at affirming sexuality rights that first started in 2008. Pang is not afraid of all gay men, however; just those who have given up exercising their rights to express their sexuality, and urging others to do the same.

“Some gay men feel that by being visible and out there, we are being crass. Others believe that being gay is a test of God and those who give in to their desires have failed. Some gay men said life is unfair anyway, so we should just put up and shut up.” More than his fear of police harassment or a clampdown by religious authorities, Pang’s fear of having to “put up and shut up” is what drove this year’s Seksualiti Merdeka, which was held from Aug 12 to 16.

Co-founded with Annexe Gallery’s media manager Jerome Kugan, the second Seksualiti Merdeka was themed “Our bodies, our rights”, with the focus on consolidating the activist base of those involved in the struggle for sexuality rights. In contrast to last year’s event — which was held in conjunction with the popular under-RM100 art bazaar Art For Grabs — Seksualiti Merdeka this year marked the duo’s level of ambition for the event, as it now stands on its own with a stronger theme and larger participation across the sexual divide.

Contrary to what the public might think, not everyone who attended or volunteered for the event was homosexual, even though many active members of the LGBT (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transsexual) rights movement attended it.

“More than half our volunteers were straight. It’s a sign that there is no ‘us’ versus ‘them’. We’re all in this together,” says Pang, laughing off the notion that Seksualiti Merdeka was an exclusively LGBT event We did not discriminate against heterosexuals, and the fact that people paid good money to see the evening performances means that the public is ready to look at this issue,” he adds. By “public”, however, Pang did not mean “all of Malaysia”.

Pang sighs when asked whether by holding the event in English and in an urban venue, he was conscious of being exclusive. “Of course,” he says. “We admit that is one of the weaknesses.” In defence of the language choice, Sabah-born Kugan says choosing English as a medium was strictly a practical issue. “Some of the presenters were more comfortable speaking in English, so we left it at that,” he adds. So, are Malaysians ready to talk about sex and sexuality? “I think they are, but let’s give it a few more years before we go mainstream,” says Pang.

Kugan adds that currently, talking about sex and sexuality was mostly done in private, safe spaces such as the Annexe Gallery due to the lack of backing from various establishments. “Even the liberal quarters are not ready; plus the country has bigger fish to fry first,” Kugan says, referring to the current political turmoil surrounding Malaysia. “Besides, we are not that political,” adds Pang. Their actions scream otherwise, however, if one considers the infamous catch-cry of second-wave feminist Carol Hanisch that the “personal is political”, meaning that state policies affect personal choices such as the right to marry and start a family.

For now, the team behind Seksualiti Merdeka is concentrating on building networks. With Datin Paduka Marina Mahathir officiating at the event, and the backing of the Kuala Lumpur Bar Council, the organisers seem to have done well in making powerful alliances. However, Pang admits that these partnerships were part of the organisers’ way of covering their backs in the event of harassment from the police. While there are no laws against homosexuality, laws criminalising “unnatural” sexual acts even when performed by heterosexual couples are present. The internal paranoia of persecution for even being with other homosexuals in public spaces has exacerbated these fears.

“The fear of being caught for being gay is not unfounded. Because people don’t understand their rights, and the authorities often misuse power to extort money… people are disempowered,” says Pang. “When they are disempowered, they panic. So they give in, they pay bribes.” Pang and Kugan both attribute part of the disempowerment to negative portrayals of LGBT individuals in the media, and “witch hunts” carried out, especially by Malay-language newspapers such as the Aug 13 front-page sensational exposé in Harian Metro of a private party titled “Pesta lesbian” (lesbian festival).

“Often the local media censor words like ‘gay’ and ‘lesbian’ because they feel like we’re promoting homosexuality,” says Pang. “But you cannot ‘promote’ a biological function. We are not ashamed of promoting people being confident of whom they are.” Adds Kugan: “We are promoting acceptance of ourselves and each other.” While last year’s Seksualiti Merdeka aimed at fostering compassion towards sexual minorities, this year’s event took a brave new step in empowering a person’s sexuality in the form of workshops, forums and tutorials. Some of the topics included the power of the police and where it ends, queer theory and human rights in Malaysia.

After years of sweeping homosexuality and sexuality rights under the carpet for fear of persecution and offending the sensitivities of others, it appears that the LGBT community has stopped being afraid. “Some of us have been made to live with the awareness that we don’t fit in because of the way we love,” says Pang. He jokes that perhaps next year’s event should focus on homophobia. “We should get all the homophobes together, sit them down and get them to tell us why they’re afraid of us and why they disapprove,” says Pang. Something about the way he said this made it sound like he was not joking, after all.

September 28, 2009 – AP

Malaysia bans Baron Cohen’s ‘Bruno’ film

by Julia Zappei
Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia — Malaysia has banned U.S. box office hit "Bruno" by Sacha Baron Cohen because it highlights gay life and has gay sex scenes, an official said Tuesday.
"Bruno" — following Baron Cohen’s hit "Borat" — is centered around the adventures of a flamboyant gay fashion journalist from Austria.

An official from Malaysia’s Film Censorship Board said the movie was considered unacceptable because of its story line, offensive language, jokes and racy nature. She declined to be named, citing protocol. "It’s banned because the story is based on gay life … There are a lot of sex scenes," she said. "It’s contrary to our culture."

Gay sex, or "carnal intercourse against the order of nature," is punishable by up to 20 years in jail and whipping in Malaysia. Sex toys, politically incorrect comments and jokes about religion also irked the censors, she said. She said censors vetted the movie last month, and the distributor was notified. Ukraine has also banned the film, and some Austrian officials have spoken out against it, but have not taken action.

Baron Cohen’s previous movie "Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan" made fun of the former Soviet republic of Kazakhstan and the United States and was banned in Kazakhstan and Russia. Malaysia also decided in early September to ban another American hit, the horror film "Halloween II," because of its gory scenes and excessive violence, the official said. The distributor was informed and can appeal the decision. A Muslim-majority nation of 28 million people, Malaysia has strict public morality rules, including those applying to entertainment. U.S. R&B star Beyonce Knowles, who is scheduled to perform here on Oct. 25, has promised to wear conservative attire for the show.

December 9, 2009 – IGLHRC

Updates from One Day, One Struggle: Coalition for Sexual and Bodily Rights in Muslim Societies

On November 9, 2009, a diverse group of nongovernmental organizations, academic institutions and activists across the Middle East, North Africa, and South and Southeast Asia carried out "One Day, One Struggle" events to promote sexual and bodily rights as human rights. Below are some of the campaign updates, including the national launch of a pioneering research on sexuality and rights; a panel and cultural show on what it means to be a hijra (transgender) in Bangladesh, a discussion on the place of sexuality and pleasure in the Koran, and a queer-straight alliance meeting in Pakistan.

Bangladesh: Pioneering research is being done on sexuality and rights in Bangladesh
The Center for Gender, Sexuality and HIV/AIDS (CGSH) at the James P Grant School of Public Health (JPGSPH) of BRAC University shared the findings of a trailblazing research project on sexuality and rights in urban Bangladesh. This exploratory study, the first of its kind, maps the manifold and changing understandings of sexuality, identity and rights among university students, factory workers, and sexual and gender minorities in Dhaka city. Dr. Dina Siddiqi, Sexuality Network Coordinator and Visiting Professor at the CGSH presented research findings on sexuality and rights in Dhaka. Other speakers were Dr. Sabina Faiz Rashid and Dr. Anwar Islam from the James P. Grant School of Public Health, Dr. Hilary Standing from the Realizing Rights Research Consortium, and Dr. Firdous Azim from the BRAC University Department of English and Humanities. A total of approximately 100 participants including journalists from the Bangladesh media, leaders of groups representing people of marginalized sexual orientations, independent researchers, anthropologists, public health professionals and NGO representatives were also present at the panel.

Bangladesh: Discussing the place of sexuality and pleasure in the Koran
Naripokkho organized a panel discussion entitled "Sexuality and Our Rights" which was moderated by Naripokkho member English professor Firdous Azim. Tamanna Khan, the president of Naripokkho and Shuchi Karim, a doctoral student at ISS in the Netherlands working on female sexuality in Bangladesh gave short presentations that were followed by an open discussion on the place of sexuality and pleasure in the Koran. Approximately 30 Naripokkho members participated in this event.
Bangladesh: Being hijra (transgender) in Bangladesh

Rangberong and Shochaton Shilpa Shangha organized a panel followed by a cultural show, both of which addressed specifically the hijra (transgender) community in Bangladesh. The panel hosted the speakers Ivan Ahmed Katha, the transgender president of the Shochetan Shilpa Shangha Association, Roksana Sultana, a journalist from BBC World, Nasrin Akhter Joli, the Deputy Director of the Hunger Project – Bangladesh and Mumtaz Begum, the former president of the Sex Workers’ Association. Police brutality and other problems faced by hijras on a daily basis were the main discussion topics of the panel. The cultural show afterwards included a musical performance specific to the hijra community that documented "why and how they became hijras, how this played havoc with their lives and how it is that they still love men."

Indonesia: New Aceh law violates Islam and women’s right to bodily autonomy

Read Article HERE

December 15, 2009 – Fridae

Director of Malaysia’s human rights group calls for repeal of sodomy laws
– Malaysia’s sodomy laws: Progress with the times!

by Dr Kua Kia Soong, Director of SUARAM
Ever since the political trial against Anwar Ibrahim for sodomy in 1999, I had been hoping that the gay community in Malaysia (“the pink brigade”) would have spoken out against our antiquated sodomy laws and fought for equality of treatment for all consensual sex between adults. I have always believed that the rights of any section of our community must be fought for and led by that particular section, for only then can the exploited and those transgressed against be empowered in the process.

All over the world, not just in the West, the times are certainly changing. On 2 July 2009, the Delhi High Court delivered a historic judgement to amend a 149-year-old colonial-era law and forthwith decriminalised private consensual sex between adults of the same sex. India became the 127th country to take the guilt out of homosexuality. Only rape and paedophilia remain offences under the law.

The Delhi bench invoked Jawaharlal Nehru’s politically resonant theme of inclusiveness:
"If there is one constitutional tenet that can be said to be (the) underlying theme of the Indian Constitution, it is that of inclusiveness… "

"Those perceived by the majority as `deviants’ or `different’ are not on that score excluded or ostracized.” (The Times of India, 3 July 2009)

The Delhi High Court further ruled: "Indian constitutional law does not permit the statutory criminal law to be held captive by the popular misconceptions of who the LGBTs (lesbians, gays, bisexuals and transgenders) are. It cannot be forgotten that discrimination is the antithesis of equality and that it is the recognition of equality which will foster the dignity of every individual…"

"There is almost unanimous medical and psychiatric opinion that homosexuality is not a disease or a disorder and is just another expression of human sexuality.” Article 8 of the Malaysian Federal Constitution guarantees the equality of all persons. If this is not specific enough, the Malaysian Charter on Human Rights by Malaysian Civil Society in 1994 spells this out more specifically:

“There shall be no discrimination in the rights and privileges of persons based on their ethnic origin, class, social status, age, sex, mental and physical being, language, religious belief, sexual identity or political conviction…” (Article 8: 2)

Recently, Judge Jonathan Heher of the Johannesburg High Court struck down South Africa’s sodomy law on the grounds that it violated the nation’s new constitution which bars discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation: “To penalize a gay or lesbian person for the expression of his or her sexuality can only be defended from a standpoint which depends on the baneful influences of religious intolerance, ignorance, superstition, bigotry, fear of what is different from or alien to everyday experience and the millstone of history."

Just a few months earlier Ecuador’s Supreme Court ruled that nation’s sodomy law unconstitutional. And Romania’s new prime minister recently promised to repeal his nation’s sodomy law to bring it in line with that of the European Union.

Even closer to our shores, the attitude of our southern neighbour, Singapore, to homosexuality is also changing. In April 2007, Minister Mentor Lee Kuan Yew said in a Reuter’s report: "If in fact it is true, and I have asked doctors this, that you are genetically born a homosexual — because that’s the nature of the genetic random transmission of genes — you can’t help it. So why should we criminalize it? …Let’s not go around like moral police … barging into people’s [bed] rooms. That’s not our business… So you have to take a practical, pragmatic approach to what I see is an inevitable force of time and circumstances."

Lee said Singapore should no longer discriminate against homosexuals but must take a pragmatic approach. Lee’s comments came at a time when many groups, such as The Singapore Law Society, are clamouring for a review of antiquated British colonial laws against homosexual sex, which they view as outdated and archaic.

The plight of Malaysian transsexuals such as Fathine, is but the latest in a litany of woes suffered by lesbians, gays, bisexuals and transgenders (LGBT) in this country. For a society that claims that our Asian values are far superior to Western values, such demeaning treatment of our LGBT community is unacceptable. What has happened to that slogan by the BN government to create a “masyarakat penyayang” (a caring society) ?

Stand Up For the Rights of all LGBT
On the grounds of inclusiveness, equality, pragmatism and humanity, it is time for all progressive Malaysians, political parties and organisations to stand up for the rights of all LGBT and to call for the abolition of our outdated sodomy laws.