25 January 2010 – Fridae
Malaysian man fails to overturn sodomy ban, 60-year jail term to stay
by The Star
A man who brought the first constitutional challenge against the ban on sodomy in Malaysia and who was appealing against his conviction of 60 years in jail and 22 strokes of rotan for sodomising a 14-year-old male lost his appeal The following is an extract of a report "Man fails in bid to legalise sodomy" published by The Star (Malaysia) on January 19, 2010. Click to read the article in full.
A Kuala Lumpur City Hall worker convicted of 22 counts of sodomy wants the Court of Appeal to declare as unconstitutional the provision that criminalised the act. [Abdul Rahim Abdul Rahaman had said the acts were consensual, according to an AFP report.] Abdul Rahim Abdul Rahaman contended that it was biased against the male gender. The submission was made by Abdul Rahim’s counsel Fahri Azzat in his appeal to set aside the 60-year jail term and 22 strokes of rotan meted out to him by the Shah Alam Sessions Court in 2007.
However, Abdul Rahim — a HIV patient — failed to convince Justices Datuk Suriyadi Halim Omar, Datuk Hasan Lah and Datuk Ahmad Maarop who dismissed his appeal and upheld his sentence. Fahri argued that Sections 377A and 377B of the Penal Code which make committing carnal intercourse against the order of nature a crime infringed Article 8 (1) and (2) of the Federal Constitution, which states that all persons should be treated equally and prohibits discrimination against citizens.
He said a scrutiny of Section 377B clearly showed that the provision only applied to males because it referred to a person introducing his male organ into the anus or mouth of another person.
Grandpa held in raid at gay joint
George Town – Police have busted two gay joints at a massage parlour and a fitness centre here with the arrest of 19 men, including a 65-year-old grandfather. They also seized posters, towels and tubes of lubricant during the raid at the premises at a shopping complex here at 10pm. It is said that their customers included doctors and lecturers. Among the 19, two were caretakers aged 30 and 38 while seven were local customers. The remaining 10 were said to be sex workers from Thailand, Vietnam, China, Bangladesh and Myanmar.
The "company" is said to be hiring foreign employees, who entered the country with visit permits, in batches. It is learnt the two shops, which have been closed down for two to three months, started its operations again recently. Using massage parlour and fitness centre as a front for their operation, regular customers are given a password to enter the place. There are two closed circuit television cameras installed in front of the door for tight security.
Police earlier laid an ambush nearby and arrested a customer before forcing him to reveal the password. Some were said to be caught with their pants down when police stormed into the premises. George Town acting OCPD Supt Gan Kong Meng, who confirmed the case, said police would be investigating the case under Section 377(B) of the Penal Code for committing carnal intercourse against the order of nature, Section 6(3)(c) and Section 39 (b) of the Immigration Act.
In another case, the police nabbed seven women from China in a raid at an unlicensed entertainment outlet in Gurney Tower. Supt Gan said equipment like television sets, a microphone, DVD players and sound systems were also confiscated. "The women will be investigated under Section 39 (b) and Section 51(3) of the Immigration Act," he said.
5 February 2010 – Fridae
19 men arrested at two raids in Penang
by News Editor
Malaysia’s The Star newspaper on Feb 4 reported that police raided two gay joints, a massage parlour and a fitness centre, and arrested 19 men including a 65-year-old grandfather. According to the report in The Star, seven of the 19 men arrested in the northern Malaysian city of Penang were local customers, two were caretakers of the venues and the remaining 10 were sex workers from Thailand, Vietnam, China, Bangladesh and Myanmar.
The newspaper said it learnt that the two shops had restarted its operations recently after being closed down for two to three months. The report did not state the reasons for the two venues being closed down. Regular customers are given a password to enter the venue which is monitored by two closed circuit television cameras at the front entrance.
A police spokesperson said the case will be investigated under Section 377(B) of the Penal Code which prohibits carnal intercourse against the order of nature, and Section 6(3)(c) and Section 39 (b) of the Immigration Act. The report also mentioned that the police nabbed seven women from China in a raid at an unlicensed entertainment outlet in Gurney Tower.
April 8, 2010 – AP
Gay-themed film challenges boundaries in Malaysia
by Sean Yoong (AP)
Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia — Malaysia’s first gay-themed movie could hit cinemas within months, its producer said, after government censors eased restrictions that have stifled the film industry here for decades. Although the Malay-language movie won’t have explicit sex or even kissing, its screening would be a huge step forward for freedom of popular media in this Muslim-majority country that many fear is coming under the influence of Islamic conservatism.
"Dalam Botol," or "In A Bottle," centers on a man whose relationship with his male partner crumbles after he undergoes sex change surgery, said Raja Azmi Raja Sulaiman, who produced the film and wrote the screenplay based on the experiences of her friend. "We are taking a risk," Raja Azmi, a longtime movie producer, said in an interview this week. "I’m very nervous. We still don’t know if the censors will allow our movie to be shown in the end." Raja Azmi submitted a preliminary script last year to the Home Ministry’s Film Censorship Board, which verbally approved it after advising her not to shoot scenes of men kissing or being in bed together.
Censors also told her to change the original title: "Anu Dalam Botol," or "Penis in a Bottle." The film’s two leads had trouble "getting loose and comfortable in the first few days," but they adjusted to their roles before filming ended earlier this year, Raja Azmi said. "We still shot scenes of skin-to-skin intimacy, with them hugging passionately," she said. "Without that, we wouldn’t be able to show how much the characters really love each other."
Censors are unlikely to permit such scenes for Malaysian audiences, who are accustomed to bland, generic comedies and romances. Censorship board officials declined to comment until Raja Azmi submits the film to them. But Raja Azmi — who spent about 700,000 ringgit ($200,000) to make the film — said she hopes to show an uncut version at film festivals abroad. Malaysian censors have faced criticism for trimming or banning racy movies. Banned Hollywood films include Sacha Baron Cohen’s "Bruno," which the board said promoted homosexuality because it focused on a flamboyant gay fashion journalist.
The board recently revamped its rules, saying themes such as homosexuality would no longer be forbidden. However, the guidelines suggest filmmakers should rebuke behavior that is considered immoral, including gambling, consuming alcohol and being sexually promiscuous. Raja Azmi — who counts the Oscar-winning gay-themed "Brokeback Mountain" as a favorite movie — declined to speculate on whether censors approved her script only because it depicts bad consequences for its characters. She stressed the movie was "a nonfiction tragedy about my friend."
It is possible that even a sanitized version of "Dalam Botol" may not placate some of Malaysia’s conservative Islamic religious figures, who have pushed in recent years for yoga to be banned and people to be caned for drinking alcohol. Sodomy — even consensual — is punishable by 20 years in prison; prosecutions are rare, though the country’s top opposition leader, Anwar Ibrahim, is currently on trial for allegedly sodomizing a male former aide in what he calls a fabricated, politically motivated charge.
14 May 2010 – Fridae
Fridae’s LGBT People to Watch 2010: Mohd Shahrani Mohd Tamrin
by Fridae Features Team
The series presents 10 movers and shakers in Asia – the world’s most populous continent – who are set to bring about positive change in their local lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender communities. This week we put the spotlight on Mohamad Shahrani Mohamad Tamrin who was recently appointed representative for gay men and MSM on the Malaysian AIDS Council, and Tono Permana, the national coordinator of Indonesia’s GMW-INA – Gay Men, Men who have Sex with Men and Waria – who is responsible for the country’s 17,508 islands (of which about 6,000 are inhabited).
This list is by no means exhaustive, but we are sure that this handful of extraordinary individuals will encourage and inspire you. If you know of anyone who you think is doing an amazing job for the greater good – whether they be activists or artists, entrepreneurs or entertainers, send us their details at.
For Mohamad Shahrani Mohamad Tamrin (or Shah to his friends) the stakes are high: widespread high-risk sexual behaviour, budget restraints on Malaysia’s HIV response and persistent stigma and discrimination, all of which contribute to the spread of HIV in his home country.
Mohamad Shahrani Mohamad Tamrin This young man of 29, who was recently appointed representative for gay men and men who have sex with men (MSM) with a mission to bridge the divide between city and province, has taken on the mammoth task of trying to bridge the divide between city dwellers and those in the province. His goal is to bring HIV education and awareness to the majority of Bahasa Melayu-speaking, non-gay-identifying men-who-have-sex-with-men (MSM) living outside of the national capital.
From humble beginnings as a volunteer at the Sarawak AIDS Concern Society (SACS) in Kuching, Tamrin had his first foray in the international sphere during a regional consultation at last year’s Asia-region AIDS Conference in Bali. With the spectre of increasing HIV prevalence rates in Kuala Lumpur (pegged at 3.9% among MSM after the most recent survey) there is great concern that the situation may be worse for men who cannot access the facilities in the big city.
In the coming months Tamrin will travel to Bangkok as a member of the Working Group organising the “Voices Of Youth” Consultation, Asia’s very first gathering of youth MSM and TG leaders in response to HIV/AIDS supported by the HIVOS Foundation of the Netherlands and the World AIDS Campaign.
Read Interview and More
24 May 2010 – Fridae
Gay massage, fitness centres in Penang, Kuala Lumpur raided
by News Editor
Days before the raid, TV3’s 999 programme showed a 7-minute clip of a reporter going undercover with a concealed camera in a gay massage centre and a raid on an establishment in Cheras where the authorities stormed occupied private rooms. Malaysia’s state-run news agency Bernama reported on Saturday that a gay fitness centre at a shopping mall in Pulau Tikus, Penang wasraided by police on Friday night.
Seven men – a caretaker and six workers – aged between 20 and 30 were arrested. The report quoted Penang CID Chief SAC II Wan Abdullah Tunku Said as saying that police also seized three towels, massage oil, tissue boxes and a tube of lubrication jelly believed to be used during gay activities. The Star also reported that the men would be investigated for committing acts of gross indecency under Section 377D of the Penal Code.
He added that the venue did not have a business licence and had been raided three times before in five months this year and 10 times last year. The same weekend, the police raided two massage centres in Kuala Lumpur. The Star quoted the Malay-language tabloid Harian Metro as saying that the walls of the centres were plastered with pictures of male masseurs available to serve male clients.
According to The Star, 25 male clients were detained during the raid at the two centres which were equipped with closed-circuit television at the main entrance where clients were only admitted into the centres after giving a password. Last Thursday, TV3’s 999 programme showed a 7-minute clip of a reporter going undercover with a concealed camera in a gay massage centre and a raid on an establishment in Cheras where the authorities stormed occupied private rooms
July 21, 2010 – PinkNews
Laws against homosexuality ‘spreading HIV infections’
by Jessica Geen
Anti-gay laws in the Asia-Pacific region are causing higher rates of HIV infections, the UN has warned. According to the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), such laws mean that gay men and trans people are less likely to seek medical help and be aware of how to prevent HIV transmission. In a statement released at the World AIDS Conference in Vienna, the UNDP said: "Some 19 of 48 countries in the Asia Pacific region continue to criminalise male-to-male sex.
"These laws often taken on the force of vigilantism, frequently leading to abuse and human rights violations. Correspondingly, HIV prevalence has reached alarming levels among men who have sex with men and transgender populations in many countries of the region." Some of the countries in the region which criminalise gay sex are Afghanistan, Bhutan, Kiribati and Malaysia. The report said that while some of these countries identify men who have sex with men of being at particular risk of HIV, police target gay men and trans people leading to assaults, extortion and imprisonment.
It added that health workers, many of whom are gay or trans, are also targeted, which leads to the disruption of safer sex and health care schemes. Events on HIV prevention and publicity materials are often censored, the UNDP said, while banning gay sex discourages support groups being set up.
The report claimed that half of all new HIV infections will be found in gay and bisexual men by 2020 if current trends continue. It recommended repealing anti-gay laws, supporting community-based education and implementing anti-discrimination policies across the region.
9 September 2010 – Fridae
For Malaysian gays, hope for a better tomorrow
by Pang Khee Teik
Pang Khee Teik, co-founder of sexuality rights festival Seksualiti Merdeka, and co-editor of Body 2 Body: A Malaysian Queer Anthology, recounts his experiences growing up gay in Malaysia and appeals to mainstream society to understand the struggles of LGBT people.
True Malaysian Story No 1: When she turned 13, Alia’s father kicked her out of the house for dressing like a girl. As a child, Alia knew she was a girl, so she couldn’t understand why her father kept scolding and beating her up for it – ‘You’re a boy, act like a boy!’ Alia went and stayed with another transsexual. They faced constant harassment from police and religious officers and counted themselves lucky when the worst they got was just extortion (some of her friends weren’t so lucky).
Since nobody would give her a job, she was hungry all the time and had to sell her body to survive. When she was 17, she found out she was infected with HIV. She started working for a HIV organisation and saved enough to have a sex reassignment surgery. She also took up a part-time course and received her diploma in draftsmanship. Alia went back to her kampung to show to her father that she had made something of herself. When she reached her kampung, she found out her father had passed away. She never got the chance.
True Malaysian Story No 2: On the day he was to go back to UK to continue his studies, Chris’s parents asked him, son, are you gay? He told them the truth. That afternoon itself, they kicked him out of the home and cut off his allowance and funding. He couldn’t continue his studies. A month later, however, still not quite settled, Chris received a call from his mom. Let’s reconcile, she said, come back and we’ll talk.
When he got home, his parents had called the cops, who took him to a police station and then to a hospital where his father asked the psychiatric unit to cure his son of homosexuality. But homosexuality is no longer regarded as a mental illness by the psychiatric profession worldwide. Two days later, Chris was discharged, but not before he had to pay the hospital fees with money borrowed from friends.
We like to lament that this country will become too liberal and permissive if we allow homosexuality and transsexualism. We believe that these ‘vices’ are tearing up families and societies. But see for yourselves, my friends, just who is tearing up who.
How many children do we want to kick out into the streets before we feel safe? What kind of a country is this where we consistently subject the most vulnerable segments of our population to more violence and discrimination? We have hatred in the streets, in the parliament, and in the homes. Have we gotten so used to hatred that we need to punish love now?
Acceptance is a family value, too
During a speech at The Annexe Gallery in Kuala Lumpur last year, Marina Mahathir questioned the logic behind the popular assertion that homosexuality causes societal collapse. She said that if families accepted their children for who they are, there won’t be any breaking up of families. They go on being a family. And since families make up the fundamental units of society, if society consists of loving healthy families, how will it collapse? If we promote healthy, responsible, respectful relationships, regardless of choice of partners, then we are likely to get healthy, responsible, respectful society.
Appeal No 1: Perhaps families need learn to manage our expectations for our children’s future more realistically and stop imposing our dreams over their dreams, stop being so violent to their hopes. But wait, people would say, we weren’t encouraging violence and hate! Yet by advocating the idea that homosexuals are somehow ‘morally disordered’ as the Catholic preacher said in his response to Rev Ouyang Weng Feng, we are condoning the prejudice, the disgust, the hatred. How else should people react to those who are ‘morally disordered’?
Even people who sit on their armchairs and surmise, ‘Oh, I don’t mind homosexuals, but I don’t approve of their lifestyle’ are encouraged to assume that their approvals are highly sought after for someone else’s life. Disapproval snowballs into disgust, disgust avalanches into violence, until somewhere, a family throws its innocent child into the streets to fend for himself, a bunch of guys rape a lesbian to ‘correct’ her, some officers beat up a mak nyah till she lays lifeless in the drain, her life not even worth two paragraphs in the news the next day.
And we say no, we didn’t beat her up, we didn’t condone that violence. Yet our words did that long ago. Words like ‘sick’, ‘immoral’, ‘pervert’. Words we uttered yesterday become sticks and stones in somebody else’s hands tomorrow. The child, the lesbian, the mak nyah were all defenceless against them. So go ahead, tell them you are doing this to them to ‘protect’ traditional family values. It is easy to debate about homosexuality when it doesn’t affect you.
On Malaysiakini recently, folks happily weighed in with opinions, facts, scriptures and outright condemnation, citing everything from theology to biology to the suggestion that people are justified in beating up gays. So macho, kan? Have we forgotten we are talking about real people here? That out there, tragedies are being enacted in the name of ‘religion’, ‘national security’, ‘Asian values’ and what have you.
Appeal No 2: Have we taken the time to really understand and listen to the other side? It is easy to condemn others, it is easy to accept a conclusion first and then find justifications later. How prepared are we to accept that not only were we grievously wrong but that our actions have resulted in so much pain and suffering?
Six times more likely
True Malaysian Story No 3: For 12 years of my life, I stopped myself from falling in love with men. From the age of 14 till I was 26, I tried to go straight. I took an active part in church, I led fellowships, I wrote church musicals. I prayed and fasted and went for church camps. I sang the loudest during worship – I was so annoying! – and desperate for God to hear me! Nothing worked.
Now, all of us recall bouts of depression during our teenage years. For LGBTs, (Lesbians, Gays, Bisexuals, Transgenders) our teen years appear like one long nightmarish bout from which we never wake. Statistically, we are six times more likely to kill ourselves than our straight peers. Trust me, it is that bad, and then some. Most gays realise we are attracted to the same sex even before puberty and in our teens, we soon discover we are unlike our peers. We are also told we are ‘freaks’, ‘criminals’, ‘monsters’, ‘sinners’, ‘abominations’ and deserve to be punished, rejected and beaten up.
We are confused – we didn’t choose to feel this way, and we certainly don’t want to be so freakish, but the feelings won’t go away. We believe something might be fundamentally wrong with us. Frightened of being an outcast, we conform to social demands. We learn to hide our sexuality, resigned to a life pretending to be what we are not. Before we know it, we are adults and it gets a little harder to stop the act. The game gets more complex, the web of deception so elaborate we cannot risk breaking one thread without compromising everything we have worked for.
We marry, we have kids, we get promoted, we take on a same-sex lover on the side, maybe find a quick relief with anonymous encounters, a masseur, an escort. Our lives choreographed between two realities, one in which we please everyone else, and one in which we please our inner heart. And we pray that these worlds never collide. But one day, we get careless and we are found out. Secrets, lies, guilt, shame. The picture is ugly. It is a morally unjustifiable scenario, and this is largely the perception of homosexuality for the rest of the world. A dirty, shameful affair. Nobody thinks back to how as children, we were first taught that in order to survive, it is better to pretend.
4 October 2010 – PinkNews
Indonesian minister attacked for AIDS comments on Twitter
by Staff Writer, PinkNews.co.uk
The Indonesian information minister has been criticised for making anti-gay statements and jokes about AIDS on Twitter. Tifatul Sembiring, who is also a member of the National AIDS Commission, made the remarks shortly after Jakarta’s gay film festival was disrupted by ant-gay protesters. He tweeted: “Behaviours which are potentially carrying the virus must be prevented.”
Mr Sembiring also tweeted some quotes which he said were about homosexuality in the Koran: “God turned the earth upside down” and “rained them with stones from the burned land.” Most controversially, he tweeted a joke made by former health minister Prof. Sujudi: “Aids – Akibat Itunya Dipakai Sembarangan.” This translates as “because they were reckless about where they put their genitals”.
Ricky Gunawan, of the Community Legal Aid Foundation (LBH Masyarakat), told the Jakarta Globe that the minister’s remarks were prejudiced and wrong. “Tifatul is a member of the KPAN [National AIDS Commission], and as a minister he’s wholly responsible for matters of information and communication,” Mr Gunawan said. “Logically, he should have tweeted useful information about HIV/AIDS, but the comments he made instead were misleading, strongly prejudiced, and stigmatised those living with HIV/AIDS.” “It just goes to show that he doesn’t understand the issues of HIV/AIDS,” he added.
In June, Mr Sembiring blamed pornography for high rates of HIV/AIDS and last year, he suggested that there was a link between immoral behaviour and natural disasters.
12 October 2010 – Fridae
Jerome Kugan: Seksualiti Merdeka
by Sylvia Tan
Jerome Kugan, co-organiser of the annual Seksualiti Merdeka festival, tells Fridae that because homosexuality is a taboo topic in Malaysia, "lying low is not the answer” and is exactly why the community needs a space to have open dialogues about sex, sexual identity and rights. “Many LGBTs are against any form of visibility, preferring to remain under the radar and in the closet,” said Jerome Kugan when asked what led him to co-found Seksualiti Merdeka (meaning independence and/or freedom in Bahasa Melayu) in 2008. But Kugan, an openly gay singer-songwriter and writer moved from Sabah, East Malaysia to Kuala Lumpur ten years ago said he “decided that lying low is not the answer.”
“Too many people are still suffering the effects of homophobia and the violence and discrimination caused by it. It gives me a good feeling to see the community having the space to carry on an open discourse about sex, sexual identity and sexuality rights, because there’s so little space for it elsewhere in this country,” he explained. The festival begins on Wednesday and will feature talks, forums, workshops, art, theatre, music and films from October 13-17 in Kuala Lumpur.
24 November 2010 – Fridae
Malaysia’s first "It Gets Better" video
by Sylvia Tan
Inspired by the ‘It Gets Better’ online project in the US started by openly gay syndicated columnist Dan Savage to offer hope and help to troubled gay youth, Gabrielle Chong, a 21-year-old student, tells her story in the first Malaysian video linked to the campaign. Produced and launched on Wednesday by Malaysiakini, an independent news online news portal in Malaysia, the 14-minute video features Yong Wei CHONG Gabrielle, who recounts her suicide attempt a year ago while she was a student in Massachusetts, United States.
Her suicide attempt however was not due to homophobic abuse. Prior to leaving Malaysia in 2009, Chong was active in the LGBT community in Malaysia having founded Tiltedworld.org, an online Malaysian LGBT project, in 2008. In the same year, she won the first prize at a public speaking competition organised by the Malaysian Bar Council for her speech calling for the protection of gay rights in Malaysia. [The full text of her speech can be found here.] She had also participated in the National Equality March to Washington DC in 2009.
Describing herself as being from a “lower-middle class, conservative Chinese background, and terribly shy and reserved in real life” in an email interview with Fridae, Chong said her suicide attempt was in large part due to her difficulty in adapting to life in Massachusetts where she attends college after having won a scholarship worth US$250,000.
“It didn’t have anything to do with homophobic abuse. I clarified this in the (45-minute long) interview but it was taken out due to time constraints.” She added: “Nevertheless, I thought it’d still be relevant to talk about how I coped with the aftermath, given that many youths (LGBT or not) will experience suicidal anxiety at some point in their young lives. The main message I wanted to deliver isn’t explained until the very last 60 seconds of the video – that is, whether it gets better or not, you should still hang in there and fight the good fight (whatever you make your life’s cause to be).”
While she recognises the tremendous impact of the "It Gets Better" campaign, which has attracted participation from celebrities to politicians including US President Barack Obama, she says it’s also "important to recognise that the experiences of LGBT people are as varied as anyone else’s".
"As humans, we’re very adept at casting prejudice and abuse on our brethren, if not on the basis of race, class… etc (aspects other than sexuality). On the other hand, you have plenty of LGBT folks who grew up in relatively good social and emotional health. Personally, I’ve always been bullied as an adolescent for a myriad of reasons (I was terribly awkward, and few of my peers could understand my ideas), but never for my sexuality. In that sense, there’s a need to avoid boxing LGBT youths in the same mold.
Chong, who is originally from Ipoh (Perak), continued: "Secondly, I think it’s important to move beyond hope (as radical as that sounds). There’s the pragmatic factor: given the volatile socio-political situation (especially in Malaysia’s case), no one can guarantee that things are going to really get better in terms of legislative progress, cultural liberalisation etc. And then there’s the idealistic factor: all the major civil rights movements (the Catholic Worker Movement, the African-American Civil Rights Movement, the struggle against apartheid, etc) weren’t sustained on hope; they were sustained on principle – the belief that you struggle for something because you know it to be right, regardless of whether the situation turns for the worse or better (and all the people in these movements suffered for years and years before things actually got better). For some, there’s an inherent irony in the It Gets Better campaign – things could actually get worse, not better, for some people if they ever participate in the video campaign because they risk outing themselves to hostile quarters in their social network.
"It’s good to be optimistic (and like I said in the video, I’ve much faith in Malaysian people in spite of the daily supply of disillusioning news), but you don’t fight your daily battles because you actually believe that your life is going to be much better – that kids will stop giving you a hard time, relatives will start welcoming you with open arms, the media will become more inclusive, politicians will stop making jackass remarks and – tomorrow. Rather, you fight your daily battles because you will it to be – you’ve got dreams to realise, people to love, magic to create – for better or for worse. Hope is great, but moral courage is supreme."
Yong says she is likely to retain the same scholarship and plans to return to her college in January 2011 after a one-year break in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. Producers of the video Shufiyan Shukur and Indrani Kopal say their project is ongoing and are seeking subjects who are willing to share their stories. Interested individuals can contact the producers . Seksualiti Merdeka is also calling for participants for its own "It Gets Better" video campaign to be done in Malay, Mandarin, Tamil & English; interested parties can email Pang Khee Teik.
November 30 2010 – Financial Times
Punitive laws on sex workers and drugs hamper progress
by Tim Johnston
The tide has turned in the fight against HIV in Asia, but the UN and activists are warning that it is going to become harder to maintain progress. “As a minimum, most national Aids epidemics have been halted, stabilised and reversed,” says Steven Kraus, the UNAids regional director for Asia and the Pacific. The number of Asians living with Aids has remained stable at some 4.9m for the past five years, and the number of new infections in countries as diverse as India, Nepal and Thailand has fallen by 25 per cent over the past nine years.
But Mr Kraus warns that preserving that momentum is becoming more challenging. In many ways, such groups as UNAids are victims of their own success: they are starting to hit the law of diminishing returns. Progress so far has not been easy, but making further inroads against the epidemic is going to become ever harder. The key vectors of the Asian epidemic are well known: commercial sex, intravenous drug use, and what the industry refers to as MSM – men who have sex with men. It is MSM that is proving the most difficult segment to reach. “We have underestimated the MSM issue,” says Mr Kraus. “We’ve done inadequate programming in this area.”
But that is starting to change.
Nung spent years as a transgender sex-worker on the streets of the Thai capital Bangkok. Now she works for Swing, an organisation that promotes education for other sex workers, particularly in the MSM market. “We have to educate them about HIV, but we have to make it enjoyable,” she says, describing going into clubs and massage parlours to find out the date of the owner’s birthday before returning with gifts to turn a birthday party into an education session.
Nung says that Swing addresses not just the medical needs of sex workers – condoms, lubricants and regular health checks – but also issues of self-esteem. “It is a low-class occupation; everyone looks down on sex workers,” says Nung. She says lack of self-esteem makes it more difficult for prostitutes to resist pressure from clients who do not want to use a condom. There has been significant progress in the broader heterosexual sex industry, particularly in places such as Thailand, where there was a very public education programme. It even spawned its own restaurant, “Cabbages and Condoms”, which is popular with ordinary tourists, many of whom like to pose for a picture with the larger-than-life statue of a Santa Claus made of gaily coloured condoms.
Aids workers say projects with commercial sex workers are still vital, and more funding is needed, but the techniques are known and effective. The anti-HIV message has also been reaching intravenous drug users, although the picture is more mixed. Among the success stories has been Malaysia. “Malaysia had a draconian view of drug use, and has done a 180 degree turn. It used to have mandatory detention for drug users but now it has closed all the detention centres and reopened them as voluntary support centres. The authorities don’t see drug use as a law and order issue but as a personal and public health issue,” says Mr Kraus. The new approach has led to some startling improvements. In 2007, just 28 per cent of Malaysia’s injecting drug users said they had used sterile equipment: in 2009, that had risen to 83 per cent.
And there are some surprising outliers. Burma, not known for its progressive policies in other spheres, has supported an intervention programme of needle exchanges and clinics provided by international aid organisations. The UNAids 2010 global report shows 81 per cent of intravenous drug users using sterile equipment. Aids workers say much of problem now lies in the legal framework. In some countries, laws drive sex workers and drug users so far underground that they become hard to reach. In others, unconnected legislation against trafficking and illegal migration are changing the dynamics of the sectors of society worst affected by Aids. In its Global Report, UNAids estimates that 90 per cent of countries in Asia have laws that obstruct the rights of those living with HIV.
“Punitive laws that prevent us reaching key sectors of the population are a danger,” says Mr Kraus. “They do not build partnerships and they don’t create supportive environments, where community groups can access these key populations.”
These are significant problems, but they could be overcome by lobbying governments to change laws and modify the ways those that remain are implemented. The cultural challenges to controlling the MSM aspect of the HIV epidemic are much more difficult to solve. “Culture matters,” says Mr Kraus. “How societies view same-sex relations affects our ability to promote good programming. Until the culture changes, it is always going to be a problem getting to MSM.” The figures bear him out. In a 2007 survey, 88 per cent of Thai respondents who had anal sex with a male partner said they had used a condom: in Malaysia the number was 21 per cent.
Mr Kraus says that although almost all the governments in the region report that they are addressing the stigma attached to men who have sex with men, less than half have budgets. This, he says, gives a clearer indication of the real situation. “If it doesn’t get budgeted, it doesn’t get addressed.”
16 December 2010 – Friade
"Saya gay, saya okay": First Malay-language "It Gets Better"
by News Editor
Seksualiti Merdeka’s second video in a series of 15 features Azwan Ismail, an engineer, poet, writer and editor of LGBT anthology Orang Macam Kita who shares that although it had taken him a long time to come to terms with his sexuality, he can now say "Saya gay, saya OK. (I’m gay, I’m OK.)"
Seksualiti Merdeka, a coalition of Malaysian NGOs, artists and individuals better known for producing the annual sexuality rights festival of the same name, last week launched their first video of a series of 15. Last month Gabrielle Yong became the first Malaysian to post her "It Gets Better" video which was inspired by a project initiated by gay American columnist Dan Savage to encourage LGBTQ youth about what the future can hold.
The first “>video launched last week features Peter Ong, a dancer, opera singer, National Coach for Malaysia’s Ballroom Dancing team and owner of The Dance Space in Kuala Lumpur.
The second “>video launched today features Azwan Ismail, an engineer, poet, writer and editor of Orang Macam Kita – Malaysia’s first Malay-language LGBT anthology – who shares that although it had taken him a long time to come to terms with his sexuality as a Malay Muslim due to the "religious and cultural environment he is in, he can now confidently and publicly say "Saya gay, saya OK. (I’m gay, I’m OK.)"
Thirteen other Malaysians have so far signed up to share their stories and messages of hope: Alvin Ng, Gary Ooi, Jerome Kugan, Joe Pang, Kavidha Natarajan, Michelle Nor Ismat, Nabila Nasir, Nisha, Pang Khee Teik, Seetha, Sharaad Kuttan, Sulastri & Tina Fazlita Fadzil.
December 21, 2010 – The Washington Post
AP Interview: Malaysia gay man gets threats
by Sean Yoong, The Associated Press
Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia — A Muslim gay man in Malaysia says he fears for his safety after speaking about his sexuality in an Internet video that attracted online death threats and accusations by religious authorities that he is insulting Islam. Azwan Ismail told The Associated Press in a telephone interview Tuesday he was taking safety precautions following fierce criticism in this conservative, Muslim-majority country over his clip, which has been viewed more than 140,000 times on YouTube in just six days.
The segment, titled "I’m Gay, I’m OK," features the 32-year-old engineer encouraging other gay Malaysians to be confident in themselves. It is part of a series of interviews posted online by gay rights activists since last week, but Azwan has attracted heavy attention because he is the only one from Malaysia’s ethnic Malay Muslim majority so far.
"I don’t know what to expect next," Azwan said Tuesday in his first comments to the media after his nearly three-minute clip was posted Dec. 15. Other gay Malaysians featured in the "Independent Sexuality" video campaign so far are mainly ethnic Chinese non-Muslims, who generally face less of a public stigma about homosexuality.
Azwan said he has tried to avoid going out alone or lingering at public places after a few of the 3,000 people who commented on his video issued death threats and many others rebuked him. He has also made his personal details more private on social media websites. Although Azwan’s face appears clearly in the video, he declined to be photographed for the AP interview.
Malaysia’s Cabinet minister for Islamic affairs, Jamil Khir Baharom, voiced concerns over the weekend that gay activists were trying to promote homosexuality. He said officials might take "appropriate action to prevent this from spreading because it would hurt Islam’s image." Harussani Zakaria, one of Malaysia’s top Islamic clerics, reportedly said Azwan should have not made such an open declaration that "derided his own dignity and Islam in general." In the clip, Azwan said it was tough being gay in Malaysia because "religious and cultural factors have defined our lives, telling us who we can be and who we can’t."
Azwan did not break any obvious laws by talking in the video, but he said his lawyer friend was checking whether other legal action could be taken against him. Sodomy is punishable by 20 years in prison, though the law is only occasionally enforced. Some states impose fines or jail terms for gay-related actions such as cross-dressing in public. The video series is inspired by the similar "It Gets Better Project" started in the United States in October in response to a string of gay youth suicides. Several more Malay Muslims are expected to speak in upcoming clips, which are meant to tell young gay Malaysians not to despair about their future.
"My intention was not to insult Islam," Azwan told the AP. "I just wanted to represent gay Malays in this project. I hope these videos will help to create a more open society and more discussion." Azwan, who has a boyfriend, said he started confiding in others about his sexuality five years ago. He added that he has not broached the subject with his parents, but his brother asked him about it after news of the video surfaced.
December 2010 – Gay A Nusantara
Malaysian Human Rights Commission undertakes study on rights of LGBT
The Human Rights Commission of Malaysia is undertaking a study on LGBT rights, including a dialogue with various government agencies on Islam and LGBT. This is a small but very significant step for the Malaysian Commission and I believe is a direct result of the Asia Pacific Forum of National Human Rights Institutions (APF) regional focus on SOGI and the Yogyakarta Principles. For further information please go to the Commission’s website. Also for further information on APF intiatives on SOGI please go to
Study on the rights of the LGBT in Malaysia
SUHAKAM is currently conducting a study on the rights of the LGBT (Lesbians, Gays, Bi-sexuals and Transgender) in Malaysia. On 2nd September 2010, the LRITWG held a meeting regarding Islamic perspective on LGBT with various organizations such as JAWI, MAIWP, JKSM, the Attorney General’s Chambers, the Bar Council and the Ministry of Women, Family and Community Development. The objective of the meeting was to assist SUHAKAM in understanding the sensitivities of LGBT issue in Islam, at the same time to have an open discussion regarding the matter. The focus of the discussion was Islam’s stand on some of the activities of LGBT such as same sex intercourse, cross dressing, gender reassignment and imitation of the opposite sex.
The meeting is part of SUHAKAM’s effort in formulating a concrete stand on the rights of the LGBT. SUHAKAM shall engage with the LGBT group and other religious organizations to further understand and pursue the matter through different perspectives. SUHAKAM however maintains that human rights are for all and the LGBT group are not excluded. LGBT must be respected as human beings and their differences cannot be used as reasons to violate their rights. There can be no justifications for acts such as name calling, bullying and infliction of bodily harms against them.
31 December 2010 – Fridae
Islamic department powerless to act against gay Malay man: Malaysian official
by News Editor
Following recent reports that the Islamic Development may take stern action against Azwan Ismail who came out in a YouTube video, a spokesperson now says the organisation has "no power to take legal action." The Malaysian Islamic Development Department (Jakim) says it will not take any legal action against a Malay-Muslim man who came out as gay in an online video two weeks ago. The video, which is part of Seksualiti Merdeka’s It Gets Better 15-video campaign, had attracted over 150,000 views on YouTube and a flurry of news reports, blogs and comments by various political leaders and even death threats before it was removed on Dec 29.
Organisers of the campaign Seksualiti Merdeka said it has decided to remove Azwan Ismail’s "Saya gay, saya okay" video for "his safety as his life has been threatened by various comments and blogs, while the religious authorities have also been reported as saying they plan to charge him." Organisers also "regret that so far nobody in authority has denounced the threats of violence," the statement read. In the 3-minute clip, Azwan Ismail spoke in Malay about coming out as gay as being particularly difficult because of "religious and cultural factors (that) have defined our lives, telling us who we can be and who we can’t."
Recent media reports had highlighted that the Islamic Development Department of Malaysia (JAKIM) would be taking stern action against Azwan for his revelation. Just days after its release, the video clip made newspaper headlines in the Muslim-majority country with Datuk Seri Jamil Khir Baharom, a Minister in the Prime Minister’s Department, calling on the religious authorities to monitor the activities of gay groups.
“For Muslims, we must remember that being gay is against our religious teaching,” he was quoted in the local media as saying. “We want this activity to be monitored closely by the authorities and appropriate actions to be taken to prevent it from spreading as it can tarnish the image of Islam.” However, according to The Malaysian Insider online today, JAKIM director-general Datuk Wan Mohamad Sheikh Abdul Aziz said that the organisation has "no power to take legal action, the ones who can do so are the state-level religious authorities as well as the police.”
He said that Jakim could only take “precautionary” measures such as working with the Malaysian Communications and Multimedia Commission (MCMC) as well as other agencies. “Well, our actions do not have to be a matte of legal recourse, more of preventing the gay culture from spreading throughout the country. We will take measures such as providing rehabilitation programmes for those affected,” said Wan Mohamad.
To read what has been written in local newspapers, click here.