Debunking harmful myths & misinformation regarding LGBTIQ persons in Malaysia

The two consecutive anti-LGBT events by the Department of Islamic Development Malaysia (JAKIM) in Universiti Malaya and the Selangor State Islamic Department in Shah Alam on October 13th and 14th respectively are a genuine cause for alarm. From their biased content to the use of public funds, and the support by a public education institution along with the Selangor state government, the events reflect a slew of problems. Above all, the myths, assumptions, bias and misinformation shared during the events have a harmful impact on lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, intersex and queer persons (LGBTIQ) persons and society.

Disseminating false and harmful information that stereotypes and misrepresents the realities of LGBT persons is a form of discrimination and violence. The event in UM by JAKIM stereotyped and sexualized experiences of LGBTQ persons. The forum featured two repented or former LGBT persons, focused mostly on their sexual experiences, drug use, and personal choices. Both events used the narrative that LGBT persons are lost and confused, hooked on drugs, alcohol and sex, and are morally bankrupt, amongst others. Some of the experiences portrayed had no connection to sexual orientation and gender identity. Meanwhile, some experiences were directly and clearly a result of the lack of acceptance from family members and multiple forms of discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity. However, these links were not discussed.

The assumptions and stereotypes that depict LGBT persons as not religious, spiritual and/or morally bankrupt are completely untrue. The reality is there are many LGBT persons who actively practice and deeply believe in their religion and spirituality. LGBT persons have the same right to religion and spirituality as cisgender heterosexual people. In fact, it is the rejection and ex-communication by religious institutions (not limited to state Islamic departments) that cause deep conflicts within LGBT persons and sometimes lead to self-harm.

The information shared during the events lacked structural and systemic analysis of the discrimination experienced by LGBT persons. It placed the blame and responsibility solely on the individual, as opposed to the social, cultural, economic and political context the person is in. The discrimination, violence, exclusion and marginalization of LGBT persons do not exist in a vacuum. At the root of this is the continued refusal to recognise the lived experiences of LGBT persons, facts and evidence; discriminatory laws, policies and practices; barriers to access basic rights including education, employment, healthcare; amongst others. As a result, LGBT persons face increased health burden including stress, anxiety, depression, suicidal ideas; increased poverty; lack social safety nets; amongst others. The role of family members and friends are critical for LGBT persons, and has a life changing effect. Without affirmation and support from family members and/or friends, LGBT persons face increased challenges, including withdrawal of emotional and financial support, isolation, domestic violence, and conversion therapy, amongst others.

The session in Shah Alam, part of a religious talk series by the Selangor State Islamic Department, featured a pantomime performance by school children. It is extremely disconcerting that school children are being brainwashed and used to promote anti-LGBT messages. Indoctrinating children with feelings of prejudice and hate is dangerous. If we have learned anything from the recent cases of deaths in schools, bullying on the grounds of gender expression can be deadly. In June 2017, Nhaveen, a young person from Penang died as a result of physical assault by some former schoolmates. Underlying the violence, amongst others, was the on-going bullying Nhaveen experienced based on gender expression, later revealed by Nhaveen’s friends, family members and teachers.

The organizers stressed that LGBT persons should not be discriminated, teased and bullied, and that family members should love their LGBT children. In line with JAKIM’s “soft approach”, attendees were advised to embrace LGBT persons, but advise and encourage them to suppress themselves to prevent them from ‘terjebak dalam LGBT’ (getting sucked into LGBT). What JAKIM, the Islamic state departments, and organizers fail to recognize is that suppression of our identities and who we are is a form of discrimination, violence and torture. Forcing people to confine themselves to the binary constructs of ‘man’ and ‘woman’ and heterosexual norms is harmful, unrealistic and more importantly amounts to the erasure of our identities and diversity. This forced suppression results in internalized oppression, self-harm, mental health issues, and forced marriages among other things, that have a destructive and systemic impact on society in general.

Finally, the talk in UM included screenshots of social media accounts of actual or perceived LGBT persons in the presentation session. This raises concerns of outing, or non-consensual disclosure of sexual orientation and gender identity, privacy, and violence towards LGBT persons.

DEBUNKING MYTHS

Myth #1. Five factors that make one LGBT

JAKIM claims that there are 5 factors that make one LGBT: parenting, traumatic events (sexual violence), pornography, bullying, and environmental factors. These are myths that have in fact been debunked.                        

Historical and anthropological evidence show that sexual and gender diversity have always existed across the world. This includes hijra in Indiacalabai, calalai and bissu in Indonesiaasog/bayugin in the Philippinesmukhannathun in Makkah and MedinaFa’afafine in Samoa and New Zealand; Māhū in Hawai’I; two-spirit in North America, and more. Michael Peletz in his book Gender Pluralism in South East Asia documents the existence of sida-sida,[1] gender-diverse identities similar to present-day transgender persons, in the palaces of Negeri Sembilan, Kelantan, Johor, and other parts of the Peninsula Malaya and parts of Indonesia. In Borneo, there are accounts of identities such as manang balibasir, and balian[2] are described as people who were assigned male at birth, who embodied female identity and performed gender roles performed by cisgender women.

It cannot be stressed enough that diversity of sexual orientations, gender identities and expressions and sex characteristics are normal occurrences in life. Just like cisgender heterosexual persons, LGBT and people of other identities also exist. There is no evidence to support the claim that childhood trauma, experiences of abuse in childhood, parenting skills, absent fathers and domineering mothers or tension in the family are factors that cause one to be gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender, queer, or anything other than cisgender heterosexual.

In 1975, the American Psychological Association (APA) removed homosexuality from the Diagnostic Statistical Manual (DSM), as “research has found no inherent association between any of these sexual orientations and psychopathology” and “heterosexual behavior and homosexual behavior are normal aspects of human sexuality.”

While gender dysphoria[3] is in the current DSM 5, it has undergone major revisions to provide further clarification and guidance to healthcare providers as well as to remove stigma in relation to trans persons. This includes the replacement of “gender identity disorder” with “gender dysphoria” in DSM 5, and clarification that ‘gender nonconformity is not in itself a mental disorder. The critical element of gender dysphoria is the presence of clinically significant distress associated with gender dysphoria”

The gender dysphoria diagnosis also includes “a post-transition specifier for people who are living full-time as the desired gender (with or without legal sanction of the gender change). This ensures treatment access for individuals who continue to undergo hormone therapy, related surgery, or psychotherapy or counseling to support their gender transition.” At the same time, it is important to note that people are able to determine their own gender identity without a diagnosis by healthcare providers. The diagnosis of gender dysphoria facilitates access to hormone replacement therapy and other trans specific healthcare services. In many countries, including Malta and India, medical evidence, including diagnosis by mental health professional of gender identity is not required in order to change the details in legal documents. The changes are made based on self-determined gender identity, as individuals are capable of recognizing and identifying their own gender identity based on their lived experiences.

Reality of sexual violence experienced by LGBTIQ persons

LGBT persons experience increased risks of sexual violence because of their sexual orientation, gender identity, gender expression and sex characteristic. In some cases, LGBT persons are sexually assaulted as a form of correction, to exercise power over and amongst others. In many cases, LGBT persons’ first sexual experiences are sexual violence. In many situations, LGBT persons across age groups are not able to share their experiences or report cases of sexual violence because of victim-blaming, self blame and rationalization, lack of friendly and affirming services, lack of information, amongst others. This creates an environment that disempowers and silences LGBT persons and emboldens perpetrators.

It extremely problematic to distort experiences of sexual violence; not only does it effectively silence LGBT persons from sharing their experiences but also increases barriers for LGBT persons in seeking services and working through trauma. We emphasize that the experience of sexual violence do not make one LGBT. However, LGBT persons experience increased vulnerabilities of sexual violence and face increased barriers to report cases of violence.

The issues that need to be addressed, amongst others are agency of people across age and diverse sexual orientation, gender identity and sex characteristics to share or report experiences of sexual violence; comprehensive and inclusive sex education of diverse identities; friendly services for LGBT persons of all ages to report sexual violence.

Myth #2. LGBT persons can be corrected or return to the ‘right path’

A central theme in JAKIM’s anti-LGBT messaging and efforts is that sexual orientation and gender identity can be changed through rehabilitation/ conversion therapy and the suppression of sexual orientation and gender identity. JAKIM categorises LGBT persons who are Muslim into 3 groups: those who have repented, those who are repenting, and those who are firm in their LGBT identities. The two former sub-groups should be assisted, guided and not discriminated. Meanwhile, the third group must be reasoned with rational arguments.

Gender, sex characteristics and sexual orientations are not binary instead they are a spectrum. All persons should have access to information regarding gender and sexuality, and feel safe to explore, understand and express their gender and sexuality. While we respect the choices of people who choose to change their sexual orientation and gender identity, the notion of “former” LGBT persons and what compels people to change needs to be further analyzed.

The Mukhayyam programme, a rehabilitation programme by JAKIM for LGBT persons claims to be a strategy to reduce prevalence of HIV, among other things. While there is an appearance of change by the participants of the programme, the Global AIDS Response Progress Report 2016 notes that there is no evidence to prove the efficacy of this programme.

Mukhayyam is a special program aimed at creating awareness on principles of Islamic teaching, self enhancement apart from HIV awareness. Targeting key populations, enrolment to this program is voluntary. Many who attended this program have reported change in behaviour to less risky or risk free but there has been no data to support this claim. (page 17, Global AIDS Response Progress Report 2016)

Not only is rehabilitation and corrective therapy ineffective, but it also creates more harm. All major national mental health organizations have rejected and expressed concerns regarding therapies that aims to correct or change gender identity, gender expression and sexual orientation, as there is a lack of evidence that support the efficacy of these efforts or therapies.

In 2009, the American Psychological Association (APA) issued a report concluding that the risks of conversion therapy practices include: depression, guilt, helplessness, hopelessness, shame, social withdrawal, suicidal tendencies, substance abuse, stress, disappointment, self-blame, decreased self-esteem and authenticity to others, increased self-hatred, hostility and blame toward parents, feelings of anger and betrayal, loss of friends and potential romantic partners, problems in sexual and emotional intimacy, sexual dysfunction, high-risk sexual behaviours, a feeling of being dehumanised and untrue to self, a loss of faith, and a sense of having wasted time and resources.

In 2012, the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) stated that purport to “cure” people with non-heterosexual sexual orientation lack medical justification and represent a serious threat to the health and well-being of affected people. Additionally, PAHO also emphasized that therapy to change sexual orientation brings ‘a serious threat to the health and well-being—even the lives—of affected people.’ In the same year, Dr. Robert L. Spitzer, a former advocate of conversion therapy, issued a public apology, and retracted his support for conversion therapy.

In the context of Malaysia, the UN Special Rapporteur on health, during his visit to Malaysia in November 2014, expressed concern over the “so-called “corrective therapies” by the state agencies.

Such therapies are not only unacceptable from a human rights perspective, but they are also against scientific evidence, and have a serious negative impact on the mental health and well-being of adolescents. State-led programs to identify, “expose”, and punish LGBT children have contributed to a detrimental educational environment where the inherent dignity of the child is not respected, and discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity is encouraged.”

It is extremely concerning that public health policies are being made based on ineffective and non-evidence based approaches. It is misguided and naïve to assume that prevalence of HIV will decline via rehabilitation of LGBT persons, that is making LGBT persons suppress their gender identity and sexual orientation.

Myth #3. LGBT persons are the leading cause of HIV

The claim that LGBT persons are the leading cause of HIV is untrue, counterproductive and simply irresponsible. Such statements, especially in an environment where LGBT people are already stigmatized, risk increasing stigma, discrimination, stereotype and misinformation regarding HIV and LGBT persons, and could lead to rollback of rights of people living with HIV. For example, in 2017, a local college in Selangor explicitly stated in its admission criteria that admission would be revoked or rejected for applicants who are HIV positive or experience mental health issues.

The Global AIDS Response Progress Report 2016 reports a shift in trend of prevalence from transmission through unsafe injecting practices to transmission via sexual intercourse. Another concerning pattern that was observed is in relation to age. The report notes that the bulk of infection involves young people between ages of 20 and 39 years old. A media release by the Malaysian AIDS Council in October 2017 notes:

“… Malaysia is facing a sexual health crisis. Of the reported 3,397 new HIV infections last year, 84 per cent or 2,864 were sexually transmitted – 1,553 homo/bisexual (46 per cent) and 1,311 heterosexual transmissions (38 per cent) respectively. The rise in sexually transmitted HIV has come to characterise the national AIDS epidemic since 2010 when, for the first time, new HIV infections attributed to sexual transmission superseded unsafe drug injecting practices and other modes of transmission.”

LGBT persons are not inherently at risk of HIV. It is crucial to examine the correlation between the rise in prevalence of HIV among gay men and transgender women and the rise of anti-LGBT activities, criminalization, legal, socio-political and economic barriers and discrimination faced by LGBT population in general. Evidence shows that LGBT persons face increased vulnerability and health risks, including HIV, STI, mental health issues amongst others as a result of the multiple forms of discrimination that LGBT persons experience. Thus, the biggest contributor to HIV is stigma and discrimination, not LGBT persons.

A report by the United Nations Country Team in 2014, “The Review and Consultation on the Policy and Legal Environments Related to HIV Services in Malaysia” provides an overview of the HIV epidemic in Malaysia. Notably, the removal of criminal laws and discriminatory practices being critical in transforming the global AIDS response:

“In Malaysia, the HIV epidemic continues to be concentrated among key populations, who often represent highly ostracized and stigmatized segments within all societies. Members of these communities are not only rejected socially, but further marginalized through legal frameworks that cast them as criminals. Criminal laws and discriminatory practices based on moral judgment, superstition, ancient beliefs, fear and misinformation, punish instead of protect. They drive at-risk communities underground, preventing them from accessing lifesaving treatment and prevention information and services, heightening their risk for HIV.

The Global Commission on HIV and the Law (2010-2012), a high-level initiative launched in 2010 by UNDP Administrator, Helen Clark, examined how law and practices can transform the global AIDS response. The Commission’s findings and recommendations reveal that evidence-based laws and practices firmly grounded in human rights are powerful instruments for challenging discrimination, promoting public health, and protecting human rights. The benefits are felt beyond HIV responses to encompass health and development outcomes more broadly.

Furthermore, United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (ESCAP) Resolutions 66/10 and 67/9 recommended that punitive laws and policies targeting key populations be abolished to reduce levels of social stigma, discrimination, violence and broader human rights violations.”

Terminologies

Assigned sex at birth – identity assigned based on genitals, typically, female, male, etc. however, sex or sex characteristics refer to a combination of chromosomes, internal and external sexual organs, secondary sex characteristics, and hormones.

Gender identity – personal sense of identification (typically, girl, boy, gender fluid or queer etc.) based on how one feels and sees themselves. Typically, gender identity is also assigned at birth according to genital based on assumption. However, gender identity and sex are two separate things, and do not have be consistent, aligned or match.

Cisgender – a person whose sex assigned at birth ‘match’ their gender identity

Transgender – a person whose sex assigned at birth ‘does not match’ their gender identity

Trans woman – a transgender person whose gender identity is a girl/woman

Trans man – a transgender person whose gender identity is a boy/man

Gender queer – a person identifies as neither girl/woman or boy/man, non-binary, combination of gender categories or other forms of gender identity

See gender bear for more information

[1] Sida-sida resided in the inner chambers of the palace, and were ‘entrusted with the sacred regalia and the preservation of the ruler’s special powers’. Further references to sida-sida can be found in the Hikayat Melayu, such as Hikayat Amer Hamzah. Professor Datuk Dr. Shamsul Amri Baharuddin, a Malaysian anthropologist, also provides a first-hand account of seeing sida-sida in a palace as a child, describing them as people who were assigned male at birth, who dressed and performed gender roles of women.

[2] Basir, in Gender Pluralism in South East Asia, are described as someone who “dresses like a woman in private life as well, and parts their hair in the middle of their forehead just like a (cisgender) woman.” Manang bali, basir and balian were also ritual specialists, shamans and healers, among others.

[3] Gender dysphoria is a diagnosis for people whose gender at birth is contrary to the one they identify, including but not limited to transgender persons.

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Keadilan untuk Sameera – Pastikan siasatan yang teliti dan mereka di sebalik pembunuhan Sameera dibawa ke muka pengadilan

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Kami seperti yang tertera di bawah amat sedih berikutan pembunuhan kejam Sameera Krishnan, seorang wanita transgender atau mak nyah muda pada 23 Februari 2017 sekitar jam 3.30 pagi di Kuantan, Malaysia. Sameera bukan sahaja diserang dengan pisau dan ditetak pada bahagian tangan, kaki, kepala, serta kaki, dia juga ditembak sebanyak tiga kali. Sameera bekerja sebagai seorang penjual bunga di Kuantan dan dikenali oleh keluarga serta rakan-rakannya sebagai seorang yang lemah lembut dan rendah hati. Pengebumian Sameera telah disempurnakan pada Jumaat, 24 Februari, yang juga merupakan tarikh lahirnya.

Kami mengalu-alukan siasatan pembunuhan tersebut oleh pihak polis yang dilakukan secara segera, dan berharap pihak polis akan menerbit hasil siasatan ini kepada orang awam. Kami berharap keadilan dapat dilaksanakan untuk Sameera. Pembunuhan yang tidak berperikemanusiaan ini telah dikenalpasti berhubung dengan sebuah kes yang masih berterusan melibatkan Sameera di mana pada Februari 2015, Sameera telah diculik dan dirogol oleh beberapa orang samseng. Sameera telah ditetapkan untuk muncul di mahkamah pada bulan hadapan sebagai saksi utama kes ini.

Sementara kita menunggu siasatan dan motif pembunuhan tersebut dikenalpasti pihak polis, adalah penting untuk mengakui bahawa wanita trans menghadapi jenayah kebencian dan keganasan yang melampau dan luar biasa berdasarkan identiti gender mereka. Antara sebab berlakunya keganasan sebegini termasuklah kekurangan perlindungan undang-undang, penganiayaan, persepsi negatif masyarakat terhadap individu trans, diskriminasi, dan sebagainya.

Antara 2007 dan 2016, sekurang-kurangnya 10 kes pembunuhan telah dilaporkan oleh pihak media. Dalam 10 kes-kes ini, wanita-wanita trans telah menghadapi keganasan yang melampau termasuklah dipukul dengan tukul sehingga mati, dicekik, ditikam berkali-kali, diserang secara fizikal, ditolak keluar bangunan, dilemaskan dalam kolam takungan air dan sebagainya. Walau bagaimanapun, kebanyakan kes jenayah kebencian dan keganasan terhadap golongan trans tidak dilaporkan dan tidak didokumentasikan.

Laporan media dan misgendering

Misgendering, iaitu penggunaan nama atau kata ganti nama atau rujukan lain yang tidak mencerminkan identiti gender seseorang, terhadap Sameera telah menerima kritikan meluas masyarakat dan aktivis trans termasuklah kumpulan seperti Persatuan Tamil Thirunangai Malaysia. Pihak media telah menunjukkan ketidakpekaan dan sikap tidak hormat terhadap Sameera dan individu trans lain, tidak memedulikan langsung trauma dan kehilangan yang dihadapi oleh ahli-ahli keluarga serta individu-individu tersayang Sameera.

Beberapa laporan media tentang pembunuhan Sameera terutamanya sekali artikel-artikel berbahasa Melayu merujuk kepada Sameera dengan terma-terma negatif yang mengaibkan dan tidak menyenangkan seperti ‘pondan’, ‘lelaki berperwatakan perempuan’, ‘lelaki transeksual’ dalam tajuk dan kandungan artikelnya.

Walaupun beberapa media seperti Harian Metro telah menukar perkataan ‘pondan” (terma yang mempunyai konotasi negatif terhadap wanita trans dan lelaki gay cisgender, terutamanya yang disifatkan sebagai ‘lembut’) dalam tajuk artikel mereka kepada “Mak Nyah” (terma yang sesuai untuk merujuk kepada wanita trans), terma tersebut tidak digunakan secara konsisten, menyeluruh dan memuaskan. Sebagai contoh, artikel Harian Metro tersebut yang bertajuk ‘Mak Nyah maut ditembak, ditetak’ masih mengandungi konsep salah ‘lelaki berperwatakan perempuan’ dalam kandungan artikelnya. Wanita trans bukan ‘lelaki yang berperwatakan perempuan’. Hal ini menunjukkan kurang pemahaman tentang identiti gender dan kepelbagaian gender. Tambahan pula, Mutiara FM, sebuah stesen radio tempatan, dalam rancangan paginya merujuk kepada Sameera sebagai seorang lelaki trans sambil menggelakkan identiti gendernya.

Misgendering yang konsisten dan sengaja merupakan satu bentuk keganasan kerana hal ini mejatuhkan martabat serta maruah diri individu transgender. Selain itu, misgendering juga mempunyai kesan jangka panjang yang mendalam terhadap keyakinan diri individu-individu transgender. Kami menggesa orang ramai untuk menggunakan istilah yang tepat dan tidak mempunyai konotasi negatif seperti mak nyah, trans woman, perempuan atau wanita transgender, dan transgender women. (Sila lihat analisa media dan panduan media terbitan Justice for Sisters)

Keganasan yang dialami oleh individu-individu trans tidak berlaku secara tiba-tiba dan merupakan simptom atau kesan daripada peminggiran dan halangan-halangan yang dihadapi mereka. Adalah penting untuk kita menghapuskan semua bentuk stigma dan diskriminasi yang dihadapi oleh individu-individu trans yang terus meletakkan mereka dalam situasi-situasi yang berisiko tinggi.

Semua orang, tanpa mengira identiti jantina perlu dilindungi daripada keganasan. Kami menggesa pihak berkuasa dan media untuk melayan individu trans dengan hormat dan bermaruah. Kami juga menggesa pihak polis segera membawa para penjenayah di sebalik pembunuhan Sameera ke muka pengadilan.

Disokong oleh: (menurut abjad)

  1. All Women’s Action Society (AWAM)
  2. Association of Women Lawyers Malaysia (AWL)
  3. Community Development Centre (CDC)
  4. HAKAM, National Human Rights Society
  5. Jaringan Rakyat Tertindas (JERIT)
  6. Justice for Sisters (JFS)
  7. Teoh Beng Hock Trust for Democracy
  8. Tirunangai Uthavi Karagal
  9. The G-Blog
  10. Transmen of Malaysia (TOM)
  11. Parti Sosialis Malaysia (PSM)
  12. PELANGI — Campaign for Equality and Human Rights Initiative
  13. Perak Women for Women Society (PWW)
  14. Persatuan Tamil Thirunangai Malaysia
  15. Persatuan Kesedaran Komuniti Selangor (EMPOWER)
  16. Persatuan Promosi Hak Asasi Manusia
  17. Pertubuhan Kebajikan Sinar Pelangi (PKSP)
  18. PT Foundation
  19. Seksualiti Merdeka
  20. SEED Malaysia
  21. Sisters in Islam (SIS)
  22. Suaram Malaysia
  23. Voice of Community (VOC)
  24. Women’s Aid Organisation (WAO)
  25. Women’s Centre for Change (WCC)
Terminologi

Jantina atau seks yang diberikan ketika lahir –   Identiti yang diberikan mengikut alat kelamin, selalunya perempuan, lelaki, dll. Walau bagaimanapun, jantina atau seks merujuk kepada kombinasi kromosom, organ seksual dan reproduktif luaran dan dalaman, ciri-ciri seks sekunder serta komposisi hormon.

Identiti gender – Identifikasi peribadi (contohnya: perempuan, lelaki, gender fluid atau queer, dsb) berdasarkan cara kita melihat dan mengenali diri sendiri. Selalunya, identiti gender diberikan ketika lahir adalah tekaan berdasarkan alat kelamin luaran. Akan tetapi, identiti gender dan seks adalah dua perkara berbeza, dan tidak perlu sepadan, konsisten atau selari.

Cisgender – identiti gender dan jantina/seks yang diberikan ketika lahir ‘sepadan’

Transgender – identiti gender dan jantina/seks yang diberikan ketika lahir ‘tidak sepadan’

Trans -singkatan bagi transgender

Trans woman, mak nyah, wanita atau perempuan transgender – identiti gender individu transgender itu perempuan, atau mengenali dirinya sebagai seorang perempuan

Trans man, lelaki transgender – identiti gender individu transgender itu lelaki, atau mengenali dirinya sebagai seorang lelaki

Gender queer – seorang yang tidak mengenal pasti dirinya dengan mana-mana gender, semua gender, kombinasi gender, dan sebagainya

Untuk maklumat lanjut sila lihat gender bear

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Justice for Sameera – Ensure thorough investigation & hold perpetrators accountable

c5bfqnnvmaavyrwWe, the undersigned, are deeply saddened by the senseless murder of Sameera Krishnan, a young transgender woman on 23rd February 2017 at about 3:30 a.m. in Kuantan, Malaysia.  Not only was she attacked with a knife and slashed in the hands, arms, head and legs, she was also shot three times. Sameera worked as a florist in Kuantan and is described by family and friends as a soft-spoken and a down-to-earth person. Her funeral was held on Friday, 24th February, which happened to be her birthday.

We welcome the prompt investigation of the murder by the police, and look forward to the outcome of the investigation, and justice being served. Sameera’s murder is allegedly linked to a previous case that involves her abduction and rape by a couple of gang members in February 2015. The case is still on going, and Sameera was set to appear in court next month.

As we await the outcome of the investigation and the motives of the murder by the police, it is important to acknowledge that transgender women often experience brutal and extreme forms of violence due their gender identity. Compounding the violence is the lack of protection, persecution of trans people, the negative perception of transgender persons in society and discrimination among other things.

Between 2007 and 2016, at least 10 cases of murder have been reported in the media. However, many other cases of hate crime and violence are unreported and undocumented.  In these 10 cases, the trans women were subjected to brutal violence, including being beaten to death with a hammer, strangled, gagged, stabbed multiple times, physically assaulted, pushed from a building, drowned in a water retention pond, etc.

Media reporting and misgendering

The misgendering of Sameera received wide criticism by the public and transgender activists as well as groups, including the Malaysian Tamil Trans Women Association. The media showed gross insensitivity and disrespect towards transgender persons, and complete disregard to the trauma and loss faced by Sameera’s family members and loved ones.

Several media reports of her murder, especially articles in the Malay language misgendered Sameera as ‘pondan’, ‘lelaki berperwatakan perempuan’, ‘lelaki transeksual’,‘transgender in woman’s attire’, and ‘transvestite’ in their headlines or article. While some media, including Harian Metro changed their headlines from “Pondan” (negative term used against trans women and cisgender gay men, especially effeminate gay men) to “Mak Nyah” (an acceptable colloquial term to describe transgender women) there was a lack of consistency and meaningful effort in these changes. For example, an article by Harian Metro entitled ‘Mak Nyah maut ditembak, ditetak’ still contained ‘lelaki berperwatakan perempuan’ (man with women characteristics) in its article. In addition, Mutiara FM, a local radio station in a morning programme, referred to Sameera as a transgender man, and laughed at her gender identity.

Consistent and intentional misgendering is a form of violence, and it degrades and dehumanizes transgender persons. In addition, misgendering has adverse and long lasting impact trans people’s self-esteem. We urge everyone to use accurate, affirming and respectable terms such as “mak nyah“, trans woman, “perempuan” or “wanita transgender“, and transgender women.  (See media analysis and media guides by Justice for Sisters)

The violence experienced by transgender persons does not happen in vacuum, and it is symptomatic of the marginalization and lack of inclusion of trans people in society. It is important that we dismantle all forms of stigma and discrimination faced by transgender persons that continues to place trans people in vulnerable situations.

All persons, regardless of gender identity should be protected from violence. We urge the authorities and the media, especially journalists and editors to treat trans people with respect and dignity, and bring the perpetrators of Sameera’s brutal murder to justice.

Terminologies

Assigned sex at birth – identity assigned based on genitals, typically, female, male, etc. however, sex or sex characteristics refer to a combination of chromosomes, internal and external sexual organs, secondary sex characteristics, and hormones.

Gender identity – personal sense of identification (typically, girl, boy, gender fluid or queer etc.) based on how one feels and sees themselves. Typically, gender identity is also assigned at birth according to genital based on assumption. However, gender identity and sex are two separate things, and do not have be consistent, aligned or match.

Cisgender – a person whose sex assigned at birth ‘match’ their gender identity

Transgender – a person whose sex assigned at birth ‘does not match’ their gender identity

Trans woman – a transgender person whose gender identity is a girl/woman

Trans man – a transgender person whose gender identity is a boy/man

Gender queer – a person identifies as neither girl/woman or boy/man, non-binary, combination of gender categories or other forms of gender identity

See gender bear for more information

Endorsed by:  (in alphabetical order)

  1. All Women’s Action Society (AWAM)
  2. Association of Women Lawyers Malaysia (AWL)
  3. Community Development Centre (CDC)
  4. HAKAM, National Human Rights Society
  5. Jaringan Rakyat Tertindas (JERIT)
  6. Justice for Sisters (JFS)
  7. Teoh Beng Hock Trust for Democracy
  8. Tirunangai Uthavi Karagal
  9. The G-Blog
  10. Transmen of Malaysia (TOM)
  11. Parti Sosialis Malaysia (PSM)
  12. PELANGI — Campaign for Equality and Human Rights Initiative
  13. Perak Women for Women Society (PWW)
  14. Persatuan Tamil Thirunangai Malaysia
  15. Persatuan Kesedaran Komuniti Selangor (EMPOWER)
  16. Persatuan Promosi Hak Asasi Manusia
  17. Pertubuhan Kebajikan Sinar Pelangi (PKSP)
  18. PT Foundation
  19. Seksualiti Merdeka
  20. SEED Malaysia
  21. Sisters in Islam (SIS)
  22. Suaram Malaysia
  23. Voice of Community (VOC)
  24. Women’s Aid Organisation (WAO)
  25. Women’s Centre for Change (WCC)

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Brief media analysis – Sameera’s case #justiceformeera

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Justice for Sisters conducted a brief media analysis on 15 articles published between 22 and 24 February 2017 in relation to Sameera’s murder. The analysis is limited to articles in English and BM. However, many Chinese language and Tamil language media reported the news as well.

Language Number of articles
BM 10
English 5
Total articles 15

It is extremely important to understand that our gender identity and sex are two different things, and our gender identity is not determined by our genitals. All persons, including cisgender, transgender, gender non-binary, and others are able to express and articulate their gender identity at a young age; some even as young as 4 or 5 years old. It is important to note that gender identity is not a binary, and all forms of gender identities are natural.

Despite the fact that headlines and articles explicitly mentioned that the news involves a transgender person, there were overemphasis and focus on her gender identity, sex assigned at birth and transition.

At least six (6) articles included Sameera’s sex assigned at birth and lived as a woman for the past eight years. An article in Harian Metro includes the fact that she had undergone gender affirmation surgeries at the age of 19. All of these facts are irrelevant to the matter at hand.

Only 4 out of 15 articles used the right term (transgender woman, transgender, and mak nyah) and her name.

Date Title Media Term
23-Feb-17 Transgender woman found dead with gunshot wound The star online Transgender woman
24-Feb-17 Mak nyah mati ditetak, dikebumi di hari jadi Malaysiakini mak nyah
24-Feb-17 Transgender found dead, mutilated The star Transgender
24-Feb-17 Netizens fume over Shameera’s murder as she’s laid to rest on birthday The Malaysian times Transgender

Terms

The reports in Malay language were simply appalling, and lacked basic respect for Sameera and transgender persons in general. Articles by and sourced from Bernama addressed Sameera as ‘lelaki berperwatakan perempuan’ and ‘transgender in woman’s attire’.

The report by News Straits Times used transvestite and male pronouns in the report to refer only to Sameera. The report did not include her name or name as per legal document. The report however, refers to other transgender women as ‘transwomen’ – “… the police are expected to question several transwomen here to shed further light on the matter.”

Terms Number of articles Media Source of article
A transgender in woman’s attire 1 Transgender shot three times and slashed

Free Malaysia Today

Bernama
Lelaki transseksual (Transsexual man) 1 Kes bunuh ‘mak nyah’ masih dalam siasatan

Utusan Malaysia

Pondan, mak nyah yang telah menjalani pembedahan menukar jantina
(Pondan, trans woman that has undergone sex change surgery)*pondan is pejorative term used for gay men, especially effeminate men and trans women.
1 Pondan dibunuh pada hari lahir

Kosmo

Lelaki berperwatakan wanita

(Man behaving as a woman)

4 Mak nyah maut ditembak, ditetak [METROTV]

Harian Metro

Lelaki Berperwatakan Wanita Maut Ditembak

Bernama

Lelaki berperwatakan wanita maut ditembak

Malaysiakini

Lelaki berperwatakan wanita maut ditembak, tetak

Utusan Malaysia

Bernama

 

Bernama

Mak Nyah

(Term used by the Malay trans women community)

4 Mak nyah maut ditembak, ditetak

Berita Harian

Mak nyah mati ditetak, dikebumi di hari jadi

Malaysiakini

Pembunuhan mak nyah masih misteri

Harian Metro

Ajal sehari sebelum hari lahir

Harian Metro

Transgender 2 Transgender found dead, mutilated

The Star

Netizens fume over Shameera’s murder as she’s laid to rest on birthday

The Malaysian Times

Transgender woman 1 Transgender woman found dead with gunshot wound

The Star Online

Transvestite 1 Transvestite found murdered, mutilated near Kuantan shops

News Straits Times

Name

Only 4 out of the 14 articles used Sameera’s name.

7 out 14 articles referred to Sameera by her legal name. Some of these articles mention that she goes by Sameera. However, those articles still use her legal name throughout the article.

Another 4 articles did not refer to her by name. 3 out of the 4 articles referred to her as ‘lelaki berperwatakan perempuan’ and transvestite.

Good practices and examples

A few media showed good examples that can be followed by other media, editors and journalists.

  1. Transgender woman found dead with gunshot wound, The Star Online, 23 February 2017

This article is a good example. However, it is unnecessary to include the following point – “She added that Sameera was born male but had lived as a woman for the past seven to eight years.”

  1. Why transgenders move in groups, Free Malaysia Today, 26 February 2017

In this article transgender activists are interviewed to further understand the issues around safety and security of transgender persons, and impact of the murder of the transgender community as a whole. Brutal and violent incidents like this create adverse impact on the safety, security and freedom of movement of trans people. It is also important for us to understand that these cases are not isolated incidents, and examine the underlying factors and systemic issues that lead to such violence, and place trans people in vulnerable situations.

  1. Transgender’s mum: Why would anyone do this?, The Malay Mail and Malay Mail Online, 27 February 2017

This follow up piece includes interviews with Sameera’s family members, who shared their trauma, grief and loss following her tragic death. Articles like this are important as they humanize trans people, and give space for marginalized communities to share their pain

media release: Uphold right to identity of transgender persons

The Malaysian transgender community and its allies are appalled and disappointed by the decision of the Court of Appeal on 5th January 2017 to retract the High Court order to the National Registration Department (NRD) to change the name, gender marker and last digit of the identification card number of a trans man in his National Registration Identity Card (NRIC). The decision disregards current scientific and medical understanding of gender identity as well as the realities and lived experiences of transgender people. It also displays a wilful ignorance of good practices worldwide with regards to the role of the state in its duty to uphold and protect the rights of transgender persons.

Sex is a biological construct that is usually assigned at birth based on the visible genitalia of a child. However, it comprises other aspects, including chromosomes, gonads, secondary sex characteristics and others. Gender is a personal identity based on one’s experience of one’s own gender. Sex and gender are both basic characteristics of all human beings and do not have be aligned. Legal documents, including the NRIC, bearing gender markers that do not reflect the bearer’s gender identity poses systemic and structural discrimination, which severely impedes their quality of life. For example, this mismatch poses a constant risk of humiliation and harassment to transgender persons from other people or groups.

Seeking evidence of medical intervention in order to legally recognise a transgender person’s gender is not only a backdated practice, but also exposes a fundamental misunderstanding of transgender people and gender identity. Aside from issues of affordability, accessibility to healthcare and legal barriers that impede access to healthcare; fundamentally, gender identity is not determined by our genitals. Withholding legal gender recognition of transgender people except with medical evidence that they have undergone all possible surgical and medical interventions in order to ‘completely’ transition is harmful to well-being of transgender persons, and places trans people at the risk of undergoing unwanted procedures.

On top of that, asking for evidence of chromosomal change is, as quoting Justice S. Nantha Balan who presided over the case at the High Court, “The male XY and female XX chromosome will remain static throughout the individual’s natural life. To insist on the “chromosomal requirement is to ask for the impossible.” Someone who is transgender does not identify with the sex they were assigned with at birth. While there are procedures to closer align external body parts to one’s self-image, science has yet to come up with ways to change one’s gonads or chromosomes. This makes it impossible for Malaysian transgender persons to access their fundamental human right to identity. It is important for the courts and the state agencies to keep themselves updated on current information and scientific knowledge of sex and gender. Our ignorance and lack of understanding cannot perpetuate the marginalization and violence that is so prevalent towards trans people. Most importantly, any discourse of transgender people must be guided by evidence and lived experiences of trans people.

We urge the government, the judiciary and the National Registration Department to look at practices and policy in countries like Malta, Ireland, Colombia, Argentina and Denmark with regards to legal gender recognition. In these countries, legal gender recognition is a simple and hassle-free administrative procedure that legally recognises a person’s self-determined gender with a simple declaration, without any need for medical or psychological intervention or assessments. While this does not solve all the issues that transgender people face in Malaysia, it will significantly improve the quality of life for transgender people in Malaysia. The National Registration Department must review its current practices and policy in order to reduce harm towards trans people and afford transgender people a greater ability to rightfully participate as part of society.

 

MUST READ: High court decision on change of name & gender marker

A recent decision on name and gender change gives new hope. download and read the decision here. HC 2016 Nantha Balan Tan vs NRD

“The Plaintiff has a precious constitutional right to life under Article 5(1) of the Federal Constitution and the concept of ‘life’ under Article 5 must necessarily encompass the Plaintiff’s right to live with dignity as a male and be legally accorded judicial recognition as a male.” Justice Nantha Balan

Some salient points:

Page 31

Arahan Jabatan Pendaftran Negara Bil. 9/2007 paragraph 5.7.1 states that change in gender marker on identification card is not allowed except with a court order. Four documents that are required to change name and gender on the identification card:

  1. Court order that includes the details of the requested gender
  2. Supporting letter from a government doctor (if available)
  3. Letter to confirm gender affirmation surgeries by the hospital that provided the services
  4. Birth certificate (original and copy)

Arahan Jabatan Pendaftran Negara Bil. 9/2007 paragraph 5.7.1  pindaan jantina dalam kad pengenalan adalah tidak dibenarkan kecuali aas perintah mahkamah. Dokumen yang diperlukan

  1. perintah mahkamah yang mengandungi butir-butir pengisytiharan jantina baru pemohon
  2. surat pengesahan doktor kerajaan (jika ada)
  3. surat pengesahan pembedahan penukaran jantina yang dikeluarkan oleh hospital berkenaan
  4. sijil lahir (asal dan salinan)

The courts in Malaysia use Corbett vs Corbett and Bellinger vs Bellinger as precedents. Based on the precedents, four criteria are considered, which includes: chromosomal, gonadal, genital and psychological factors. However, neither chromosome nor genitals determine our gender identity. The current change of name and gender change process is based on operative status and medical intervention.

Mahkamah di Malaysia menggunakan legal precedents Corbett vs Corbett and Bellinger vs Bellinger. berdasarkan dua kes ini, empat kriteria perlua diambil kira: kromosom, gonad (organ reproduktif), genital dan faktor psychology. seperti mana yang kita tahu, kromosom atau genital tidak menentukan identiti gender kita. proses ini berdasarkan status pembedahan dan intervensi perubatan. oleh yang demikian, proses ini terbatas kepada mereka yang sudah menjalani pembedahan.

In addressing the chromosomal criteria, Judge Nantha Balan followed the approach taken by the Family Court in Australia in Attorney General For the Commonwealth v Ken and Others 2003, where “the court emphasized on the importance abandoning the chromosomal factor and highlighting the imperative need to view the matter from the physiological and physiological perspective.”

 

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