Adopt an evidence and rights based approach in addressing the increasing violence against trans and gender diverse persons

In conjunction with Transgender Day of Remembrance (TDOR) on 20 November 2019, we commemorate the lives of trans and gender diverse persons lost to hate crimes and anti-transgender violence. 

According to the Trans Murder Monitoring (TMM), globally, 350 trans and gender diverse people were reportedly murdered between 1 October 2019 and 30 September 2020, a 6% increase in reported murders from last year. The report shows: 

  • 98% of those murdered globally were trans women or trans feminine people;
  • 62% of murdered trans people whose occupation is known were sex workers;
  • 38% of the murders took place on the street and 22% in their own residence;
  • The average age of those murdered is 31 years old; the youngest being 15 years old.

In Malaysia, at least 2 cases of murder of trans women were reported between November 2019 and October 2020:

May/June 2020 – a trans woman from Indonesia was found dead in her room after she went missing for a few days. Her neighbours noticed the odor of her decomposing body and notified the police. She was allegedly murdered by her boyfriend, who is also a foreigner. 

June 2020 – a young trans woman in Johor Bahru was found dead in her home after her friends contacted her house owner as she was ‘missing ‘ for a few days. The case was investigated by the police. The outcome of the case is unknown. 

These are some key cases and trends of violence against trans women that we have documented in 2020:

  1. Violence by family members. In January 2020, a young trans woman’s plea for help circulated in WhatsApp groups and social media. She was physically assaulted and imprisoned in her house by her family members. The police, who had initially made a home visit reportedly threatened to arrest and beat up the victim if she continues to be herself. They advised her to listen to the family members. Following some interventions by human rights groups, the police rescued the young trans woman. 
  1. Violence from members of the public. In February 2020, three cases of physical assaults by groups of men were reported – two cases occurred in Kedah and one case in Perak. The cases involve stabbing and physical assaults. In one of the cases in Kedah, the trans woman was assaulted by a group of men pretending to be police officers in a public place. In the case in Perak, a trans woman was assaulted with a metal rod. Of the 3 cases, only one of them lodged a police report. The outcomes of the case are unknown. The other two did not lodge a police report due to trauma and fear of self-incrimination. 
  1. Trans women sex workers are especially vulnerable to violence. A number of cases of assault by clients or people pretending to be clients have been reported all over Malaysia. The criminalisation of sex work and transgender women under the law create multiple barriers for trans women sex workers to access redress and report cases of violence. 
  1. The sexual objectification and stereotype of trans women as sex workers increases their vulnerable to sexual violence and harassment in public, private, online and other spaces. This includes among others, being stalked, harassed, molested, and flashed. In one case, a trans woman who owns a shop faced sexual harassment and violence by multiple men who visit her shop. In another case, a man broke into a trans woman’s house multiple times to coerce her into having sex with him. She eventually moved to a different state to escape the harassment. Both women did not report the cases due to personal previous negative experience with the police when lodging police reports, fear of victim blaming, lack of confidence in the police, among others.
  1. Trans women are vulnerable to doxxing and having their photos being used for online scams. In several cases, trans women have been confronted by strangers who were affected by the scam with hostility, increasing concerns of violence. 

Trans and gender diverse people are also hard hit by the Covid-19 pandemic. Aside from being disproportionately affected economically, many trans and gender diverse living with unaccepting family members are vulnerable to violence and increased mental health issues. SEED Malaysia observes an increase in trans women seeking shelter due to violence and lack of acceptance by family members.

Our documentation shows while trans and gender diverse persons face multiple forms of violence, most cases are not reported. Many trans women, especially sex workers lack access to justice due to the multiple forms of criminalisation under the laws, state policies that promote ‘rehabilitation’, and the increasing social stigma, perception and attitudes towards transgender people. 

In addition, previous negative and traumatic experiences with the police and state officials deter trans and gender diverse persons from seeking support and assistance. As a result, these violence that could have been prevented, are prolonged with impunity and remain invisible. Further, trans and gender diverse persons are burdened to resolve the violence and violations that they face on their own, deepening their marginalisation.

The sense of marginalisation, neglect, and lack of security and safety experienced by trans and gender diverse persons is further aggravated by exclusionary, non evidence and rights based statements by state actors. In line with the government’s vision of shared prosperity and commitment to leave no one behind, we recommend:

  1. Human rights and gender sensitisation training for police officers and government staff to reduce stigma and mistreatment against trans and gender diverse persons. 
  2. Cases of crimes against trans and gender diverse persons are currently recorded based on their gender identity, instead of according to the assigned identity on the national registration identity card (NRIC). As a result, there is a lack of documentation and analysis of cases of crimes against trans and gender diverse persons. 
  3. Allow trans and gender persons to change their gender marker on their legal documents
  4. The government to implement the CEDAW Concluding Observation in relation to trans women, which include: 
    • Adopt anti-bullying policies based on alternative strategies to address bullying, such as counselling services and positive discipline, and undertake awareness-raising measures to foster equal rights for LBTI students;
    • Amend all laws which discriminate against LBTI women, including the provisions of the Penal Code and Syariah laws that criminalise same-sex relations between women and ‘cross-dressing’;
    • Apply a policy of zero-tolerance with regard to discrimination and violence against LBTI women, including by prosecuting and adequately punishing perpetrators;
    • Expedite measures to discontinue all policies and activities which aim to “correct” or “rehabilitate” LBTI women.

download & share these Transgender Day of Remembrance (TDoR) visuals

In conjunction with Transgender Day of Remembrance (TDOR) on 20 November 2019, we commemorate the lives of trans and gender diverse persons lost to hate crimes and anti-transgender violence.

This year, at least 2 cases of murder of trans women were reported and many cases of hate crimes were documented in Malaysia. Globally, 350 trans and gender-diverse people registered murdered between 1 October 2019 and 30 September 2020. Of which,

  • 98% of those murdered globally were trans women or trans feminine people;
  • 62% of murdered trans people whose occupation is known were sex workers

Together we can end violence against trans and gender diverse persons in Malaysia and globally. We encourage you to download and share these visuals via social media or other platforms with your friends and family members to help raise awareness regarding the violence experienced by trans and gender diverse people.

TDoR visuals in BM

TDoR visuals in English

Respect trans women & end all prosecution against them

We are deeply concerned by a raid of a birthday party by the Kedah Islamic Department on 27 October 2020, where 30 transgender women attendees of the 100 attendees were singled out and given notice to report back at the Kedah Islamic Department on separate dates to be investigated under Section 26, which penalises ‘male persons wearing female attire in a public place’.

The organiser, who was celebrating his birthday, was also handed a notice to report back to the department to be investigated under Section 31 for ‘encouraging vice’. 

The raid also resulted in the private event being abruptly ended due to instructions by the state Islamic Department. The raid was carried out with the police, and news reports suggest that some media outlets were also present at the raid.

Following the constitutional review of Section 66 of the Negeri Sembilan Syariah Criminal Offences Enactment in 2015, there has been a significant reduction of cases of arrest under the ‘posing as a man’ state enactments based on our collective monitoring. However, we have observed a resurgence  of raids and arrests of transgender women in the last year. In most cases, the raids are a result of an alleged ‘tip-off’ or complaint, and the trans women are mostly subjected to ‘counselling’. This is a concerning trend.

Trans women are women & gender is diverse

First and foremost, trans women are not pretending, posing or acting as women. They are women, and as such express themselves in a way that is authentic and representative of who they are and their identity. There is countless evidence in history, science and other fields that clearly show the existence of gender diversity through the ages and that gender diversity is a normal occurrence in life.

As such, arresting and subjecting transgender women to counselling or any punishment or correction because of their gender identity and gender expression is deeply unnecessary and is a gross violation of human rights. 

While compliance with even the Standard Operating Procedures by the arresting agency is imperative, our fundamental concern is with the very act of arresting, summoning, investigating or prosecuting trans women based on their gender identity and gender expression. These actions have a wide-ranging impact and a chilling effect on the rights of transgender women, in particular, their right to live with dignity, restriction of public participation, access to social and cultural life, and right to privacy, among others.

Inconsistencies of Section 26 of the Kedah Syariah Criminal Offences Enactment and similar laws with the Federal Constitution

Section 26 of the Kedah Syariah Criminal Offences Enactment and similar laws that prohibit non-cisnormative gender identity and gender expression violate multiple fundamental rights guaranteed under the Federal Constitution and continue to arbitrarily prosecute transgender women for being who they are.

We recall the landmark Court of Appeal’s decision on Section 66 of the Negeri Sembilan Syariah Criminal Offences Enactment. Section 26 of the Kedah Syariah Criminal Enactment is worded similarly as the previous version of Section 66 of the Negeri Sembilan Enactment. In the decision, which was later set aside by the Federal Court on procedural grounds, the Court of Appeal found Section 66 to be inconsistent with the following articles in the Federal Constitution:

–     Article 5 safeguards the rights to personal liberties, including the rights of trans women to live with dignity. The court agreed that ‘the existence of a law that punishes the gender expression of transsexuals (transgender persons) … directly affects … right to live with dignity, guaranteed by Art. 5(1), by depriving them of their value and worth as members of our society.’

–       Article 8 (1) and (2) guarantees equality before the law and non-discrimination, in particular gender-based discrimination. The raid in Kedah clearly shows that trans women do not enjoy equality before the law, as only the transgender women attendees were issued the notice for an investigation on a later date.

–       Article 9 guarantees freedom of movement

–       Article 10 guarantees the right to speech and assembly. In the decision, the Court noted that freedom of expression includes the way we dress or our gender expression.

We are also deeply concerned by the investigation of the organiser for ‘encouraging vice’ and the instructions by the Kedah Islamic Department to end the event seemingly due to the inclusion and attendance of transgender women. This is a dangerous trend as it punishes event organisers, allies or people for being inclusive of transgender women. It further perpetuates the harmful stereotypes of trans women being deviants, sinners and criminals, leaving no room for social integration of transgender women in society. The state action is counter-productive to building an inclusive, safe and equal society.

We call for the Kedah Islamic Department to drop the investigation, and cease all forms of prosecution of transgender women. The state must acknowledge transgender women as autonomous and equal members of society, and dismantle prejudice, stereotypes and misinformation about transgender people.

Unethical and bias media reporting

We are also deeply disappointed by the sensational reports of the raid by Harian Metro and New Straits Times (NST). The title of the NST article which is a translation of the Harian Metro article, is degrading and sensational. The title essentially mocks the identity of transgender women, and implies that they are ‘distressed men’. We strongly recommend NST to amend the title of the article. 

The Harian Metro article and video report not only misgendered trans women multiple times, but also contained bias, disrespectful and inaccurate statements, language and title. For example, the article reinforces the notion that trans women deserve the consequences for expressing themselves. The article overlooked the unequal power dynamics between the state and transgender women, and the systemic impact of the laws that criminalise transgender people.  

The report only contained quotes by the state Islamic Department, which uses a pejorative term for transgender women. The article could have also featured voices of the transgender women attendees or transgender human rights groups in order to provide different perspectives on the raid.

Harian Metro was also reportedly at the raid. We have many questions surrounding the presence of the media at the raid, including how did the media learn about the raid, and what was their intention of covering the raid?

We have contacted Harian Metro to make changes to the article in order to remove the prejudicial and sensational elements, and maintain a factual, ethical and non-bias reporting. However, no changes have been made so far, and we have not received a reply from Harian Metro.

Endorsed by

  1. Justice for Sisters 
  2. SEED Malaysia 
  3. Pelangi Campaign 
  4. People Like Us Support ourselves (PLUsos)   
  5. Queer Lapis 
  6. Tenaganita 
  7. Amnesty International Malaysia 
  8. Sisters in Islam (SIS)
  9. Women’s Aid Organisation (WAO)
  10. Sarawak Women For Women Society (SWWS)
  11. Sabah Human Rights Center 
  12. Society for Equality, Respect And Trust for All (SERATA) 
  13. Sabah Women Action Resource Group (SAWO)
  14. All Women’s Action Society (AWAM)
  15. Center for Independent Journalism (CIJ)
  16. Persatuan Sahabat Wanita Selangor (PSWS)
  17. Pertubuhan Kesihatan Dan Kebajikan Umum (PPKUM)

Pembetulan bagi artikel Harian Metro

Pembetulan 1

Padah berlagak wanita untuk ditukar kerana bahasa yang digunakan mempunyai konotasi menyalahkan dan menghukum wanita transgender kerana mengekspresikan diri mereka. Tajuk ini tidak mengambil kira undang-undang yang menjenayahkan wanita transgender dan kesannya, serta pematuhan undang-undang tersebut dengan Perlembagaan Persekutuan dan undang-undang hak asasi manusia antarabangsa.


–       Wanita transgender disiasat atas alasan mengekspresikan diri mereka

–       Ekspresi wanita transgender disekat undang-undang

Pembetulan 2

Lagak mereka seperti wanita, namun hakikatnya mereka adalah lelaki. Itu tindakan sekumpulan individu yang menyertai majlis sambutan hari jadi yang diadakan di sebuah hotel di Bandar Darulaman di sini, malam tadi.

Bagaimanapun, semua 30 lelaki dipercayai pondan itu hanya mampu terkedu apabila premis itu diserbu anggota penguat kuasa Jabatan Agama Islam Kedah (JAIK).

Sebuah majlis sambutan hari jadi yang dihadiri oleh 30 individu transgender di sebuah hotel di Bandar Darulaman di sini, malam tadi diserbu anggota penguat kuasa Jabatan Agama Islam Kedah (JAIK).

Pembetulan 3

Kesemua pondan berusia antara 20-an hingga 40-an itu didapati berpakaian wanita seperti gaun dan berbaju kebaya.

Kesemua wanita transgender berusia antara 20-an hingga 40-an .

Pembetulan 4

“Bagaimanapun, kami meminta mereka yang tidak berkenaan bersurai dan hasil pemeriksaan mendapati, terdapat 30 lelaki yang berpakaian wanita dan disyaki pondan.

“Bagaimanapun, kami meminta mereka yang tidak berkenaan bersurai dan hasil pemeriksaan mendapati, terdapat 30 lelaki yang berpakaian wanita dan disyaki “pondan”*.

*pondan ialah istilah yang mempunyai konotasi negatif yang digunakan untuk merujuk kepada golongan wanita transgender atau lelaki gay, biseksual dan queer. Istilah ini tidak sesuai digunakan untuk terhadap golongan wanita transgender kerana ianya merendahkan martabat diri mereka. Istilah yang lebih sesuai dan menghormati identiti mereka ialah wanita transgender atau mak nyah.

Pembetulan 5

Dalam pada itu, Radzi berkata, kesemua pondan berkenaan didapati menetap sekitar daerah ini, selain ada yang berasal dari Selangor dan negeri lain.

Dalam pada itu, Radzi berkata, kesemua wanita transgender berkenaan didapati menetap sekitar daerah ini, selain ada yang berasal dari Selangor dan negeri lain.

LGBTIQ: We are the experts of our lives

End all harmful policies and practices towards LGBTIQ persons

We, the undersigned, are concerned by the perpetuation of harmful policies and practices on lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer (LGBTQ) persons and related issues by the Prime Minister’s Department (religion).

These policies and practices, a continuation of those introduced by the previous administration, are centered on prevention; rehabilitation or treatment; and enforcement of laws. Not only are they non-evidence- and non-rights-based, but these policies and practices are also harmful and result in adverse impacts, which further exacerbate the discrimination, violence, victimization and marginalization experienced by LGBTIQ persons. More importantly, present practices and policies fail to address the urgent and actual issues faced by LGBTIQ persons: criminalization, discrimination, marginalization, and hate crimes and violence.

In several statements made by Dato’ Mujahid Yusof Rawa, Minister in the Prime Minister’s Department (religion), he emphasized that as citizens LGBTIQ persons are entitled to their constitutional rights, which must be protected. Despite this affirmation by the Minister, LGBTIQ persons have yet to enjoy the full effects of these rights.

Post GE-14, LGBTIQ persons have been subjected to multiple forms of discrimination and violence: This includes, among other things:

  • doxxing or dissemination of personal information or photos without consent;
  • hateful and violent messages and threats;
  • boycott campaigns;
  • increased vulnerability of being reported to enforcement agencies;
  • increased threats of prosecution and legal action,
  • vilification and demonization in the media.

People associated with LGBTIQ persons have also been subjected to discrimination, intimidation and violence, including hateful and violent messages for supporting the human rights of LGBTIQ persons, doxxing and being reported to enforcement agencies. There have been no serious efforts to address the wave of homophobia and transphobia post GE-14.

Rehabilitation, treatment and efforts to change sexual orientation and gender identity

The existing approach used by the Prime Minister’s Department (religion) is based on a three-pronged strategy: prevention; rehabilitation or treatment; and enforcement of laws. Rehabilitation, treatment or efforts to change sexual orientation and gender identity of LGBTQ persons are widely discredited by global health organizations and human rights bodies due to its harmful and long-term impacts.[i]

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, self-blame, decreased self-esteem and authenticity to others, increased self-hatred, amongst others.

A Report of the Special Rapporteur on torture and other cruel, inhumane or degrading treatment or punishment released in 2013 views conversion or reparative therapies as a form of torture and explicitly calls ‘all States to repeal any law allowing intrusive and irreversible treatments, including forced genital-normalizing surgery, involuntary sterilization, unethical experimentation, medical display, “reparative therapies” or “conversion therapies”, when enforced or administered without the free and informed consent of the person concerned.”[ii]

In June 2018, the World Health Organisation’s (WHO) eleventh revision of the International Classification of Diseases (ICD-11) removed of all trans-related diagnoses from the mental disorders chapter as ‘evidence is now clear that it is not a mental disorder, and indeed classifying it in this can cause enormous stigma for people who are transgender. There remain significant health care needs that can best be met if the condition is coded under the ICD.’ Gender incongruence is now reclassified under sexual health conditions in the ICD-11.[iii] Homosexuality was removed as a mental disorder in 1970 from the ICD.

Some countries are also moving in the direction to ban conversion therapy, as it is a harmful practice. Malta[iv][v] and parts of Canada[vi] and the United States[vii] have banned or regulated the practice of conversion therapy.

We believe that people should be able to understand and come into their gender identity and sexual orientation in an affirming environment. Should people choose to be heterosexual, it should be based on self determination, and not compulsion, sense of gratitude, due to incentives, amongst others. Plenty of evidence continues to affirm that gender identity and sexual orientation is a spectrum, which includes heterosexual and cisgender persons. The spectrum does not erase identities, instead it affirms and celebrates the diversity of humanity.

We are also concerned by the so-called “experts” engaged by the Prime Minister’s Department (religion). We emphasize that LGBT persons are the experts of our lives. Policies regarding LGBTIQ persons should be made in consultation with LGBTIQ persons, who are directly affected by these policies. We are concerned that the government is engaging with groups that promote the rehabilitation and criminalization of LGBTQ persons, instead of groups that uphold the human rights of LGBTIQ persons.

Impact of the government current policies and practices

The government’s overall approach towards LGBTIQ persons will result in negative socio-economic and health impacts and be costly not only for LGBTIQ persons, but also the government. This includes economic marginalization, increased health risks, migration and brain drain, increased violence and hate crime, amongst others.

Decriminalization and elimination of discrimination have been proven to be effective strategies all around and have had positive impacts in multiple areas. This includes increased quality of life, reduction of HIV prevalence rates,[viii] boost to the economy,[ix] amongst other things. The current uninformed practices and policies leave behind LGBTIQ persons, thereby hindering Malaysia’s  ability to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals.

As stated by Dato’ Mujahid, LGBTIQ persons are citizens and their constitutional rights must be protected. As such, LGBTIQ persons have the right to live dignity and to be free from all forms of discrimination, harm and violence.

These policies and practices violate Article 5 of the Federal Constitution, which guarantee a person’s personal liberty and the right to live with dignity; Article 8, which prohibits gender based discrimination; Article 10, which protects freedom of speech, assembly and association; and Article 9 on freedom of movement.

In 2018, the CEDAW Committee in its Concluding Observations to Malaysia recommended that Malaysia “expedite measures to discontinue all policies and activities, which aim to ‘correct’ or ‘rehabilitate’ LBTI women” and “amend all laws which discriminate against LBTI women, including the provisions of the Penal Code and Syariah laws that criminalize same-sex relations between women and cross-dressing.”[x]

We call on the government to:

  1. End the allocation of funds to harmful and non-evidence- and non-rights-based programmes, including rehabilitation and treatment programmes that target LGBTIQ persons and seminars that increase misinformation regarding LGBTIQ persons;
  2. End implementation of the ‘Pelan Tindakan Menangani Gejala Sosial Perlakuan (LGBT)’,[xi] a 5-year government action plan to address social ills (LGBT);
  3. Meaningfully engage with human rights-based LGBTIQ groups of diverse backgrounds, including ethnicity and religion;
  4. Establish a working group between the Prime Minister’s Department (religion) and human rights-based LGBTIQ groups to ensure the assistance provided to transgender persons are not conditional, and that government programmes are evidence- and rights-based to address the systemic discrimination experienced  by LGBTIQ persons.

This is a joint statement by

  1. Justice for Sisters
  2. Diversity
  3. PLUsos
  4. PLUHO
  6. PELANGI Campaign
  7. Transmen of Malaysia
  8. PT Foundation
  9. Malaysian Atheists and Secular Humanists (MASH)
  10. The Malaysian Feminist (TMF)
  11. Center for independent Journalism (CIJ)



[i] WPA Position Statement on Gender Identity and Same-Sex Orientation, Attraction, and Behaviours

[ii] The Report of the Special Rapporteur on torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment

[iii] ICD-11, Classifying disease to map the way we live and die

[iv] PRESS RELEASE BY THE MINISTRY FOR SOCIAL DIALOGUE, CONSUMER AFFAIRS AND CIVIL LIBERTIES: Another step forward in civil liberties…Malta criminalises conversion practices and depathologises sexual orientation, gender identity and gender expression,


[vi] Affirming Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity Act, 2015

[vii] Conversion therapy and youth

[viii] criminalising homosexuality and public health: adverse impacts on the prevention and treatment of HIV and AIDS

[ix] the relationship between LGBT inclusion and economic development: an analysis of emerging economies, November 2014

[x] Concluding observations on the combined third to fifth periodic reports of Malaysia



The right to be

Posted on 12 September 2012 – 07:36pm
Petra Gimbad

RECENTLY, cases involving minors purportedly giving consent to sexual intercourse have challenged Malaysian law, which clearly states that statutory rape is a crime. One would think that common sense dictates our values. With the recent case of the four transwomen who were arrested for wearing women’s clothing, any right-thinking taxpayer would agree that upholding children’s rights and respecting girls and women should take precedence over arresting transwomen simply for their choice of dress.

Currently, transgender rights stand practically non-existent in Malaysia. In relation to a case awaiting judgment in the Negri Sembilan High Court as reported in “Our right to cross-dress” (Aug 31) where four transwomen were criminalised for cross-dressing, this is shocking in a country that prides itself for holding Asian values.

Following the case, a few friends and I had a chat about transgender rights.

“How is it that being a transgender is a choice, when these ‘men’ choose to wear dresses and eat hormones?” a friend asked. She was sympathetic and genuinely confused.

One of us was a transwoman. She responded with gentleness. “If it were a choice, I would not have to wear a dress or make-up. I could choose not to, because society discriminates against me. When I walk home, I am bullied by men when they realise I am a transwoman. Some of my friends are molested frequently or were raped.

“It is expensive for me to buy hormones. Surgery is expensive and painful. Some of my friends do it to the point of removing their genitalia, because their boyfriends want them to. They then suffer when their boyfriends leave – despite the fact that they went through all that pain because their boyfriends asked them to in the first place.”

Colleagues and I have been fortunate to work and build friendships with inspiring transgender individuals through human rights activism, journalism and volunteer work. These contributing members pose no threat compared to abusers who commit domestic violence and marital rape. Such offenders get away because society insists on thinking of these issues as private matters instead of public ones: a crime may happen within a person’s four walls. If it is a crime, it should be and is, in fact, a public concern.

In contrast, how a person chooses to dress – a private matter – has become a public matter that is criminalised. Society needs to get its priorities straight, given that dealing with physical and sexual abuse with limited resources, is a real problem in this country. One cannot but feel some empathy for the police in relation to their workload and even despair at the thought that institutionally, there are fewer hands than what is needed to bring the real criminals to justice.

A couple of the transgenders whom colleagues and I worked with are trained scientists and academics with opportunities to make a living without turning to illegal and life-threatening work, provided that they do not experience the sort of discrimination that bars them from working in professions of choice through meritocracy. Every human being, regardless of identity or sexual orientation, wants the freedom to be able to choose the work they love.

The four transwomen awaiting a decision in the Negri Sembilan courts are make-up artists. Given opportunities, it is possible for transgenders to legitimately maintain some financial independence, but it is met with general disbelief as all transgenders tend to be tarred with the same brush and portrayed in the media as immoral, lusty and suspicious for engaging in illegal activities. This is a perspective that is sadly perpetuated both inside and outside of Malaysia.

It is unfair and undeserving when transgenders are portrayed in such a negative light. Not only does this attract further discrimination, but it also negates the best of what Malaysian society is. Where transwomen in some kampongs are embraced by their communities and are therefore able to run restaurants and make brides beautiful for their wedding day, these villages offer proof that true acceptance and diversity still exists in Malaysia. Such practised diversity should unite, rather than create conflict and opportunities for antagonism in this country.

Many transgenders I know pray five times a day or according to their faith, in order to become better people, even when suffering is inflicted by the people around them, including the people they love. Many who have lost their faith because of abuse, continue finding hope in practising patience and kindness in their everyday lives or by working in transgender activism as a practical means of caring for their friends in the same community.

With the next hearing in October, much rests on the public. How much do we care about our identity as Malaysians, if we pride ourselves on our tolerance, diversity and intelligence? Are we willing to support our judges and public servants in ensuring a compassionate and just society for all? Only time will tell.

The writer is completing her masters thesis on street children. Comment:

Sister solidarity

Sunday, February 20, 2011


EVEN popping into the convenience store down the road can be dangerous – if you are a transgender (Mak Nyah). That was what Muna* learnt last year when she went out to get the paper one morning.

Before she realised what was happening, she was surrounded by a group of men who claimed to be religious enforcement officers.

“They ordered me to hitch up my shirt and show them my bra. I was so shocked that I could only stare at them, so one of them pushed me face down to the ground and held my hands to my back while another pushed my shirt up and tugged my bra. The others only laughed,” Muna recalls.

Although it was not the first time she had been stopped by the authorities, it was the first time she had been groped and manhandled, on the street and in daylight. The incident rattled her, and for many months after that Muna was too frightened to step out of her house.

Violent abuses against the transgender community, specifically male-to-female transsexuals, also known as Mak Nyah, appear to be rising in Malaysia in the past few years, not only at the hands of the authorities and the religious police but also the ordinary Joe on the street.

Reported cases allege that during “raids” some errant enforcement officers often ask for bribes and sexual favours from the transgender. In custody, they are usually asked to strip in front of the authorities, while their breasts are groped and they are hurled with derogatory sexual remarks.

Like Muna, many in the transgender community suffer mental anguish from the fear of discrimination, abuse and persecution. Worried that they can be arrested at any time, they feel uneasy about going out.

Former Boom Boom Room dancer Dara Othman admits that it is a stressful way to live. “For most transgender, it is down to knowing where and what time is safe. But now, it seems like anytime and everywhere is not safe.”

Hence, some people – mainly those who have been working with PT Foundation (a community-based, voluntary non-profit organisation that provides information, education and care services relating to HIV/AIDS and sexuality in Malaysia – have banded together under Justice for Sisters to highlight issues surrounding violence and persecution against this community in Malaysia, as well as provide them support and assistance.

They had met up with a group of Mak Nyah in Negeri Sembilan, heard their stories and documented some cases. S. Thilaga, one of those behind the movement, says: “At that point, many were pretty sick of the situation and wanted to change it. So we met up with a few lawyers and were told that what we can do is to challenge the law.

“Our transgender friends are up for it but they don’t have the money to challenge the law. Some can’t even make ends meet! So we thought we should do something to help them raise funds and create public awareness on the issue.” Thilaga adds that they work closely with the transgender community and try to involve them in all their initiatives. “Ultimately, we would like them to be in the forefront.”

Last December, Justice for Sisters was launched with a fundraiser concert at the Annexe Gallery, Kuala Lumpur. Recently, another fundraiser was held at Map KL, Dutamas – its third since the launch. The target is to raise up to RM60,000, says Thilaga, not only to help the transgender community challenge the matter in court, but also to help those who are left in dire financial straits while pursuing their legal defence.

Unfortunately, Justice for Sisters has only managed to raise slightly more than a third of that sum.

Also Malaysian

There are an estimated 30,000 plus transgenders in the country, for whom dealing with rejection from the so-called “normal” members of society is a daily preoccupation because they don’t fit in the identity box assigned by society.

Being called names and getting dirty looks are normal occurences, Thilaga says. “Some people go to the extent of throwing bags of urine at Mak Nyahs and throwing things into their house when they are not around.”

Considered a “high-risk” group, most in the transgender community are caught in a vicious and pernicious cycle of violence and persecution for being who they are.

“Many suffer rejection by their families and some are even kicked out of their homes. They are subjected to various forms of humiliation so they stop schooling. They’re rejected for jobs and loans, and struggle to find safe shelter. They’re constantly coerced in every way and face every kind of pressure to conform (usually through violence).

“Quite a number leave their homes to look for work as early as 15 years old, but they are unable to get reasonably paid employment because people are reluctant to hire them. And if they do get hired, they are often underpaid,” says Angela Kuga Thas, another key mover of the human rights campaign.

The crux of the issue is the blatant refusal to understand and appreciate Mak Nyahs for who they are, she opines.

“They exist in every single country in this world and are as diverse as the extent and level of changes that they physically seek, yet as a community, this is their identity, this is who they are.”

In Malaysia, their identity can constitute an immoral conduct offence under civil criminal law. This is mainly used against them if they are caught in a vice-related context.

Under the Syariah criminal law, however, the Muslim transgender can be persecuted for being a man who dresses like a woman (lelaki berlagak seperti perempuan). In almost every state, this offence carries a jail term of six months (or one year in some states) or a RM1,000 fine (up to a maximum of RM5,000 in one state).

These are very hefty costs considering that Mak Nyahs are being arrested once every two months, or more frequently, says Kuga Thas. And should one be arrested for the third time, and found guilty all three times, she can be sent to prison, Thilaga says. “It is like the three strikes rule,” she notes.

According to Justice for Sisters, there is an alleged growth of arbitrary arrests of the transgender persons, especially in certain states. One transgender activist, who declines to be named, say she was even arrested for being a woman who dressed as a man.

“I was in jeans and T-shirt and looked androgynous, I guess, so they charged me with ‘menyerupai lelaki’ (dressing as a man) instead.”

However, she is used such arbitrary charges. “Sometimes these so-called enforcement officers have no identification, nor do they follow rules and procedure. They are like polis koboi (lawless cowboy enforcement officers) . Once when I was arrested, one of them grabbed my boobs and said, ‘Your butt looks like a man but you have boobs,’” she recalls bitterly.

Make-up artist Miss A* hits out at the authority’s common tactic of stripping them down to their underwear or asking them to flash their bra to prove that they are transgender.

“We are really confused. Who do we offend with our underwear? Whose business is it what we wear under our clothes anyway? So, what do they want us to do, let everything hang out?”

Kuga Thas, who is an advocate for women’s empowerment and non-discrimination, believes those in power and in authority need to realise that no amount of coercion and violence will change the transgender community because “Mak Nyahs are Mak Nyahs.

“They are who they are, inside and outside of their homes. They are not pretending to be women and they are certainly not impersonating women. They identify as women, not men, and many often begin to feel that way between the ages of seven and 10.

Dara concurs: “People have no right to ask us to change. I always feel that God made us the way we are for a reason, so it is not up to the people to judge.”

Kuga Thas alleges that ever since they started challenging the law by having the arrested transgender plead “not guilty” to the charge against them under Syariah law, there has been a crackdown on them.

“They are targetted for arrests as soon as they step out of their homes. . This form of persecution would have received a massive amount of protest if it were to happen to other Malaysians.”

To Thilaga it is a simple human right issue. “Just because they are transgender, and a minority group, doesn’t mean that they don’t have rights. While they are visible, they are a muted group. That is why, in solidarity, we should stand with them to fight for their rights. We should be outraged that their rights are being violated because of who they are.

Kuga Thas agrees. “As Malaysians, we should be appalled that our transgenders continue to suffer violence and persecution for their identity.

“Everyone else has the freedom to be out as late and as long as they want, to dress the way they want to, to have any hairstyle they like, to meet up with friends for food and drinks, and have a social life.

“Why not the Mak Nyahs? Why shouldn’t they have this freedom? They are fellow human beings and they are fellow Malaysians,” she adds.

* Not her real name.

Those who are interested to find out more about Justice for Sisters or contribute to the cause can e-mail