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

Four get leave to challenge law barring cross-dressing

Source: Malaysiakini, November 4, 2011 (by Hafiz Yatim)

In what is believed to be a test constitutional case involving the transgender community, the Seremban High Court today granted leave (permission) to four applicants to challenge a syariah law barring them from dressing as females.

Justice Rosnaini Saub, in her decision granting leave, recognised that the matter involved various constitutional issues.

“As it involves valid constitutional issues, the court is granting leave to hear the application,” she said.

No date has been fixed to hear the application. In judicial review cases, it is not an automatic right for the cases to be heard as the applicants have to gain the court’s permission to initiate proceedings.

This is to ensure that the application is not frivolous.

The four – Muhamad Juzaili Mohd Khamis, 24, Shukor Jani, 25, Wan Fairol Wan Ismail, 27, and Adam Shazrul Mohd Yusoff, 25 – named the Negri Sembilan Islamic Affairs Department, its director, chief syariah enforcement officer, chief syariah prosecutor and the state government as respondents.

Working as bridal make-up artists

The four applicants, who are working as bridal make-up artists, identify themselves as women and dress as women.

They claimed that Section 66 of the Syariah Criminal (NS) Enactment denies them the right to freely express themselves.

They claimed that the section was unconstitutional as it violated:

  • Article 5(1) of the federal constitution, which enshrines the right to personal liberty.
  • Article 8(2), which states that “…there shall be no discrimination against citizens on the grounds only of religion, race, descent, place of birth or gender in any law…”
  • Article 9(2), which enshrines the right of every citizen to move freely throughout Malaysia.
  • Article 10(1)(a), which states that every citizen has the right to freedom of expression.
  • Article 4(1), which declares void any law that is inconsistent with the federal constitution.

All four were represented by Aston Paiva, while senior federal counsel Suhaila Harun appeared for the respondents.

The four claimed they had undergone psychological evaluation and a Hospital Kuala Lumpur psychiatrist had classified all of them to possess gender identity disorder.

Muhamad Juzaili, Shukor, Wan Fairol and Adam Shazrul knew of the gender conflict when they were 15, 20, 13 and 13 years old respectively, in that they showed the mannerisms of women.

All four claimed that they had been arrested, sexually molested, battered and subjected to degrading treatment.

Arrested several times

Muhammad Juzaili had been arrested four times in 2010 alone and charged three times under Section 66, where in the first two he was convicted and paid fines of RM700 and RM1,000 respectively.

Shukor and Wan Fairol were separately arrested and detained twice, while Adam Shazrul had also been arrested twice since 2005, of which he was convicted once and ordered to pay a fine of RM800.

All four claimed that as a result of the enactment, they had difficulty to move about and this violated their rights under Article 9 (2) regarding mobility. They also claimed that, among others, Section 66 was in violation of Article 5 on liberty, particularly to having the freedom to choose.

They are seeking several declarations, including that Section 66 of the Syariah Criminal (Negri Sembilan) Enactment 1992 is inconsistent with Article 8(2), Article 10 (1) (a) , Article 5(1) and Article 8(1), Article 9(2).

Alternatively, they are seeking a declaration that Section 66 has no effect and is not applicable to them, who are psychologically women or have gender identity disorder.

They are also seeking an order to prohibit the chief syariah enforcement officer or his agents from taking action or conducting or continuing investigations on them, besides other relief deemed fit by the court and costs of their application.