Malaysian government must take urgent and meaningful actions to curb the increasing discrimination and violence against transgender 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.

Between November 2018 and November 2019, 331 trans and gender diverse people were reported killed globally. A large majority of the victims of these senseless killings were sex workers.

In Malaysia, at least 4 cases of murder of trans women were reported between November 2018 and October 2019:

    • December 2018 – A trans woman, allegedly a sex worker from was beaten to death by a group of men allegedly over a stolen hand phone. She died due to severe head injuries caused by a blunt object. Her case was investigated as murder under Section 302 of the Penal Code. However, the outcome of the case is unknown.
    •  January 2019 – A trans woman from Sabah, allegedly a sex worker in Klang was found murdered. The perpetrator alleged that the woman stole his hand phone and jumped out of the car when she was confronted for the theft. Her case was investigated. However, the outcome of the case is unknown.
    • October 2019 – A trans woman of Thai nationality was found dead in a hotel in Langkawi. Her body was found a few days after the murder. The status of investigation of this case is unknown
    • October 2019 – A trans woman in Perak was reportedly murdered. The case was either unreported or misreported and was discovered through community networks.

While cases of hate crimes and murders are underreported and misreported (as victims are often misgendered), there is an upward trend of murders in the last 3 years. Between 2017 and 2019 alone, at least 9 cases of murders have been reported. This makes up 47% of the total 19 cases that have been recorded between 2007 and October 2019 (13 years).

The increasing trend of murders and violence also correlate with the increasing transphobia and discrimination against trans people in Malaysia that remains unaddressed. This is further exacerbated by discriminatory laws, policies and state-funded programmes that reinforce exclusion, misinformation and impunity in relation to violence and discrimination against trans people.

Case in point, a recent media report on Astro Awani of a murder of a gay man in the United States. Online users, among others, applauded the perpetrator of killing the gay man, some going as far as to encourage similar acts of violence against LGBT persons in Malaysia. This is not an isolated incident. On many other occasions, often in the name of religion, online users have called for, promoted and condoned violence towards trans, gender diverse and LGBTQ people.

In the case of a brutal attack of  a trans woman in Negeri Sembilan in August 2018 at the height of the anti-LGBT sentiments online and offline post elections, the victim reported that the perpetrators attacked her because they ‘do not like LGBT’. While the woman was brutally assaulted by a group of men, resulting in broken ribs, backbone, and a ruptured spleen, the case was not classified by the police as a hate crime.

Other issues

There are a few trends and issues that we would like to highlight:

    •   In many of these cases, the police are quick to dismiss the element of hate crime in these cases despite the brutal violence experienced by the victim. The lack of gender-sensitive and a rights-based approach in analysing the crimes does not allow the police and the government to understand the trend of violence and increased vulnerability experienced by trans people, and design adequate and meaningful response to address violence against trans people.
    •  These cases also show a trend of victim blaming. In many of these cases perpetrators often accuse the victim of soliciting sex, theft or other reasons that reinforce prejudice towards trans women, preventing trans women getting the justice that they deserve.
    •   Family members can be a barrier in seeking justice for the murdered trans women. In some cases, family members do not wish to seek justice due to the stigma towards trans people.
    •   The media attention on these cases is also often limited to the initial reporting of the murder. Continuous attention by the media on the cases of murder will assist in keeping track of the cases.

We believe violence against trans and gender diverse persons can be addressed and eliminated. We call the government to engage transgender human rights groups, address the escalating hateful speech against trans and gender diverse persons, train and raise awareness regarding transgender persons and gender identities among all government staff using rights and evidence-based approach, and take meaningful measures to end all forms of discrimination against trans people.

 

download & share our transgender day of remembrance (tdor) visuals

In conjunction with Transgender Day of Remembrance (TDOR), we commemorate the lives that have been lost to violence and hate crimes. This year,  at least 3 cases of murders against trans women have been reported in Malaysia.

Help us create awareness and strengthen solidarity by downloading and sharing these visuals

TDOR 2019 (english)

 

TDOR 2019 (BM)

 

other visuals

grdwnaSAksFS

Rise of crimes and violence against trans women needs urgent attention

On January 1, 2019, a body of a trans woman was found along Jalan Batu Nilai in Klang. Preliminary reports show that she had sustained a number of injuries on her knees, ankle and other parts of the body. The death of the woman raises serious concerns and suspicion. A suspect has been arrested and remanded in connection to the case. He claims that the victim had jumped out of a moving vehicle upon being confronted about stealing the suspect’s handphone.

We are extremely concerned over the rise in cases of violence and crimes against trans women in Malaysia. Including this case, at least 3 cases of murder have been reported between November 2018 and January 2019. 2 of which took place in Klang. This brings the cases of reported murders of trans women to a total of 18 cases since 2007, averaging at 1.5 cases a year.

In many of the reported cases of murder of trans women, the victims often suffer excessive and extreme violence or torture. Based on the 18 reported murders of trans women in Malaysia, the victims were subjected to torture, 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, shot, mutilated, etc.

The brutal and excessive violence or torture has to be looked at closely. The elements of torture in these crimes suggest a number of things, including increased rage or hate by perpetrators against trans women, impunity enjoyed by people who commit violence against trans women, amongst others.

We welcome the swift actions by the police, and we look forward to a thorough, unbiased and objective investigation. It is imperative that the police corroborates the evidence and thoroughly investigate the case to ensure justice for victims and their loved ones.

Reported cases of murder of trans women in Malaysia between 2007 and January 2019

Year

Number of reported cases murder of trans women

2007

1

2008

1

2009

2

2010

1

2011

1

2012

1

2013

2

2014

0

2015

0

2016

1

2017

4

2018

2

2019

1

Address stigma, stereotypes and misconceptions against trans women to increase access to justice

Stigma, stereotypes and misconceptions against trans women increase and justify violence against trans people. Stereotypes and misconceptions such as trans people being unnatural, immoral or against religions and laws give the impression to others that they have the right to violate and abuse trans people.

People commit crimes against LGBTIQ persons because social stigma and discriminatory laws protect the abusers. Our society not only denies the rights of trans women but also target them through laws. When the laws target trans women, this forces them to live in the margins and become resigned to a life of discrimination, violence, abuse and neglect. Therefore, those who abuse trans women often do so because they know they can get away with it. All of which reinforces the culture of impunity.

In addition, these stereotypes and stigma often disadvantage trans women, effectively hindering a thorough and unbiased investigation, ultimately denying access to justice. In many cases of violence and crimes against trans women, trans women are not only blamed but are seen as the guilty party. The stigma and stereotypes in relation to trans women also often allow for absurd defence by the perpetrators. Some common narratives include narratives that position perpetrators as acting or reacting out of self-defence, to protect themselves from theft/crime, repulsion, or rejection of sexual advancements. This plays into the stereotypes of trans women being criminals and immoral, often resulting in lack of adequate penalties against perpetrators for the violence and crimes committed.

Perpetrators must be held accountable. However, punishment alone will not resolve this systemic issue. Perpetrators, and society in general,  should be provided with adequate support and information on gender and sexuality to ensure meaningful change in attitudes, behaviour and understanding of diversity. Education and efforts to dismantle legal and non-legal barriers experienced and create an inclusive and affirming environment are extremely critical in reducing crimes, violence and discrimination against trans people and marginalized communities.

Need for proactive preventive measures

With the rising cases of violence and murder against trans women specifically, and LGBT people in general, the police have a critical role to play in reversing this trend.

Firstly, we call for the police to introduce a guideline on handling, documenting and analyzing cases of murder and crimes in relation to trans people and lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, intersex, queer people (LGBTIQ+). Documentation and analysis of the cases of crimes and violence against trans women and LGBTIQ+ people are important to develop an understanding of the trend of the violence and to design specific interventions.

Our documentation and reported cases of murders show that gangsters, vigilante groups, intimate partner, clients of sex workers, strangers (often young persons) are the perpetrators of violence and crimes. Based on the cases, the perpetrators are all cisgender men across a wide age spectrum. This shows us that there is a critical need to address toxic masculinity and increase gender education in our society. Our documentation also shows communities and areas that are more vulnerable to crimes and violence. For example, trans women sex workers have increased vulnerabilities due to their increased exposure to diverse types of people. The emergence of vigilante groups, which often operate under the guise of residential patrol groups, for example, Kedah has also increased cases of violence against trans women.

It is important to note that cases of violence and crimes experienced by trans women are not reported or under-reported. This correlates with the trust deficit in the police, the perpetrator prey/victim dynamics between police and trans women, and lack of protection for trans people. The general lack of confidence in the police to swiftly and thoroughly investigate cases often prevents trans women from seeking justice, report cases, and in some cases, come forward as witnesses. Thus, it is extremely important for the local police departments to engage with the affected communities and bridge this trust deficit in order to efficiently ensure safety and security for all. We also call for the police to engage trans women communities in Klang, Kedah and other hotspots that have recorded a high number of cases of violence and crimes against trans women.

Crimes and violence towards trans women and LGBTQ people are rising at an alarming rate. The murder of the trans woman on New Year’s Day is a reminder of the realities that trans people live in and the urgency to amplify efforts in addressing violence and crimes against trans and LGBTQ people. These crimes and violence have an overarching impact on the safety, security and well-being of all persons, more so trans people. These continuous traumatic events of violence and crimes, if not addressed with an evidence and rights-based approach, will further isolate trans and LGBTQ people and increase the trust deficit in police and the government.

Endorsed by:

  1. Justice for Sisters
  2. All Women’s Action Society (AWAM)
  3. Association of Women Lawyers (AWL)
  4. Women’s Aid Organisation (WAO)
  5. Malaysian Design Archive (MDA)
  6. Persatuan Sahabat Wanita Selangor (PSWS)
  7. People Like Us, Hangout (PLUHO)
  8. Pelangi Campaign
  9. Knowledge and Rights with Young people through Safer Spaces (KRYSS)
  10. Sisters in Islam (SIS)
  11. Tenaganita
  12. Women’s Centre for Change (WCC)
  13. Persatuan Kesedaran Komuniti Selangor (EMPOWER)
  14. Perak Women for Women (PWW)
  15. Seksualiti Merdeka
  16. Queer Lapis
  17. PT Foundation

Annex 1

Documented cases of violence and crimes based on gender identity, gender expression and actual or perceived sexual orientation

No Year Details State
1 2012 and 2013 A group of gangsters in Pahang, physically assaulted over 13 trans women with steel chains, helmets and steel bars in a spate of attacks, resulting in serious injuries. Based on media reports and I am Scared to be a Woman, a report by Human Rights Watch, one woman being ‘beaten into a coma’ and some received between 18 and 78 stitches as a result of the assault. Pahang
2 2015 A trans woman human rights defender was attacked in the vicinity of her home Kuala Lumpur
3 June 2017 A young person in Penang died as result of physical assault and torture by a group of former schoolmates. The perpetrators had previously bullied the victim in school due to his ‘effeminate’ gender expression Penang
4 2017 A Thai trans woman was stabbed multiple times by a client in Penang Penang
5 January 2017 – January 2018 At least 12 cases of break ins and property destruction by persons in residential areas, strangers or unknown perpetrators; physical attacks, humiliation and torture by vigilante groups disguised as community policing or residential groups

Skuad Badar Sungai Petani emerged on social media platforms, urging religious authorities to take action on trans women. We have also received information that this group has harassed, detained and attacked the trans women in the community, including shaving the heads of trans women in their custody

Multiple states in Malaysia
6 March 2018 Attacks and harassment of a few Women’s Aid Organisation (WAO) volunteers by a few individuals for allegedly being LGBT supporters after the Women’s March on 10th March 2018 Kuala Lumpur
7 August 2018 A trans woman in Seremban was severely assaulted by a group of men resulting in serious injuries to spleen, spinal cord, rib bones, amongst others. Negeri Sembilan
8 December 2018 A video of two gay men assaulted by a group of men for allegedly being intimate in a car went viral on social media platforms Selangor

 

Caning for consensual sex acts is a form of torture against lesbian women

Immediately review the court decision and cease implementation of caning

We strongly condemn the punishment meted out by the Terengganu Syarie judge Kamalruazmi Ismail on 12 August 2018 in the case of two women who were convicted for attempted sexual relations. The two women were sentenced to RM 3,300 in fines and 6 strokes of caning. The sentencing of the two women in Terengganu is a gross violation of their dignity and human rights as guaranteed by the Federal Constitution, international human rights treaties that Malaysia has ratified and international laws.

The judge fixed 28 August 2018 to carry out the caning sentence, and both women were released on bail for RM 1,500 with two bailors. The two can also be imprisoned for 4 months should they fail to pay the RM 3,300 fine. The two women arrested in April 2018 in Terengganu were convicted under Section 30 of the Syariah Criminal Offences (Takzir Terengganu) read together with Section 59(1).

The erroneous and prejudicial sentences meted out by the Terengganu Syarie judge Kamalruazmi Ismail amounts to torture. Article 1 of the Convention Against Torture defines torture as ‘any act by which severe pain or suffering, whether physical or mental, is intentionally inflicted on a person for such purposes … or for any reason based on discrimination of any kind, when such pain or suffering is inflicted by or at the instigation of or with the consent or acquiescence of a public official or other person acting in an official capacity.’[1] In other words, punishment based on discrimination by any public official that results in suffering, mentally or physically is defined here as a form of torture.

The arbitrary arrest and the punishment meted out for consensual sex between adults violate multiple human rights under the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR), including Article 1 (the right to live with dignity), Article 5 (the right to be free from cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment and punishment), Article 12 (right to privacy), Article 13 (freedom of movement).

In the context of Malaysia, the punishments are also violations of the rights enshrined under the Federal Constitution of Malaysia, including Article 5 that protects the right to life and liberty, Article 8 that guarantees equality and non-discrimination based on gender, and Article 9 that guarantees freedom of movement.

The judge was also quoted as saying. “adequate punishment must be meted out so that this becomes a lesson and reminder to not just the two of you, but the members of society.” The role of the court is to ensure justice is served and upheld, not to increase victimisation of persons based on personal prejudice. Punishment cannot be used as lessons for society. Punishment as a means to serve as lessons for others unfairly exploits and burdens the individuals with severe punishments as stand-ins for others. Such prejudicial thinking can dangerously allow for the abuse of power and exploitation of innocent people, perpetuating injustices.

Criminalization of consensual sex between adults is a gross violation of human rights, and Malaysia has been called to review and repeal laws that criminalise LGBTQ persons based on consensual sexual acts in many international human rights fora. Consensual sex acts between adults is not a crime.

The CEDAW committee in its concluding observations to Malaysia in March 2018 called Malaysia to “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”.

We call for the implementation of the sentence to be reviewed and revoked immediately. We call for SUHAKAM and the Ministry of Women, Family and Community Development to immediately intervene and stop the implementation of the punishments. We are extremely concerned about the impact of the punishment not only on the two women, but also on the LGBTQ population as a whole.

We are also extremely concerned about the escalating attacks and repression against LGBTIQ persons in Malaysia, and the impact of such punishment in this environment. Such punishment will further fuel hatred, discrimination and violence towards LGBTIQ persons with impunity. The new government has repeatedly affirmed that LGBTIQ Malaysians are protected as citizens under the Federal Constitution. This case calls for Pakatan Harapan to protect, promote and fulfill the rights of all persons, including LGBTIQ persons. We call the Pakatan Harapan government to immediately intervene in this matter, and end victimisation and torture against the two women in this case.

Endorsed by:

  1. Justice for Sisters
  2. Knowledge and Rights with Young people through Safer Spaces (KRYSS)
  3. All Women’s Action Society (AWAM)
  4. SAWO (Sabah Women’s Action Resource Group)
  5. Association for Women Lawyers (AWL)
  6. Pelangi Campaign
  7. Persatuan Sahabat Wanita Malaysia
  8. PLUsos
  9. PLUHO, People Like Us Hangout!
  10. Malaysian Atheists and Secular Humanists (MASH)

References:

Pasangan lesbian didenda, disebat, 12 August 2018, Sinar Harian

http://www.sinarharian.com.my/edisi/terengganu/pasangan-lesbian-didenda-disebat-1.867672

Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment https://www.ohchr.org/en/professionalinterest/pages/CAT.aspx

Seksyen 30. Musahaqah.

Mana-mana orang perempuan yang melakukan musahaqah adalah melakukan suatu kesalahan dan apabila disabitkan boleh didenda tidak melebihi lima ribu ringgit atau dipenjarakan selama tempoh tidak melebihi tiga tahun atau disebat tidak melebihi enam sebatan atau dihukum dengan mana-mana kombinasi hukuman itu.

Section 30. Musahaqah.

Any female person who commits musahaqah shall be guilty of an offence and shall on conviction be liable to a fine not exceeding five thousand ringgit or to imprisonment for a term not exceeding three years or to whipping not exceeding six strokes or to any combination thereof.

Seksyen 59. Percubaan.

(1) Mana-mana orang yang cuba-

(a) melakukan sesuatu kesalahan yang boleh dihukum di bawah Enakmen ini atau di bawah mana-mana undang-undang bertulis lain yang berhubung dengan Hukum Syarak; atau                    (b) menyebabkan kesalahan itu dilakukan,

dan dalam percubaan itu melakukan apa-apa perbuatan ke arah pelakuan kesalahan itu hendaklah, jika tiada peruntukan nyata dibuat oleh Enakmen ini atau undang-undang bertulis lain itu, mengikut mana-mana yang berkenaan, bagi hukuman percubaan itu, dihukum dengan apa-apa hukuman yang diperuntukkan bagi kesalahan itu.

(2) Apa-apa tempoh pemenjaraan yang dikenakan sebagai hukuman bagi suatu percubaan untuk melakukan suatu kesalahan atau untuk menyebabkan suatu kesalahan dilakukan tidak boleh melebihi satu perdua daripada tempoh maksimum pemenjaraan yang diperuntukkan bagi kesalahan itu.

Section 59. Attempt.

1) Any person who attempts-

(a) to commit an offence punishable under this Enactment or under any other written law relating to Hukum Syarak; or

(b) to cause such an offence to be committed,

and in such attempt does any act towards the commission of such offence, shall, where no express provision is made by this Enactment or by such other written law, as the case may be, for the punishment of such attempt, be punished with such punishment as is provided for the offence.

(2) Any term of imprisonment imposed as a punishment for an attempt to commit an offence or to cause an offence to be committed shall not exceed one half of the maximum term provided for the offence.

 

LGBT activists: Silence and censorship perpetuate discrimination and hate

A joint statement by LGBT human rights activists and groups

We welcome the timely meeting between Minister in the PMO Mujahid Rawa and Nisha Ayub on 11 August 2018. The meeting was a crucial and positive first step in showing the government’s openness to dialogue and to create a Malaysia that is inclusive and compassionate. This dialogue is significant as many in Malaysia are not aware of the extent to which transgender persons in Malaysia live with daily experiences of stigma, discrimination, and violence.

The lack of open channels and opportunities to hear LGBT people is in fact what perpetuates the misunderstanding towards people of diverse sexual orientation, gender identity and expression, and sex characteristics. The stigma, discrimination, and violence experienced by transgender people have been well documented in multiple reports, including a report by the Human Rights Watch titled “I’m Scared to Be a Woman”.

Nonetheless, we wish the Minister had met with us before he gave the instructions to remove Nisha Ayub and Pang Khee Teik’s portraits from an exhibition at the George Town Festival. Had the Minister met us earlier, he would have understood the intentions of Nisha Ayub and Pang Khee Teik for agreeing to be photographed for this exhibition, and not simply accuse them of ‘promoting LGBT activities’. He could also have avoided some of the harmful stereotypes and misconceptions about LGBT activists that he said during the press conference following the dialogue.

The attempt to define and classify LGBT activists on our behalf is divisive, problematic, and unhelpful. The government has the duty to respect and protect the human rights of all human rights defenders, and create an enabling environment for the promotion, protection and fulfilment of human rights.

Nisha Ayub is regarded as a respected human rights defender not only in Malaysia, but also globally. Nisha is a Malaysian icon given her immense contribution to human rights. Nisha became an activist after having been subjected to multiple forms of violence based on her gender identity, including arbitrary arrest, detention and imprisonment; misgendering and shaming; hateful, degrading, and violent comments and threats. As an activist, she further experienced multiple forms of erasure and exclusion from Malaysia’s history and narratives, as evidenced by the act of removing her portrait from a celebration of Malaysian patriotism. Amidst the portrait debacle and its ensuing events, she has been receiving an increasing volume of hateful, degrading and violent messages and threats.

Despite Mujahid Rawa’s limited jurisdiction, the call for removal of the portraits also directly affected Pang

Khee Teik, a human rights defender and arts organiser. Like Nisha, Pang had also received thousands hateful and violent comments online. Therefore, we also call Mujahid Rawa to also meet Pang, in order to understand the overarching impact of the state’s policies on all persons regardless of religious background. Pang, in his activism, has attempted to make visible the discrimination, violence and marginalisation faced by LGBT persons. For this he has received public vilification, investigation by the state, loss of employment, and hateful comments and threats, amongst others.

Comments that incite violence and fear of personal safety and security are unacceptable. In the past, the government were silent on the attacks against LGBT persons and in some cases subjected the victims to further persecution. Therefore, we welcome the Minister’s call for no discrimination towards the trans community.

We also acknowledge the homophobic and transphobic reactions of the public towards Mujahid and his statement. This underscores our view that people regardless of their gender identity and sexual orientation, can be subjected to transphobia, homophobia and discrimination due to their association with transgender or LGBTIQ persons.

We also urge Malaysians to please listen to LGBT people, to give an opportunity for us to tell you our side of the story, and to stop hateful, degrading and violent comments. These comments have a severe impact on the well-being, safety and security of not just people that are targeted, but the whole LGBT population. In fact, they also create an environment which encourages and overlooks bullying, blackmail, emotional, physical and sexual violence, and other criminal acts carried out towards LGBT persons by various people, including family members. The pervasive level of stigma and discrimination also hinders LGBT from accessing healthcare services, justice, and other fundamental rights. The public does not hear about these because LGBT people have been silenced and erased. Furthermore, those of us who face threats do not feel safe to share our stories.

People who insist that LGBT people are not discriminated in Malaysia make such assumptions precisely because we have not been allowed to talk about our experiences. We encourage people to learn and educate themselves about gender identity and sexual orientation, and to talk to us.

We believe openness and dialogue can have transformative effects. In the spirit of openness, healing and compassion, we call for all relevant government Ministries to meet with LGBT human rights groups. Together we hope to promote a kinder, more compassionate, more democratic Malaysia.

End

LGBT human rights groups of Malaysia

 

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
  5. QUASSA
  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)

 

References

[i] WPA Position Statement on Gender Identity and Same-Sex Orientation, Attraction, and Behaviours http://www.wpanet.org/detail.php?section_id=7&content_id=1807

[ii] The Report of the Special Rapporteur on torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment http://www.ohchr.org/Documents/HRBodies/HRCouncil/RegularSession/Session22/A.HRC.22.53_English.pdf

[iii] ICD-11, Classifying disease to map the way we live and die http://www.who.int/health-topics/international-classification-of-diseases

[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 https://www.gov.mt/en/Government/Press%20Releases/Pages/2016/December/05/pr162780.aspx,

[v] AFFIRMATION OF SEXUAL ORIENTATION, GENDER IDENTITY AND GENDER EXPRESSION ACT http://www.justiceservices.gov.mt/DownloadDocument.aspx?app=lom&itemid=12610&l=1

[vi] Affirming Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity Act, 2015 https://www.ontario.ca/laws/statute/S15018

[vii] Conversion therapy and youth https://williamsinstitute.law.ucla.edu/wp-content/uploads/Conversion-Therapy-LGBT-Youth-Jan-2018.pdf

[viii] criminalising homosexuality and public health: adverse impacts on the prevention and treatment of HIV and AIDS http://www.humandignitytrust.org/uploaded/Library/Other_Material/Criminalising_Homosexuality_and_Public_Health.pdf

[ix] the relationship between LGBT inclusion and economic development: an analysis of emerging economies, November 2014 https://williamsinstitute.law.ucla.edu/wp-content/uploads/lgbt-inclusion-and-development-november-2014.pdf

[x] Concluding observations on the combined third to fifth periodic reports of Malaysia https://tbinternet.ohchr.org/_layouts/treatybodyexternal/Download.aspx?symbolno=CEDAW/C/MYS/CO/3-5&Lang=En

[xi] https://www.facebook.com/MyJakimMalaysia/posts/1588691407848089, https://islam.gov.my/berita-semasa/34-bahagian-keluarga-sosial-komuniti/48-pelan-tindakan-menangani-gejala-sosial-kecelaruan-gender

 

Stigma and discrimination kills, not HIV

MOH must immediately end non-evidence and rights-based strategies and responses in order to end AIDS by 2030.

Justice for Sisters is appalled by the media sensationalism and the panic incited based on the 2017 HIV data by the Ministry of Health (MOH) in Utusan Malaysia on 2 August 2018.  Not only that headlines such as ‘LGBT paling ramai hidap HIV’ are sensationalistic, they are also extremely irresponsible, counter productive to public health initiatives and increase barriers to access to healthcare services.

The increasing statistics call for a serious and long overdue review of the efficacy of the government’s policies and programmes on HIV and AIDS, especially in relation to sexual transmission.

In addressing the increasing prevalence of sexual transmission of HIV, especially amongst transgender women and gay men, MOH has adopted some misguided, widely discredited, harmful, and non-evidence and rights-based approaches and programmes. This includes programmes such as mukhayyam, a spiritual camp for LGBT persons by JAKIM, aimed at changing and rehabilitating LGBT persons, who are deemed as social ills. 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)

In addition, the National Strategic Plan on Ending HIV/AIDS 2016-2030 (NSP) outlines a few strategies specifically for Men who have sex with Men (MSM) and trans women. While not all activities in the plan have been budgeted for, some of the strategies and activities include programmes that “provide guidance and motivation through religious approach (tauhid) to face the challenges of life and abandon the practice of unnatural sex”, essentially efforts to change sexual orientation and gender identity. These activities are not only blatantly non-evidence and rights-based, but they also have long-term harmful impacts and are counterproductive to achieving the goals to end AIDS by 2030 and the 90-90-90 goals by 2020.

We remind everyone, namely the Ministry of Health (MOH) that stigma, discrimination, lack of access to information, skills and services kill. It is important to note that sexual transmission has steadily increased since 2010. 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. Additionally, the report also 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…. 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.”

However, no meaningful measures have been introduced to address the sexual health crisis. There is no comprehensive sex education in educational institutions currently, a cost effective measure that could address a range of issues in relations to sexual reproductive health and rights, including the increasing prevalence of HIV. The increase of HIV prevalence based on sexual transmission reflects the failure of the government to take meaningful measures to address this matter and government’s attitude regarding sex education. The abstinence-based policies, lack of comprehensive sex education and the increasing allocation of public funds for anti-LGBT activities not only contribute to higher rates of HIV but also result in adverse socio-economic and health impacts. The management of these adverse impacts will place significant economic costs on the government.

Decriminalization is the solution

Populations such as drug users, sex workers, gay men, trans women, others have increased vulnerability to HIV due to criminalization of these populations. Multiple evidence show criminalization or having criminal laws against groups of people merely based on their identities effectively increase vulnerability and health risks, including HIV, STIs, and mental health issues amongst others due to the multiple forms of discrimination, stigma and marginalization. Decriminalization can effectively reduce prevalence of HIV up to 33%-46% amongst some key affected populations.

It is imperative to examine the correlation between the rise in prevalence of HIV among gay men and transgender women and the increasing of anti-LGBT activities and narratives, criminalization, as well as the legal, socio-political and economic barriers and discrimination faced by LGBT population in general.

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.

RECONSIDERING PRIMARY PREVENTION OF HIV NEW STEPS FORWARD IN THE GLOBAL RESPONSE, September 2017 http://mpactglobal.org/wp-content/uploads/2017/10/Reconsidering-Primary-Prevention.pdf