PETALING JAYA: Prominent lawyer-activist Siti Kasim says if the government does not check on religious extremism, Malaysia risks becoming like Indonesia which is cracking down on the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) community.
“This is the trend I see in Malaysia. And if our government does not clamp down on these power-crazy religious maniacs, our country will go down that road,” she told FMT.
Siti’s comments come a week after West Java Police Chief Anton Charliyan said he would create a special task force to investigate LGBT activity in the province.
The plan raised concerns of a widening crackdown on the community in the Muslim-majority country, although with the exception of Aceh, homosexuality is legal in Indonesia.
Siti said Malaysians are generally accepting of the LGBT community. However, she added that transgender women are at particular risk of oppression and are most likely to be arrested by religious bodies.
This is because of the shariah provision which allows the state to arrest a man dressed as a woman.
“But in Kuala Lumpur, even if they are identified as trans-women, they cannot be arrested unless they are found doing something immoral,” she said.
She added that if “so-called religious people” were given power, it would put at risk not only the LGBT community, but also Malays like her.
Activists say intolerance of LGBT people in Malaysia has spiked in recent years.
The latest controversy to make headlines was a contest organised by the health ministry on how to “prevent” homosexuality and transgenderism.
The contest invites participants to submit video clips for categories including one called “gender identity disorder”, according to details on the ministry’s website.
The ministry described gender identity disorder, also known as gender dysphoria, and cited examples of people who are gay, lesbian, transsexual and tomboys.
The contest guidelines added that the videos must include elements showing the “consequences” of being LGBT, as well as how to “prevent, control and seek help” for them.
Winners of the contest, which kicked off on Thursday and which will run until Aug 31, will be awarded cash prizes from RM1,000 to RM4,000.
Transgender activist Nisha Ayub from the Seed Foundation, a charity working with transgender people, said the contest would only promote hatred.
“These kinds of actions will spur hatred and violence in the society,” she told FMT.
She echoed Siti’s concerns, warning that if the government continued to portray the LGBT community in a negative light, it would automatically create a situation like that in Indonesia.
“But I hope that never happens here.
“We have to learn what LGBT is first, and get proper information (on the matter),” she said.
Nisha said one of the problems she had noticed was that people were always trying to inject personal beliefs into issues, whether they concerned education or health.
Instead of combining religion and law, she suggested that Malaysians look at human rights values as a whole.
Homosexuality is taboo in Malaysia, where gay sex is criminalised, punishable by up to 20 years in prison, caning or a fine.
In 2012, authorities issued guidelines and held seminars aimed at helping teachers and parents spot signs of homosexuality in children.
According to the guidelines, signs of homosexuality in boys include preferences for tight, V-neck shirts and large handbags, while girls with lesbian tendencies like to hang out and sleep in the company of women.
Meanwhile, Terengganu authorities in 2011 organised a camp for “effeminate” boys to show them how to become men.