Removal of activists’ portraits distracts from bigger issues, says Josiah

Ivy Josiah says Malaysia faces bigger issues, like corruption, economic issues and debts that are more urgent.

SUBANG JAYA: The removal of two portraits of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) activists at a state-sponsored photography exhibition in Penang on Monday may have been an overreach and a distraction from the larger scheme of things, women’s rights activist Ivy Josiah said today.

Josiah said the issue concerning the removal of Nisha Ayub and Pang Khee Teik’s portraits was the easiest thing to get people to talk about.

“But it is not even important in the larger scheme of things.

“We have bigger corruption scandals, economic issues, debts, among others. These are more urgent.

“A person’s identity is not going to bring the economy or our gross domestic product (GDP) down.

“This is just bullying people and trying to blame a group of people for nothing,” she told FMT after speaking at a forum on Gender and Sexuality: Then, Now and Tomorrow at Monash University here today.

Petaling Jaya MP Maria Chin Abdullah says there will be no safe space for LGBTs if they are not treated well.

Also present was Petaling Jaya MP Maria Chin Abdullah.

It was reported that the portraits of the two activists were taken down at a photography exhibition titled “Stripes and Strokes”. The exhibition, showcasing the works of photographer Mooreyameen Mohamad, is part of the George Town Festival.

Minister in the Prime Minister’s Department Mujahid Yusof Rawa said he ordered the photos to be taken down as it was against government policy, stating the pictures could be construed as a “promotion of LGBT culture”.

Josiah said the notion that the portraits were a promotion of LGBT culture was already a false idea.

She said that while a misstep might have occurred, she believed Mujahid is a good and sensible person. She believes they can still discuss the issue with the minister to get him to see their point of view.

“Even if it is an overreach or a misstep, I believe this minister will be very good for the country.

“He has made some strong statements on non-discrimination. I will believe in that part of him. We will build on that. We will build on the fact that we agree that discrimination is not right,” she said.

Maria said one fact that had skipped the people’s attention was why the portraits were there.

“The exhibition is actually a celebration of 60 years’ of Merdeka. That is why they were there. These are people who have contributed to the country.

“It is a diverse Malaysia. It is not just about the two of them. They are just a drop in the ocean,” she said.

Maria said one had to see who was raising such divisive issues, instead of raising issues that could unite Malaysians.

“Such issues tend to be highlighted and become a major issue. But you see, we did not win the election based on this issue.

“We won the 14th general election because we are anti-corruption. We want an end to poverty and corruption. We want a better Malaysia. But all these seem to have been forgotten,” she said.

Earlier in the forum, Maria, in response to a question to how a new Malaysia could be a safe haven for LGBTs, said there would be no safe space if the group was not treated well.

“They are still human beings and part of society. We need to deal with them by understanding their point of view and try to accommodate some of their views.

“You cannot just chuck them all on an island and bomb them. You cannot do that. They are human beings, Malaysians, and also our voters.

“Also, not dealing with the issue will push it further underground. We need to deal with it in a humane way by talking to them.”