Sabah secondary school behind ‘kunyit’ programme apologises

PETALING JAYA: The secondary school in Sabah behind a “kunyit” gender awareness programme for “soft boys” has apologised following condemnation in social media.

Sabah education director Mistirine Radin told FMT the principal of the school had realised her mistake and apologised.

“Kunyit” is considered a derogatory term for gays.

“Based on the preliminary report provided by the school principal, she realised her school’s mistake in including the programme in the school magazine and has apologised,” Mistirine said.

According to the report, the programme was part of the school guidance counsellor’s efforts to “find a way to tackle the issue of gender awareness” and not meant to be published in its 2017 yearbook.

“It was mistakenly sent out for printing in the school magazine. The editor was unaware of the impact of the picture,” it added, referring to a photograph of eight boys in the “pictures of activities” section.

The report stated that the boys in the picture were facilitators of the programme and not participants.

The 2017 yearbook will be returned to the school so that the “correction” can be made.

“The guidance and counselling unit has also promised to have a more positive programme involving these students to clear their name,” the principal wrote, adding they were also called in to give explanations on the picture published.

“The school apologises for this error that was not done purposely and seeks forgiveness (from the state education department).

“We will learn from this and ensure nothing like this happens again.”

Mistirine said this case involved a popular secondary school in Kota Kinabalu.

The principal has yet to answer FMT’s numerous calls and messages for comments.

It is understood that the principal is currently on a working visit overseas.

“I will get more details of the programme once she returns,” Mistirine said.

“As far as I know, as of this year, there is no such programme in that school.”

‘Setting them straight’

A page in its school yearbook showed the “kunyit” programme had group and individual counselling efforts to “set them straight”.

Fifteen male students were involved in the programme.

The programme’s aim was to build students’ self-esteem as males, to help them set goals for themselves, to help them develop self-confidence and “raise awareness” among other male students.

According to a viral tweet, the programme also aimed to tackle male students’ desire to “consider themselves as ‘kunyit’” and to make other students in the same boat realise “weaknesses” in themselves.

This led to a flurry of comments slamming the programme, with Batu Kawan MP Kasthuri Patto, who is a member of the Parliamentary Special Select Committee on Rights and Gender Equality, weighing in.

“The school should be focusing on educating all students on bullying,” the international secretary for Wanita DAP said, adding bullying and sexual violence had “claimed and destroyed” many young lives.

“The issue at hand is giving knowledge to students to protect themselves from predators. At the same time, schools should aim to exercise zero discrimination and zero bullying policies.”

Poverty is another issue the school should be focusing on rather than “weeding out students discriminately”, she told FMT.

Petaling Jaya MP Maria Chin Abdullah, a prominent activist for women’s rights and gender equality, said the state education department and the education ministry must put an end to all such programmes.

“Disguising itself as a gender awareness programme, it is clear that this is a ‘gay conversion therapy’ programme which seeks to reinforce intolerant, inaccurate and outdated assumptions about gender and sexual orientation.

“The fact that the programme refers to itself as ‘kunyit’ and calls it a ‘weakness’, already shows the objective of this programme is to shame students into changing their behaviour,” she told FMT.

The former Bersih 2.0 chairman warned that children who attended such programmes risked being psychologically damaged with feelings of isolation and low self-esteem, and lambasted school authorities who allowed this.

“Such programmes lead to further discrimination at schools. Without the right support at a young age, this could even lead to depression and suicidal thoughts.”

Although this programme is from 2017, Maria said an investigation must be conducted to find if such programmes were still being organised.

She said it was not the duty of schools and teachers to carry out “gay conversion therapy” programmes as they had “no right” to use school facilities for such purposes even if they claimed to have the support of parents.

“It must be revealed on whose authority the school was allowed to use its resources for such a programme.”

Transgender rights activist Dorian Wilde, who is also the founder of the Transmen of Malaysia group, pointed out that studies showed that conversion activities caused significant harm and could be considered a form of torture.

“I think it’s worrying that certain schools seem to think that policing and altering students’ gender expressions is an important part in a child’s development,” Dorian, who is transgender himself, told FMT.

He added the education ministry must be more proactive in ensuring non-discrimination in schools as it was a core principle of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, of which Malaysia is a signatory.