LGBTs: Not ogres, a disease, or contagious

Minister in the Prime Minister’s Department Mujahid Yusof Rawa sparked a timely debate on the LGBT issue when he ordered for the portraits of two LGBT activists to be removed from a photography exhibition.

The reaction of political and religious leaders to the LGBT community “coming out of the closet” was predictable. Mujahid’s excuse meanwhile was that the portraits were “promoting LGBT activities” which was not in line with Pakatan Harapan’s (PH) policies.

I’m not sure how portraits of what looks like two normal people promote LGBT activities. The portraits were not pornographic nor did they display lewd signs. But Mujahid did not explain what exactly was out of step with PH policies on LGBT.

Deputy Prime Minister Dr Wan Azizah Wan Ismail, who is not new to this subject, was reported to have said that the LGBT community have the right to exist in Malaysia if they keep their “practices” behind closed doors. Her remarks remind people of the sensitivity of this subject in Islam. Her own husband, Anwar Ibrahim, was charged with sodomy and sentenced, twice. He maintained his innocence throughout, claiming political persecution.

Some people think of the LGBT as a different species altogether, an ogre of sorts. I hate to disappoint them. Leo Varadkar, the youngest Irish prime minister ever, is openly gay. Sabah-born Penny Wong, the current opposition leader in the Australian senate and shadow minister of foreign affairs, is part of the LGBT community.

Some of the people in the top echelons of the corporate world are gay. Tim Cook, CEO of the trillion-market cap company Apple, said in a 2014 Bloomberg editorial that he felt “a tremendous responsibility” to publicly come out as gay.

“It became so clear to me that kids were getting bullied in school, kids were getting basically discriminated against, kids were even being disclaimed by their own parents and that I needed to do something,” he said.

Another famous figure is Lord Browne of British Petroleum, who has written a book called “The Glass Closet” about homosexuality in the business world. A 2014 Guardian report said: “Homosexuality was the last thing he expected to talk about in public; after all, he never spoke of it even in private. The former CEO spent half a century in the closet, so terrified of letting his secret slip that he never talked about himself at all, confining his conversational repertoire instead to the news, and politics, and business. That’s what you’d talk about.”

I understand the religious sensitivities and that many will not support gay marriages or public displays of affection among same-sex couples which is now a common sight in the Western world. It’s a difficult subject to broach as our religious teachings and upbringing are against LGBT. Such sensitivities are not confined to Islam alone.

It was recently reported that two women in Terengganu convicted of attempting sexual relations in a car would be fined and caned, in a rare case against same-sex couples in the country. Given the unusual nature of the case, news of the conviction was carried even in the international media.

Typical reactions to the LGBT reported in the media include that of Pahang mufti Abdul Rahman Osman, who said there should be no compromise with the LGBT community in the country as they clearly opposed the law of God and human nature.

Perak mufti Harussani Zakaria meanwhile said the group had committed an abomination against the sacred rights of humans because they denied the right of a legitimate marriage recognised by religion. He also said the move to promote LGBT icons in public was an effort to encourage and recognise the “sinful act”.

Perlis mufti Mohd Asri Zainul Abidin, on the other hand, called on Malaysians to respect the LGBT community, even as he labelled “homosexuals” as sinners who must be guided back to the right path. He said the LGBT community had the same rights as other people and that Islam does not allow its followers to publicly shame and accuse others of homosexuality, which is as big a sin as homosexuality itself.

Asri’s voice of reason is welcome as the LGBT are human beings who should not be treated as pariahs in society.

The discussion on the LGBT should not be put on the back burner or swept under the carpet. The LGBT community is neither a disease nor contagious. It is very unlikely that someone will wake up one day and say, “I want to be gay or transsexual.” Some of us have family members who are gay, and we have embraced them like fellow human beings. And we should.

How should a parent deal with the situation when they find out that their son or daughter is gay? Should they hate them, banish them from the family home and condemn them for the rest of their lives? LGBT is not a lifestyle choice. We should discuss it openly, not drive it underground. As Asri said, you may be a sinner in the eyes of religion, but you should not be deprived of your rights as a human being.

The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of FMT.