Whither the political will to tackle attacks on transgenders?

How many more transgender people must die before the rakyat is outraged enough to demand that the government stop the culture of fear being perpetuated against the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) community? One? 10? 100?

Are we becoming an increasingly intolerant nation? Is religious fundamentalism the cause of the increased reports on attacks against the LGBT community?

A 39-year-old transgender from Sabah died on New Year’s Day. The police said she had fallen out of a moving car, and that she was accused of stealing a mobile phone. It is believed that she had denied the theft.

The driver, a 55-year-old man, was arrested shortly after the accident. Police said the victim had been involved in three drug-related cases and dismissed claims that her death was motivated by hate.

Two weeks earlier, on Dec 12, another transgender from Sabah was attacked by a group of four young adults – a 21-year-old man and three teenagers. The attack took place in Bukit Tinggi 2, the same area as the New Year’s incident.

It was reported that the assault was also over the theft of a mobile phone, which the transgender denied as well.

There are many questions that need answering.

Is the alleged theft of phones being used as a convenient excuse by the perpetrators to mask their violence? What facts give the police the confidence to state that these incidents were not hate crimes against transgender people?

In the New Year’s Day incident, why would the victim have voluntarily gotten into the car with the driver? No one who has been accused of stealing a handphone would put herself into jeopardy with no means of escape. Was she pushed from the car, or did she genuinely fall out in a desperate bid to escape her attacker?

She was pronounced dead at the scene by the ambulance crew. She suffered injuries to both knees, her left ankle, left brow and nose, which were suspected to have been caused by the fall from the car. A post-mortem showed that she had suffered severe head injuries, which were the cause of death.

What if the victim had been beaten, then pushed from the car? Did the driver report the incident and call the ambulance? Or did a witness report his car number which led to his arrest?

A few decades ago, there was hardly any news of attacks against members of the LGBT society. Many transgender people were accepted as part of society, and a number of them taken into service as housekeepers and cooks at a time before foreign maids became the norm.

A housewife who had employed several transgender cooks for her family of six said: “The transgenders are gentle people with impeccable manners and a great sense of humour. Many are great cooks, and in my experience, they take more pride in the house than some women I know.

“They make perfect domestic helpers and their usual request was for one night off every week, to go dancing at the local venue for ‘joget lambak’.”

But today, there seems to be an increase in attacks against them. Is it because more attacks are being reported, or is there a genuine increase in the number of attacks against the LGBT community?

In 2017, three transgenders were murdered. Last year, two lesbians were whipped because they were alleged to have had sex in a car. A few weeks ago, two gay men were beaten up, also for having sex in a car.

For every attack reported, how many are swept under the carpet from fear of more reprisals or the desire to protect their families?

According to Thilaga Sulathireh, the co-founder of Justice for Sisters, Malaysians were tolerant towards transgenders until the 1980s.

How will the Pakatan Harapan (PH) government stop the attacks and the discrimination against the LGBT community? They too are members of the rakyat whom the PH government swore to protect.

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