The LGBT community in Malaysia is the target of assaults, online threats, abuse and persecution by the authorities. Stiff sentences dispensed by the courts give the public a false perception that the LGBT are deviants.
We need to provide a new narrative for this community. They could excel if given the tools to flourish in education and work. They could make valuable contributions to society. Instead, the conservative and ultra-religious people among us beat them up, cheat them at work and humiliate them.
For decades, members of this community have been deprived of adequate and affordable healthcare, opportunities in education and jobs, but Dr Kamilla Kamaruddin has managed to make a success of her life and advanced her career.
The Ipoh-born Kamilla is a trans doctor with 30 years’ experience with the National Health Service (NHS) in England.
She spent her childhood in Ipoh, studying at St Michael’s Institution and the Malay College, Kuala Kangsar (MCKK), before she pursued a medical degree at Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia (UKM).
After one year at UKM, she was offered a place at the Catholic University of Leuven in Belgium to continue her studies. A prerequisite was to learn Flemish before enrolment, a challenge she accepted with relish to realise her dream.
She returned to Malaysia in 1987 to complete her housemanship. Three years later, she was offered a job with the NHS in England.
Hers is a story of encouragement and adversity. She overcame the barriers placed by a conservative Malaysian society and excelled.
She recalls the time when she was bullied at school, but her parents instilled in her the importance of education. They taught her and her seven siblings self-respect and respect for others.
Kamilla’s journey to become a successful doctor and partner in her practice in London, and win numerous awards for her service to the community, has not been smooth. Nevertheless, she overcame the hurdles, the prejudices and lack of support.
Her latest achievements include being a finalist in the UK General Practice Awards 2018 and the Royal College of General Practitioners’ Inspire Award 2019. She also won awards from magazines like Pulse UK and Diversity and Inclusivity.
The awards fill her with pride and are a measure of her accomplishments. She said: “To be a trans is hard and you have to navigate through the prejudices and acceptance. My journey has been fraught with depression and bad coping mechanisms.
“With resilience and support from many, I have managed to channel my pain into advocating a more meaningful life for myself and others. To be recognised for my achievements is a privilege.”
She is grateful for the support of her NHS colleagues and the medical care given by the NHS to the minorities and the less privileged trans people.
“Inclusivity is one of the pillars of general practice in England, and most general practitioners support that. I am grateful to that country and the NHS for giving me the opportunity to thrive.”
Anyone meeting Kamilla for the first time would see a friendly, self-assured and self-confident person. Few realise that at school, she was timid, shy, reserved and lacked confidence. She found an escape — reading — to forget the trauma of being bullied.
Kamilla is disappointed with the Malaysian medical community for betraying the LGBT community. Many trans people have died after taking unregulated and contaminated hormones purchased from the internet. The medical community has been silent on this issue.
She urges society, politicians, religious leaders and individuals to help end the violence and hatred directed towards the LGBT community, by giving them the respect they deserve. She wants the authorities to provide them with healthcare, access to education and job opportunities.
“Embrace trans people as respected citizens of Malaysia. Stop treating trans people as lesser beings. We do not deserve that,” she said.
To honour the legacy of her parents, who instilled in her the values of education and mutual respect, she and her siblings have opened a computer club and library for needy schoolchildren in a deprived area in Ulu Langat.
Kamilla would like to work in Malaysia, but realises that this is impossible. Her wish is to open a gender-identity clinic to support trans people, and provide them with better healthcare, better mental health provisions and better hormone treatments.
She advocates a removal of the barriers and a dialogue with healthcare leaders to discuss the way forward. With better awareness of the LGBT community and more positive stories about them, she says these resourceful and hardworking people could make a valuable contribution to our society.
The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of FMT.