Malaysia : Back to the Dark Ages of sexual taboo


Since 2008, Seksualiti Merdeka (Independent Sexuality) festival, the LGBTiQ’s main vehicle for awareness raising and education made its contribution to Malaysian society in a beautiful, intellectually artistic manner, devoid of vulgarity.

It made “straight” heterosexual society realise and appreciate that other forms of sexual love existed and that these could be as genuine as a woman-man love. It had been and still is a struggle for gay men and women to survive even in apparently liberal-minded societies.

Those from various sexual orientations and gender identities enjoyed this annual celebration of “love and understanding” for three blissful years without interference from any government quarter.

Yet, this year, when Malaysians are acutely aware that the ruling National Front (Barisan Nasional) administration is itching to call snap general elections before the contrasts between opposition administration, and government by rhetoric becomes too clear to most of the electorate, Seksualiti Merdeka and the LGBTiQ community suddenly become the demons of immorality that must be exorcised with a blanket ban.

After three years of peaceful festivity and celebration of different sexual orientations by people who have come to accept themselves as they are, through a hard dehumanising struggle with conservative, ridgid rejection of same sex relations and other gender identities, backed by goliath religious establishments expecting conformity to perceived morality in every way, they are seen as a threat to public order.

All media (including the mainstream, government controlled media) admit that Seksualiti Merdeka is an annual sexuality rights festival celebrating human rights of people of diverse sexual orientation and gender identity. A coalition of NGOs, artistes, activists and individuals have organised the event since 2008.

The celebration for this year, themed “Queer without Fear”, began on November 1 and was to continue until November 13 with “forums, talks, workshops, book launches, an art exhibition and stage performances”, the November 3 The Star Online, 3/11/11 said. How more civilised can any event get?

However, the police moved in to stop these festivities after loud protests by right-wing, ultra conservative organisations and Islamic NGOs (allegedly joined by non- Islamic NGOs). They alleged that these programs would incite disharmony, enmity and public disorder. How that would happen, nobody can say except those who have made these claims.

It seems that the acceptance of the knowledge and recognition that human beings of different gender identity and sexual orientation exist threatens traditional ideas of morality and religious belief. If faith is an unchanging entity, it is a wonder how the world’s greatest spiritual traditions continue to be practiced and propagated for centuries to this day.

The ‘seksualiti’ scapegoat

Having cut short the sexuality festival, and instituted investigations against the organisers — Seksualiti Merdeka’s founder, Phang Kee Teik, 10 campaign organisations including women’s rights advocacy organizations, human rights organizations and the Bar Council — deputy inspector general of the police, Khalid Abu Bakar, excused the ban on grounds of preserving public peace and that the organizers lacked a permit to hold the event.

This is a familiar ruse used by the police on so many occassions that any thinking Malaysian recognises it. It is also an unconstitutional denial of our right to freedom of expression and assembly under Article 10(1) (a) and(b) under the Malaysian Federal Constitution, and Article 19 and 20(1) of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

The country’s law, according to him , “did not recognise any deviationist activity that could destroy the practice of religious freedom”. However, in the same breath, he assured the public that the police respected human rights and the right to freedom of speech.

Since when and by what authority did the police become judges of deviationist activity?

Further, in the previous three years, holding the festival had not prevented anybody from practicing their conventional faith. People always have a choice in spiritual expression.

Minister of Home Affairs Hishamuddin Hussein took an even more extreme view of Seksualiti Merdeka by calling this peaceful intellectual celebration of sexuality a threat to national security — keeping a narrow focus on homosexual relations and ignoring other issues of gender identity.

Hishamuddin also homed in on the alleged involvement of S. Ambiga, chairperson of the Bersih 2.0 movement and former President of the Bar Council, The Star Online said on November 5.

S. Ambiga was accused of being “an organiser” of the sexuality festival. She vehemently denied this to the press on November 4, saying she was invited to officiate the Seksualiti Merdeka festival on November 9, in her personal capacity and not as chairperson of the Bersih 2 movement.

In clear contrast to the exaggerated condemnation of this year’s Seksualiti Merdeka festival, no eyebrows were raised when Marina Mahathir, daughter of former prime minister Mahathir Mohammad, officiated at the same event when it opened four years ago.

Yet, this year, the retired PM was loud in his condemnation of gay relations, expressing unfounded fears of public love-making and people walking naked on Malaysian streets.

It is no surprise that the orchestrated protests against Seksualiti Merdeka came from far right groups in bed with the ruling Barisan Nasional, which also targeted S. Ambiga and Bersih 2. The opposition Islamic party — PAS and Parti Keadilan Rakyat (Peoples Justice Party), did not support the event or LGBT rights, but expressed support for their constitutional right to free expression and assembly.

Opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim, who has been dogged by two sodomy trials since 1998, also voiced strong support for S. Ambiga and questioned why she had been targeted by right-wing religious extremists.

Across the water in Sarawak, assistant minister in the chief minister’s department, Daud Abdul Rahman, gave stern warning that the government would “ go all out to stop any elements in Program Seksualiti Merdeka 2011 from entering the state”. The Sarawak State government would be working with Kuala Lumpur to terminate any gay rally or event held there.

He advised Muslim Sarawakians to withdraw or stay away from it, “ even though the programme is well received”, The Borneo Post Online said on November 8.