We are fresh from a byelection that took place for Balakong and Seri Setia constituency. The results leaned towards the Pakatan Harapan candidates, as expected. Amidst the newfound meaning of democracy, and the many spectacles that goes on exposing the state of our economy and the political satire between ‘old’ and new government, we shy away from discussing what is right in front of our eyes. The unavoidable colours of the rainbow that has its own momentum. And if there’s a discussion, it’s about reasons behind such predicament and of course, the punishment.
The treatment to our fellow Malaysians, marginalised in their own free and independent country, by Malaysians is not something new. I’m not talking about the gap between the rich and the poor, I’m referring to the other tendencies that has been categorized as lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender in short LGBT. Where are they in the new Malaysia?
In a recent talk held at the Monash University KL, a panel consisted of activist in this area gathered to discuss openly about the elephant in the room. The topic is on inclusivity, which I personally thought is appropriate to address on this issue.
How are we inclusive? The panel members are Dr. Joseph Goh, a theology activist and gender studies lecturer from Monash University, Nisha Ayub, the co-founder of SEED and Justice for Sisters Movement, Numan Afifi, community organizer for ‘Progressive Movement and Liberation’ and the president of Pelangi, and not forgetting Pang Khee Teik, the co-founder of Seksualiti Merdeka (Sexuality Rights Festival). The names and what they do speaks more volume than what has been amplified by most of the Malaysian, which refers them as LGBT people! Yes, they are and there are more than that in the soul of these people.
Having listened to topics these panellists shared with the audiences, who were by the way the intellects and the curious minds from Monash University and some from the public, it has shed light and redefined the angle on this subject. For one, Numan Afifi, well, many will remember his resignation from civil service than what put him in the office in the first place. This lad, a high calibre Malaysian who pioneered and championed many movement is internationally recognized for his leadership quality. He shared about censorship to the rich cultural and heritage of our history, which includes ‘sida-sida’ or eunuch who runs the palace affairs as equal to man and women. It could be the reason, our ‘brainwashed’ society could not comprehend the existence and what more the interaction with LGBT people.
Activist, Nisha Ayub who is the recipient of the International Women of Courage Award from the US in 2016 is the first transgender woman to receive the recognition. Nisha came a long way in her human rights advocacy for transgender. Her organization provided safety to transgender and women who faced difficulty in life and mistreatment by the society. Contrary to many belief, not all transgender woke up and plan to become a prostitute. Many has been shunned or make to leave by employers who are unable to accept or to cope with the reality of them becoming one of the LGBT citizen. At this point, Nisha shared with the audience a lighter note on the issue of toilet; which one will the transgender people use? Should they use the disable toilet because we cannot accept them in any gender toilet? You see, if we can’t even decide where they should do their business, how do we plan to openly discuss about their rights as a Malaysian citizen.
Pang Khee Teik and Nisha Ayub, have a fair share in not being able to show their patriotism too. They are Malaysian, and their love for the flag to soar high with pride and dignity is no less than any normal Malaysian. But their photos that presents the faces of Malaysian were removed from an exhibition. So, we are back in not accepting some Malaysian are LGBT people. They are not human being, because there are some that has been severely abused, and some beaten to death. They are the ‘close topic’ of Malaysia in human rights activism. That we don’t have anything for them. Are we?
When we talked about how we are inclusive; Pang brought up a valid point that a progressive movement can exist if the government embrace progressive ideas. It brings us to a point whether LGBT has been politized since after the flag issue, and the recent canning of the lesbian pair, many sections has offered in-depth explanation about LGBT, but without the involvement of the community itself. This has created and imbalance of access to resources that could shed light in the process of understanding this matter. So, when he said ‘nothing about us without us’, it is true. We allow public to mock and to ridicule, and we discuss about LGBT behind closed doors. We’ve created bigger gap in the society that dictated sexual citizenship.
But above it all, human rights, which is as clear as lights have said that LGBT people have the same right to co-exist in the same spectrum as normal people. The activist has shared that there is more pressure on the LGBT community than the society at large to exist in a private space, and to come out to the society is a very brave act, to take charge of their rights as human being.
Above it all, what amazed me is the endurance they have, to fight for what they believe in. Being the marginalised in the society, they are quick-linked with plights from other marginalised community, the oppressed and the unheard. But they chose to have an open platform with the government to communicate and to discuss and at the same time to positively helping others to stand up and facing us. If you ask me, how are we inclusive? We are anything but an inclusive society. We breed uncertainty and feed on controversies without any constructive measures to address issue. We resort to childlike excuses and public shaming for things we can’t comprehend.
I think that is one of the reason that will hinder us to progress as a nation.
AJ Black – The man may keep me down, but opinions are my own