Hailed by the 16 March edition of the news magazine The Economist as the no-colour revolution, Malaysia’s recent elections saw multiculturalism and diversity triumph over the orthodoxy of the ruling coalition. However, both government and opposition manifestos still decisively lack recognition for the rights of people with a diverse sexual identity and orientation.
Issues pertaining to the LGBT community in Malaysia have typically lacked acknowledgement by mainstream media. In some circles of society, the queer life is culturally and socially viewed as an import of Western influence but, more conventionally, it is seen as a taboo against family tradition.
Section 377 of Malaysia’s Penal Code prohibits carnal intercourse against order of nature and is often used by the authorities to intimidate and harass gay men and gay-friendly bars and businesses. For example, in November 2007, police raided a fitness centre on the island state of Penang that they claimed had boxes of condoms and lubricants, gay magazines and pornographic videos. Additionally, there are currently no anti-discriminatory laws in place to prohibit discrimination against a particular sexual identity or orientation.
In spite of these restrictions, PT Foundation (PTF) provides counselling, information and support on issues related to sexuality and HIV/AIDS. Their community-based programs include working with the Malaysian AIDS Council to represent, inform and support vulnerable communities, such as people living with HIV/AIDS, drug users, sex workers, transsexuals and men who have sex with men. The organisation also provides legal advice with a particular focus on issues facing transsexuals.
To date, PTF is one of only a few organisations in Malaysia dedicated to representing the LGBT community. Their approach, however, is not rights-based and instead focuses on providing necessary support systems through outreach, education, counselling, sexuality awareness and empowerment.
PT Foundation’s acting executive director Raymond Tai believes the lack of gay public figures and role models in Malaysian society has made it more difficult for people to come out and gain acceptance within their communities.
There’s an unspoken norm against LGBTs, he said.
They face little restrictions as long as they’re not publicly accepted or recognised.
For three years now, PTF, with the help of many young volunteers, has organised the annual World AIDS Day festivities, called the Red Carnival. Through performances and road shows, Red Carnival creates a platform where information on HIV/AIDS and sexuality is easily accessible.