Where business has encouraged pleasure

Where business has encouraged pleasure

As Anwar Ibrahim prepares to fight for his political future all over again, SSO explores Malaysia’s acceptance of their gay and lesbian population.

Kuala Lumpur-raised, Kevin (surname withheld), 33, attributes an overall shift towards a greater acceptance of homosexuality to better economic conditions in Malaysia.

We as a nation have become more affluent. People don’t really care so much now because life has become so fast-paced and business-driven that people aren’t concerned about these -˜trivial’ matters any more, he said.

I disagree when some people say that it’s because Malaysian society is now more open.

Kevin believes that the four gay bars and two saunas currently found in Kuala Lumpur are due to entrepreneurial locals capitalising on a demand for gay venues.

Society has become so materialist that entrepreneurs look at any way to make money. Someone had the foresight to cash in on the pink dollar, he said.

Despite the presence today of a gay infrastructure, homosexuality in the country is illegal. Under British imperial law, Section 377 of the penal code prohibits sodomy. There are also no laws prohibiting discrimination based on sexual orientation.

In reality Section 377 is hardly ever executed. A rare exception was one of the most famous cases in Malaysian judicial and political history.

In 1999 Anwar Ibrahim was Malaysia’s deputy prime minister. He was the only Malaysian to ever make Time magazine’s 100 Most Influential People and was Newsweek‘s 1998 Asian of the Year. At the height of his political power he was a staunch critic of what he perceived as corruption within the government.

In a political move, Anwar himself was charged, found guilty and sentenced to six years’ prison for corruption and nine years’ prison for sodomy. On appeal the sodomy conviction was overturned in 2004 and taking into account good behaviour he was released in September that year.

It was an injustice. The case does reflect badly on gay people, Kevin said. But it was a political move on behalf of Mahathir [the former prime minister], who used this law for his own political gain.

In April this year Anwar was re-elected to the Malaysian Parliament. Kevin believes that Anwar has no intention of attempting to overturn the legislation that convicted him.

It’s not a huge issue for him. He says he wants equal rights for everyone and no-one should be disadvantaged but he can’t be a gay activist, Kevin said.

If he attempts to do that, his supporters will turn away from him. The Malaysian government is dominated by Muslim parties.

Rather than having the opportunity to fight for social justice, Ibrahim is again forced to defend himself amid new accusations of sexual assault by a 23-year-old male aide.

For Kevin, growing up gay in Malaysia was not particularly difficult because he’s not Muslim. There were no societal expectations placed on him.

I had it much easier than my Muslim friends. A few ended up having to get married because that is what society wanted them to do, he said.

Kevin came to Australia in 2004 after spending a couple of years in New Zealand.

I wanted to come to a first-world, liberal, cosmopolitan country that’s close to Malaysia, he said.

The reality has far exceeded my expectations. You can be who you want to be here.

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One response to “Where business has encouraged pleasure”

  1. It is interesting that quite a few former British colonies still have this Section 377 of the penal code, when anti sodomy laws were repealed in UK in 1967. I have been forwarded an interesting email recently, which I want to share with the readers of SSO:


    Gay Indians demand a British apology

    First it was slavery, then it was looting the world’s architectural treasures and hauling them back to our museums. Now it is homophobia.
    Over the years Britain has been asked to apologise for many historical wrongs but activists in India are about to demand another apology.
    Sixty-six years after Mahatma Gandhi told the British to quit India from a park in Mumbai, thousands of gay activists will gather in the same park tomorrow to call on the British government to apologise for introducing anti-sodomy laws that still make homosexuality illegal in India today.
    Their call will be issued during the first gay pride march in Mumbai for three years and is part of a wider campaign to abolish a Section 377 of the Indian penal code which outlaws “unnatural sexual offences” and theoretically punishes anal or oral sex with up to ten years in prison.
    In practice no-one has been prosecuted under the law in the past two decades but it has been used by officials to counter the work of HIV activists in some Indian states.
    Gay rights campaigners also argue that because Section 377 enshrines homophobia within India’s legal systems it also legitimises the continued repression of gay men and women in wider Indian society.
    A draft copy of the statement seen by The Independent accuses Britain of exporting homophobia during the nineteenth century when colonial administrators began enforcing Victorian laws and morals on their Indian subjects.
    Here are a few excerpts from the statement:
    “Sixty six years ago-¦ Mahatma Gandhi gave the call for the British to Quit India. Today we invoke the Father of our Nation’s spirit and call on the British government to apologise for the legacy of hatred they left us in the form of Section 377 of the Indian Penal Code.
    “Through this law the idea of treating homosexuals as criminals was imposed by the colonial government on the more tolerant traditions of India. We call on the British government to apologise for the immense suffering that has resulted from their imposition of Section 377. And we call on the Indian government to abandon this abhorrent alien legacy of the Raj that should have left our shores when the British did.”
    The demand will almost certainly be ignored by the British government who have yet to issue the long sought after apology over slavery -“ Blair came closest in 2006 when he expressed “deep sorrow” over Britain’s involvement in the slave trade.
    But the call goes to the heart of whether Britain should admit guilt in some of the less pleasant aspects of its colonial past.
    The same British-inspired laws that make homosexuality illegal in India are still in place in former colonial countries like Jamaica, Malaysia and Nigeria. Britain may have abolished the majority of its discriminatory laws (anti-sodomy laws were repealed in 1967), but its homophobic legacy lives on in many of the countries it once occupied.
    But what about prior to the British colonial administration of India?
    Gay rights activists argue that before Britain turned up with its western moral values, India had a long history of tolerance towards same-sex relationships.
    They point to historical evidence showing that in Hindu, Buddhist and even the early Muslim Mughal cultures, homosexuality was very much accepted (or at least ignored).
    Sections of the Hindu scriptures, the Kama Sutra, the acceptance of a third sex (tritiya-prakriti), and the litany of erotic carvings at temples such as Khajuraho are just some of many indications that show how Hinduism has long accepted all sorts of forms of eroticism.
    Early Mughal poetry (prior to the more austere reins of emperors such as Aurangzeb), meanwhile, often documents and praises the love between two men.
    Many Indian activists believe that the imposition of the anti-sodomy laws in 1860 by the British was a major step-backwards for a culture that had otherwise tolerated the type of eroticism that was simply unacceptable to the Victorians.
    Sachin Jain, Co-founder of Gaybombay, told me the other day: “This is more of my personal belief, but I think an apology from the British Government will bring a sense of closure to the hundreds of thousands of LGBT people in the Commonwealth, from Jamaica to Nigeria, from Pakistan to Sri Lanka, from Malaysia to India who personally have suffered murder, torture, blackmail, harassment and violence attributable (directly or indirectly) to anti-sodomy laws. All we are seeking is an apology, not help. We have faith in our democratic processes and values of the freedom movement to bring about change.”