Malaysian politician Charles Santiago has spoken out after a spate of anti-LGBTI comments and headlines in the country have caused concern among activists.
Last week, Malaysia’s Tourism Minister Mohamaddin Ketapi told reporters that there are no gay people in the country ahead of a tourism conference in Germany.
Santiago tweeted that the “government has a duty to protect and promote the interest of women from the LGBT community”, and that the media needs to “stop the demonising” of LGBTI people.
Gay sex remains illegal in Malaysia, with reports of an LGBTI crackdown emerging last year, prompting Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad to say that the public caning of two women for attempting to have sex “does not reflect justice and tolerance in Islam.”
Earlier in 2018, a university held a competition inviting students to enter their ideas for ways to convert LGBTI students.
And in December, five people were charged for beating a trans woman to death while video of an assault on two men accused of having sex went viral on social media.
“The government cannot deny the existence of hate crime in Malaysia,” trans activist and co-founder of Justice for Sister, Nisha Ayub, said at the time.
In addition to Santiago, activists in the country are saying that the media is sensationalising the inclusion of LGBTI rights in the Women’s March Malaysia, which took place on International Women’s Day, Gay Star News reported.
Local newspapers have reportedly been using terms like “pollute” and “infect” to refer to LGBTI people’s involvement.
One politician said that the march had “abused democratic space to defend something that is wrong by Islam” by including queer women, and LGBTI rights more broadly, in the march.
The organisers behind the march released a statement, highlighting the issues they wanted to bring attention to through the march, including violence based on gender and sexual orientation, child marriages, bodily choice, and a dignified minimum wage.
“The importance of these realities and demands were entirely sidelined by the media and attackers of the march,” the statement said.
“Instead, disproportionate attention was made to single out and target the presence of LGBT participants.
“This borders on incitement to hatred and violence, towards a section of Malaysian society who are already at risk and facing multiple forms of discrimination.
So, #womensmarchMY was so fun, empowering and you just feel so safe marching amongst others who fight for the same cause, to have equal rights and fight against all the odds and discrimination! Missing everyone, already :( pic.twitter.com/XHhBRR4tnD
— QueerMY: Gay Bird 🏳️🌈🐦 (@QueerMalaysia) March 10, 2019
“We strongly reject such a move, and the continued escalation of this hostile and aggressive treatment.”
Organisers called on the government to address structural inequalities, and said that “this includes not only lesbian, bisexual intersex, queer and trans women, but also indigenous women, young women, women domestic workers, women with disabilities, rural women, single women, heterosexual women and more.”
“The deliberate non-recognition of LBTIQ women acts as an attempt to exclude and eras an entire segment of the population of women.
“We call for reason, restraint, openness and respect by all parties who are currently launching a campaign of hate and aggression towards the march,” they said.