KUALA LUMPUR, Nov 25 — The Pakatan Harapan (PH) government should start viewing the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) community through a human rights lens rather than a religious one, activist Nisha Ayub urged today.
The founder of transgender rights group Justice for Sisters said many voted in the new administration last year for reforms and inclusivity, but it had so far dismissed any hope of recognising even the basic rights of a transgender person, or anyone from the LGBT community.
“In the previous government, Najib made a statement that the LGBT people are enemies of Islam and it created hatred and anger from the public towards us, the minority,” she told a forum here, referring to former prime minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak.
“Subsequently, a case happened in Terengganu where young boys on bikes attacked a transgender woman on the streets and almost killed her. When asked why they did that, they said ‘Saya tak suka pondan’ which translates to ‘I hate transgender people’,” she related.
“Pondan” is a slur in Malay against the transgender community.
“I was hoping this violence and hatred would end in this new era. However, I was wrong, as we’re continued being seen as not part of society but rather seen as deviants, hence the hatred continues till today.”
Nisha also reminded the crowd that from 2007 to this year, 19 transgender people have been murdered in Malaysia. Nine of those were murdered just between the last two years, making up almost 40 per cent of the total murders.
The transgender activist was speaking in a panel discussion on how Malaysia is addressing the elimination of sexual harassment, assault, violence and rape, at the Women’s Institute of Management.
The forum was in conjunction with the International Day for Elimination of Violence Against Women which falls on November 25 every year.
Nisha recalled how in the 1980s transgender persons were treated as equals, given free treatment at hospitals, and had their own association which helped the community in finding work outside the sex trade, where some were forced due to lack of opportunity.
Nisha said that up until now she has to carry the identity card and passport which carries her sex assigned at birth.
She also related how the media weren’t interested in what she had to say after a meeting with a minister where they spoke about issues such as violence, education and employment. She said a Malay mainstream media asked her which toilet she used and then the national narrative became which toilet she used rather than the issues at hand.
“Imagine, the biggest question was which toilet I was going to use, and that’s becoming national news,” she said.
“We did our own survey and found almost 60 per cent of transgender people work in the sex trade. Do you think they want to? When I questioned them most of them came to me and asked if I could help them find a job, but that’s the most difficult thing to do.”
Citing the 2014 report by Human Rights Watch, Nisha pointed out that Malaysia has among the most discriminatory laws against transgender persons, not just in Asia, but in the world.
She said this pattern of indiscriminate violence is set to continue as most of the LGBT community are afraid to speak up after they were abused, as they feel they have no place in society, while the laws in place do not protect them.
She gave the example of Sameera Krishnan, a trans woman who was brutally mutilated in 2017, as a prime example of how people tend to hate transgenders for no reason.
Sameera, who worked at a flower shop, was found dead with a gunshot wound and her body mutilated in Jalan Pasar, Kuantan in 2017 after she went out to buy food.
Sameera herself was the main witness in her own kidnapping case two years prior.
“She was a victim of her own case but ended up becoming a refugee because she was unprotected by the system,” said Nisha.
Nisha said the Human Rights Commission of Malaysia (Suhakam) and her are working on a report speaking about discrimination against transgender persons in Malaysia.
“The increasing trend of murders and violence is in line with the transphobia in Malaysia that’s unaddressed. It’s further exacerbated by discriminate laws, policies and state-funded programmes that reinforce exclusion, discrimination, and misinformation against trans people.
“The government needs to engage with the community, listen to their issues and needs and stop portraying LGBT as influenced by western culture. We are not influenced by them, we exist in a diverse culture and everywhere you go around the world, the community exists,” said Nisha.
“We must create awareness from top to bottom for if you just focus on top it doesn’t reach the bottom. Start looking at the community not as LGBT, but look at us as a Malaysian citizen that deserves equal rights like everyone in Malaysia.”
“Please remember that we are also human beings. We bleed, we cry and we have hopes, dreams and feelings too just like everyone else. We’re not asking for special treatment, just equal treatment. And if we talk about equality and diversity, then don’t forget inclusivity as well,” she pleaded.
The United Nations General Assembly has designated November 25 as the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women, to raise awareness of the fact that women around the world are subject to rape, domestic violence and other forms of violence.
Tonight, the Kuala Lumpur Tower will be lit in orange from 7.30pm till 12am to commemorate this occasion.