Minister’s nod for authorities to go after trans persons will lead to spike in discrimination, violence, says rights group

Datuk Seri Zulkifli Mohamad speaks at the Tuanku Mizan Mosque in Putrajaya March 12, 2020. — Picture by Shafwan Zaidon
Datuk Seri Zulkifli Mohamad speaks at the Tuanku Mizan Mosque in Putrajaya March 12, 2020. — Picture by Shafwan Zaidon

KUALA LUMPUR, July 12 — Transgender rights group Justice for Sisters (JFS) lambasted minister Datuk Seri Zulkifli Mohamad for giving Islamic authorities a “full licence” to arrest and “educate” the already persecuted gender minority.

In a statement, JFS said it is already observing concerns from the community over their personal security, safety and well-being, and the remark will have hampered the religious affairs minister’s previous efforts in engaging with trans persons when he was a mufti.

“His statement will increase discrimination, violence and mistreatment of transgender women with impunity by enforcement officers of the Islamic Departments as well as members of the public.

“We are already observing questions and concerns over personal security, safety and well-being by transgender persons across the country since the release of the statement,” JFS said.

It pointed to the Study on Discrimination against Transgender Persons in Kuala Lumpur and Selangor by the Malaysian Human Rights Commission (Suhakam), which revealed that 57 per cent of trans women interviewed had experienced arbitrary arrest based on their gender identity.

JFS said that the study also documented the impact of hostile encounters with the enforcement agencies, which include anxiety, trauma, depression amongst others, with four persons confessing that they have had suicidal thoughts, and one attempting suicide as a result of such encounters.

“The notion that gender identity and transgender persons can be rehabilitated, changed or ‘returned to the right path’ through counselling is completely false and unscientific. It subjects transgender persons, non-binary and gender non-conforming persons to so much harm and human rights violations,” it said.

“In fact, these corrective or conversion therapies, including those that use spiritual and religious methods have been rejected by medical and human rights bodies globally due to its harmful impact, including depression, suicidal ideation and attempts and self harm, among others.

“We reiterate that these practices are forms of torture given the magnitude of harm it has on the individual and their loved ones,” JFS added.

It said although Putrajaya may claim that it has witnessed many transgender who were said to “return to the right path”‘, it must also analyse the factors and circumstances which contributed to the said changes.

JFS said such moves are often made to secure access to opportunities, services, and to be simply accepted by society.

“Given the discrimination, violence and marginalisation that they faced throughout their lives, some transgender people cannot imagine they could be accepted without condition and therefore subject themselves to society’s conditions just to get by.

“We believe that trans people know their own needs and do not need uninvited interventions from others to correct them. We should listen to them tell us what they want,” it said, urging the minister to withdraw his remark.

Zulkifli’s remark appeared to be in response to risqué photos on social media by cosmetics entrepreneur Nur Sajat, which prompted the ire of some Muslim hardliners.

In 2018, when he was then Federal Territories mufti, Zulkifli had called on religious authorities to revisit a fatwa, or Islamic edict declaring transgenderism as un-Islamic, adding that the phenomenon is not inherently wrong.

Conversion therapy, which consists of psychological treatment or spiritual counseling to change a person’s sexual orientation from homosexual or bisexual to heterosexual, is widely seen by the medical and scientific community as potentially harmful and a form of pseudoscience.

The practice is opposed and has been legally challenged, or even banned, in countries such as Australia, Brazil, Chile, China, Ecuador, Israel, Lebanon, Malta, South Africa, Switzerland, the United Kingdom and the United States.

In 2014, several medical and gender experts questioned the “success” of Islamic authorities’ spiritual rehabilitation camp for transgenders, insisting they need medical care to transition them into their affirmed gender identities rather than rehabilitation to return them to what some may consider “normal”.

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