Time for Malaysia to embrace LGBT community — Bakhtiar Talhah

MAY 17 — In 2018, two Malaysian women received six lashes in an open court in Terengganu.

Last year, five Malaysian men were fined, imprisoned, and caned for attempted sexual intercourse.

And many Malaysians are arrested and jailed every year for the way they dress.

These Malaysians share one commonality: they are all part of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) population that is part of the Malaysian fabric.

Despite the inhumane ways my country treats its LGBT population, I proudly and openly count myself as a LGBT Malaysian.

First and foremost, let me be honest and declare that I am a privileged Malaysian.

I am a Malay Bumiputera who attended the elite Malay College Kuala Kangsar (MCKK), the school that produced some of the best Malaysian leaders, intellectuals, and professionals who serve this country.

Stellar SPM results won me a full scholarship that took me to Princeton University, and subsequently a career that spanned the globe, and a (gay) marriage in France that almost made me write Malaysia off for good.

But I found myself back here, to the same place that rejected my very existence, among a populace that still thinks LGBT folks do not belong.

While I climbed the corporate ladder through those years, leaders in Malaysia continued to fuel homophobia with some referring to the LGBT people as enemies of Islam, along with liberalism and pluralism.

I look around and am immensely proud by the way Malaysians managed things amid the Covid-19 pandemic.

I see LGBT Malaysians everywhere; healthcare professionals at the frontlines, corporate leaders, social activists, educationists, legal practitioners, artists, chefs, entrepreneurs, Grab riders. The list goes on.

We are part and parcel of what makes Malaysia great. And it is time that the country embraces us for who we are.

We can start by creating positive spaces in our families and workplaces, where sexual orientation and gender identities should be irrelevant, or better still, celebrated.

It is a long, difficult way to change national and religious laws in this country, but if we can open up a little bit more to each other and share our stories, it would be the first step to break down barriers.

After all, I am certain every Malaysian knows an LGBT person, who is a family member, friend, neighbour, or colleague.

Michelle Obama (another Princeton alumnus!) said “We can’t afford to wait for the world to be equal to start feeling seen.”

I am not holding my breath for Malaysia to treat me as an equal, but today I choose to be unafraid to live openly as a proud, gay Malaysian.

* May 17 marks the International Day Against Homophobia, Transphobia and Biphobia, created in 2004 to draw attention to the violence and discrimination experienced by lesbian, gay, bisexuals, transgender, intersex people and all other people with diverse sexual orientations, gender identities or expressions and sex characteristics.

May 17 was chosen because it commemorates the World Health Organization’s decision in 1990 to declassify homosexuality as a mental disorder.

** This is the personal opinion of the writer and does not necessarily represent the views of Malay Mail.

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