Malaysian transgender activist crowned ‘hero’ at regional LGBT awards

Transgender activist Nisha Ayub was awarded ‘Hero of the Year’ at the second Asia LGBT Milestone Awards (ALMAs) yesterday in Bangkok. ― Picture by Choo Choy May
Transgender activist Nisha Ayub was awarded ‘Hero of the Year’ at the second Asia LGBT Milestone Awards (ALMAs) yesterday in Bangkok. ― Picture by Choo Choy May

KUALA LUMPUR, April 16 — Transgender activist Nisha Ayub, who is part of rights group Justice for Sisters (JFS), was awarded “Hero of the Year” at the second Asia LGBT Milestone Awards (ALMAs) yesterday in Bangkok.

Nisha and JFS gained prominence last year for assisting three Muslim transgender women here in their constitutional challenge of a Shariah legislation in Negri Sembilan that outlaws men from cross-dressing, a watershed case that they won in the Court of Appeal.

“I am of course overwhelmed, but for me I’m just happy that the issue of transgenders in Malaysia is now known. Now people hear the voices of not just me, but also the community,” Nisha told Malay Mail Online over phone today.

“Personally, I feel that the hero is not supposed to be me, but the girls,” she added, referring to the three transgender women whom JFS assisted.

Nisha said she hopes that the acknowledgement will motivate the transgender community here to speak up and to stand up for their rights and issues.

“It gives hope not just to me as a person, but also to other trans community members in Malaysia. There is hope for us … Always voice out your issue. If you don’t, nobody will know about it,” she added.

Besides Nisha, the other two individuals nominated for “Hero of the Year” were former female Indian track athlete Pinki Pramanik, and Chinese gay rights activist Wei Tingting.

Pinki, an intersex, faced false allegations of rape and being a man in disguise by her housemate in 2012, before she was finally acquitted last year.

Meanwhile, feminist Wei was among five women detained by China last month for their activism, and was just released on Tuesday.

Other awards included “Icon of the Year”, which went to Taiwan pop star Jolin Tsai, and Entrepreneur of The Year, which went to Geng Le, a former policeman-turned-gay dating app developer.

The award was held by Singapore’s gay magazine Element, with 50 nominees named by 100 members of the judging panel from 11 Asian countries.

The Court of Appeal had in November last year ruled in favour of three Muslim transgenders who were convicted of cross-dressing under the Shariah enactment that punishes Muslim men who wear women’s attire with a fine not exceeding RM1,000, or jail of not more than six months, or both.

The appellate court also ruled Section 66 of the enactment as unconstitutional and void, noting that the provision contravened fundamental liberties, including personal liberty, equality, freedom of movement and freedom of expression.

The three-judge panel of Malaysia’s second-highest court led by Justice Datuk Mohd Hishamudin Yunus and comprising Datuk Aziah Ali and Datuk Lim Yee Lan had also said the law was discriminatory as it failed to recognise men diagnosed with gender identity disorder.

In January, Negri Sembilan was allowed to appeal the case in the Federal Court, with prominent lawyer Tan Sri Muhammad Shafee Abdullah representing the applicants, which also included the state’s Islamic Religious Affairs Department, its director, its chief enforcer, and the state’s chief Shariah prosecutor.

“They’re the real heroes. If they didn’t keep up the fight for the past few years, we wouldn’t have achieved what we’ve won,” Nisha added, referring to the three applicants.

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