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Debunking LGBTIQ Myths and Misconceptions in Malaysia

Debunking LGBTIQ Myths and Misconceptions in Malaysia

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The two consecutive anti-LGBTIQ events by the Department of Islamic Development Malaysia (JAKIM) in Universiti Malaya (UM) and the Selangor State Islamic Department in Shah Alam on October 13th and 14th respectively are a genuine cause for alarm. From their biased content and the use of public funds, to the support by a public university and Selangor state government, the events reflect a slew of problems. Above all, the content disseminated directly discriminates against lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, intersex and queer (LGBTIQ) persons as they perpetuate harmful stereotypes and misrepresent the realities of LGBTIQ persons.

 

 

 

Myth #1: LGBTIQ Persons are Morally Bankrupt

Both events by JAKIM used the narrative that LGBTIQ persons are lost and confused, hooked on drugs, alcohol and sex, and are morally bankrupt. The event in UM featured two “repented” LGBTIQ persons, focusing mainly on their history of sexual experiences, drug use and other personal choices. While the experiences portrayed had no connection to sexual orientation and gender identity whatsoever, there was no structural and systemic analysis on the factors that may contribute to such experiences.

LGBTIQ persons do not exist in a vacuum. Social, cultural, economic and political contexts affect their experiences, just like everyone else. Consider the continued refusal to recognise their lived experiences; discriminatory laws; and barriers to access basic rights. All these contribute to increased health burden including stress, anxiety, depression and suicidal ideas; increased poverty; lack of social safety nets; and lack of support and affirmation from family members and friends which further isolate and traumatize LGBTIQ persons.

The assumptions and stereotypes that depict LGBTIQ persons as not religious, spiritual and/or morally bankrupt are completely untrue. The reality is there are many LGBTIQ persons who actively practice and deeply believe in their religion and spirituality. LGBTIQ persons have the same right to religion and spirituality as cisgender heterosexual people. In fact, it is the rejection and ex-communication by religious institutions (not limited to state Islamic departments) that cause deep conflicts within LGBTIQ persons.

 

 

Myth #2: Suppression of LGBTIQ Identities is not Discriminatory

In line with JAKIM’s “soft approach”, the organizers highlighted that LGBTIQ persons should be encouraged to suppress their sexual identity rather than be bullied. However, the organizers failed to recognize that suppression of identities is still a form of discrimination, violence and torture. Forcing people to confine themselves to binary constructs amounts to the erasure of their diverse identities. This forced suppression is the very reason many individuals resort to drugs, alcohol and other destructive practices as a way to deal with the mental health issues and rejection that they face.

 

 

Myth #3: Five Factors That Make One LGBTIQ

JAKIM claims that there are 5 factors that make one LGBT: parenting, traumatic events (sexual violence), pornography, bullying, and environmental factors. These are myths that have in fact been debunked.

Historical and anthropological evidence show that sexual and gender diversity have always existed across the world. This includes hijra in Indiacalabai, calalai and bissu in Indonesiaasog/bayugin in the Philippinesmukhannathun in Makkah and MedinaFa’afafine in Samoa and New Zealand; Māhū in Hawai’I; two-spirit in North America, and let’s not forget the existence of sida-sidagender-diverse identities similar to present-day transgender persons, in the palaces of Negeri Sembilan, Kelantan, Johor, and other parts of the Peninsula Malaya. It cannot be stressed enough that diversity of sexual orientations, gender identities and expressions and sex characteristics are normal occurrences in life.

There is no evidence to support the claim that childhood trauma, experiences of abuse in childhood, parenting skills, absent fathers and domineering mothers or tension in the family are factors that cause one to become LGBTIQ. In 1975, the American Psychological Association (APA) removed homosexuality from the Diagnostic Statistical Manual (DSM), as “research has found no inherent association between any of these sexual orientations and psychopathology” and “heterosexual behavior and homosexual behavior are normal aspects of human sexuality.”

 

 

Myth #4. LGBT Persons can be Corrected or Return to the ‘Right Path’

A central theme in JAKIM’s anti-LGBT messaging and efforts is that sexual orientation and gender identity can be changed through rehabilitation, conversion therapy and suppression.

Mukhayyam, a rehabilitation programme by JAKIM for LGBTIQ persons claims to be a strategy to reduce the prevalence of HIV. However, the Global AIDS Response Progress Report 2016 notes that there is no evidence to prove the efficacy of this programme. More importantly, we need to recognise that rehabilitation and corrective therapy are not just ineffective, but they create more harm. All major national mental health organizations have rejected and expressed concerns regarding therapies that aim to correct or change gender identity, gender expression and sexual orientation, as there are risks of depression, social withdrawal, suicidal tendencies, substance abuse, stress, hostility problems in sexual and emotional intimacy, sexual dysfunction, as well as a feeling of being dehumanised and loss of faith.

 

Myth #5: LGBT Persons are the Leading Cause of HIV

This claim is not just untrue, but also simply irresponsible. Such statements, especially in an environment where LGBTIQ people are already stigmatized, can lead to rollback of rights of people living with HIV. A media release by the Malaysian AIDS Council in October 2017 can debunk this myth as it stated that of the reported 3,397 new HIV infections last year, 84% (2,864 cases) were sexually transmitted wherein 46% (1,553 out of 2,864 cases) were related to homo/bisexuals  and 38% (1,311 out of 2,864 cases) were heterosexual transmissions.

We also need to examine the correlation between HIV transmissions and anti-LGBTIQ laws in Malaysia. A report by the United Nations Country Team in 2014 shows that the rise of criminalization and anti-LGBTIQ activities increases health risks (including HIV, STI and mental health issues) faced by LGBTIQ persons due to the discrimination, legal, socio-political and economic barriers faced by the community. This shows that LGBTIQ persons are not inherently at risk of HIV.

 

Reality of Sexual Violence Experienced by LGBTIQ Persons

LGBTIQ persons experience increased risks of sexual violence because of their sexual orientation, gender identity, gender expression and sex characteristics. In some cases, LGBTIQ persons are sexually assaulted as a form of correction and most LGBTIQ persons’ first sexual experiences are sexual violence. In these cases, LGBTIQ persons are not able to share their experiences or report these incidences to the authorities. This creates an environment that disempowers and silences LGBTIQ persons and emboldens perpetrators. The experience of sexual violence do not make one LGBTIQ. These issues of sexual violence need to be addressed regardless of age, sexual orientation, gender identity and sex characteristics.

**The original article was posted on Justice For Sisters. You can read the full version of the article here

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