In collaboration with Amnesty Malaysia BAC, the BAC Law Society held a talk on the rights of the LGBTQIA+ community in Malaysia on Friday, 16th July 2021. This talk was held to provide insight on their rights, the plights they face, and their communal hopes for a better future. The panellists included Numan Afifi (Founder of PELANGI Campaign), Andi Suraidah (Co-founder of Legal Dignity) and Damien Chong (Illustrator at MISI: Solidariti).
Numan kickstarted the Panel Discussion by expressing how the pandemic has exacerbated conditions for members of the LGBTQIA+ community. He mentioned that there is a dramatic increase in the number of LGBTQIA+ members requesting shelter during this pandemic. This could be due to the fact that these members face much more discrimination, when finding places to live. He also added that they were further marginalised due to the pandemic. A good example of this is; during the Movement Control Order (MCO), married couples were allowed to travel interstate. However, this privilege was not extended to LGBTQIA+ couples thus subjecting them to further ordeals.
Andi then touched on the legal aspects, covering offences that the LGBTQIA+ community could face. The list of offences include Section 377A and Section 377B of the Penal Code, both of which punish consensual carnal intercourse. Similarly, Section 372B of the Penal Code, punishes soliciting services of prostitution. Andi also mentions the infamous Section 233 of the Communications and Multimedia Act 1988, which punishes individuals for the improper use of network service. Numan then added on to this by stating that he had been investigated under the Peaceful Assembly Act 2012, upon returning from giving a speech at the United Nations. Andi concluded this portion of the discussion by saying that the offences mentioned have been used disproportionately against the LGBTQIA+ community and that serious reform was in need.
The panel discussion then continued with Damien’s viewpoint, which is that the laws in Malaysia fail to protect members of the LGBTQIA+ community. He talked about how in Malaysia, there is a bad narrative on the LGBTQIA+ community and some even associate them with paedophilia. Negative associations like this, has led to LGBTQIA+ members always having to stay vigilant and be aware of their surroundings – in order to protect themselves from harassment and bigotry caused by those who oppose their way of life.
Following this, Andi addressed several Syariah offences that an LGBTQIA+ person may face. Firstly, she clarified that the Syariah court has significantly lower punishments, therefore, its sentencing jurisdiction is limited to a maximum fine of RM5000, six strokes of the cane, and 3 years of imprisonment. However, she also added that by virtue of having an extra layer of law against them, Muslims do have a harder time being part of the LGBTQIA+ community. Offences such as Liwat (Sodomy), Musahaqah (Sexual Relations between Women) and cross-dressing, may be used to go against the LGBTQIA+ community.
When asked about their views on the proposition of harsher punishment, Numan responded by stating that these punishments were draconian whilst at the same time, they reminded people that it is important to take a stand and fight for their rights and beliefs. Andi proceeded to add that negative reinforcement almost never works and that people should be educated on acceptance, instead. Lastly, Damien also reminded everyone to take a stance in what they believe in and to stop being pushovers.
Before the panel discussion ended, the panellists were asked about their hopes and dreams for the LGBTQIA+ community. Numan remains hopeful. He notes that the current situation in Malaysia is unideal, however, he encourages members of the LGBTQIA+ community to stay strong and move forward, whilst advocating for a better future for the community. Andi, on the other hand, hopes that everyone will do their part in advocating for progressive change. She acknowledges that even though positive acceptance of the LGBTQIA+ community in Malaysia is a long haul, she finds solace in the small victories such as the Iki Putra Mubarak’s case. Last but not least, Damien hopes that the discrimination will come to an end. He is reminded daily, that the journey towards ending discrimiantion “is a marathon, not a sprint”. However, with youths being more progressive and having access to unlimited information, he remains hopeful.
Overall, the event was a major success for all who partook in it. All the panellists provided insightful information on the legal standpoints for those in the LGBTQIA+ community. This included Civil and Syariah offences used to target the LGBTQIA+ community, how to protect oneself, and ways to advocate for progressive change within the society, so that the future generations get to live in a better place. One of the take-away lessons of this event, is that; deep down as individuals we are all fundamentally the same. For the world to be a better place, we need to eradicate hate for minority groups and learn to embrace one another as a unified community. As Numan said, “we are neighbours, we are colleagues, we are classmates, we are family”.