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21 Dec 2010

It Gets Better in Malaysia project calls for greater understanding of LGBT issues after death threats

Azwan Ismail’s video clip on YouTube has attracted over 140,000 views and a flurry of discussions online – a majority of which are negative including online death threats – since it was launched last Wednesday. Two new videos released this week features university student Kavidha and Pastor Joe Pang.

The 32-year-old is the only Malay Muslim gay man in the line-up of 14 other gay and lesbian Malaysians featured in the video campaign, as featured on Fridae last week. The other Muslims include a bisexual, two transgender people and a straight person.

"Saya gay, saya OK. (I’m gay, I’m OK.)" Watch Azwan Ismail’s video clip here.

In the 3-minute clip, Azwan Ismail spoke in Malay about coming out as gay as being particularly difficult because of "religious and cultural factors (that) have defined our lives, telling us who we can be and who we can't."

Azwan was quoted as saying in an AP report that he has tried to avoid going out alone or lingering at public places after a few of the 3,000 people who commented on his video issued death threats while many others criticised his decision to go public.

Over the weekend, the video clip made newspaper headlines in the Muslim-majority country with Datuk Seri Jamil Khir Baharom, a Minister in the Prime Minister’s Department, calling on the religious authorities to monitor the activities of gay groups.

“For Muslims, we must remember that being gay is against our religious teaching,” he was quoted in the local media on Sunday as saying. “We want this activity to be monitored closely by the authorities and appropriate actions to be taken to prevent it from spreading as it can tarnish the image of Islam.”

In a statement released on Monday, Seksualiti Merdeka, producer of the video clips, said they “never intended to tarnish the image of Islam” but “simply wanted to give hope” to young Malaysians growing up with lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender (LGBT) or confused feelings on their sexual orientation.

In response to the minister’s remarks, organisers of the campaign asked why didn’t he “also ask JAKIM to supervise Muslims who post abusive and vulgar comments which threaten people with violence and death.”

“The honorable minister’s primary concern is the image of Islam being tarnished. We too never intended to tarnish the image of Islam. We simply wanted to give hope. However, we feel that Islam’s image can also be tarnished by those who speak with hate and intolerance, completely without a trace of humanity and understanding.”

Seksualiti Merdeka, a coalition of NGOs including the Bar Council Malaysia, SUARAM, Matahari Books, Empower, PT Foundation, United Nations, Amnesty International, and other individuals which also produces an annual sexuality rights festival of the same name, called on Malaysian leaders and the public to “not ignore threats of physical violence.”

The statement read in part: “Besides preventing meaningful discourse and debate, these threats also further intimidate fellow Malaysians who are already fearful for their well-being. We believe in respectful exchange of perspectives in Malaysia if we are truly a nation that celebrates diversity, dynamism, and creativity. If LGBT Malaysians are given avenues to express ourselves, we are certain the public will be more understanding and realise we are not a threat to society.

“The intolerant and vicious comments prove that Malaysia is a hostile environment preventing any LGBTs from leading honest, open and meaningful lives. This vicious cycle of shame and intimidation needs to be broken once and for all. The pressure in having to pretend to be something we are not and the loneliness and fear that comes with it often results in a misery that may push some to the verge of suicide.

“And that is why, more than ever, we need messages of hope such as that by Azwan Ismail: “I am confident that things will be better. We have to gather our strengths from around us because there people who can help us and give us the confidence to be ourselves, to face our future...”

Meanwhile here are the two new videos released this week featuring university student Kavidha and Pastor Joe Pang. 

Kavidha, who is 21 and straight, told Fridae in an email interview what motivated her to participate in this project: "I believe in equality and human rights for all. As a science student, psychological articles on why people are BORN gay appealed to me because I have a lot of gay friends who deal with a lot of obstacles because of who they are. Not everyone has friends to tell them that 'it's okay, it gets better' so I took part in this project to do that for someone.

“If just one person, especially a Malaysian LGBT, who sees any of these videos and starts thinking that they can do this, that they are just as entitled to life and success as the next person, then this project has achieved something. And that's worth more than all the nasty comments all of us have been receiving.”


Reader's Comments

1. 2010-12-21 18:38  
I'm glad that Azwan's condition received international attention. It may, to a certain extend, keep him safe.
2. 2010-12-21 21:10  
Fantastic Pastor Joe. You are an inspiration .
3. 2010-12-21 21:59  
thanks azwan and pastor joe for being brave and true to yourself. the community would be behind you both all the way. i know i would.
4. 2010-12-22 00:48  
I think its a great deal that someone as him being a gay muslim brought forth this topic. I mean reading the comments (posted on the video)...the venom....its enough to really show how one really pretended to valor religion. You never know among them are closeted. Just a tad irony that they favour religion but at the same time screw it up by fucking around.

To those pointed out its wrong from the start, how about the teens that have conflicted issues regarding sexuality and their own faith? Not only its taboo, few statistics are mentioned because 1) Nobody bothers 2) Its grossly understated 3) The public in general mention religion is a touchy topic....so we should just keep it under the rug. And as a result, unnecessary premature deaths.

Glad someone grew a spine. Glad someone spoke up. Glad the nation is moving forth not backwards into oblivion. Glad its a message of hope for those who have difficulty coming out. Glad youtube didnt bring it down. Cheers.
5. 2010-12-22 01:05  
what can the authorities do? stone him to death??

we have the freedom of speech in this democratic society.

he will be safe!!
6. 2010-12-22 02:13  
truly inspiration =)
7. 2010-12-22 04:24  
glad he made peace with himself...but in this world... homophobia is like everywhere.... even in your own brain... its a constant war when this issue is mixed with religion...(im still at war)... so i still don know what is right to do without compromising both....haiz....
8. 2010-12-22 07:26  
This statement says it all: "...Islam’s image can also be tarnished by those who speak with hate and intolerance, completely without a trace of humanity and understanding."
Before the east became tainted with Victorian western ideas, being gay was not an issue with eastern religions.
Surely it is time that Islam was dragged kicking and screaming into the 21st century.
Malaysia is a great place on the whole, with lots of great people.
9. 2010-12-22 08:59  
Thank you Kavidha...
10. 2010-12-22 11:07  
And so shall MORE and MORE speak up from TODAY.

Freedom is NOT FREE. Freedom is not CHAOS.

Societies the world over and 20th century civilization have faulted and muted many too long.

I am so proud of these young people! Tears of joy . . .
11. 2010-12-22 11:36  
just ignore the criticism and take it graciously, smile and keep on doing what your doing with the it gets better

we need to break through the stereotypes since so much of being gay is being determined by the gay sauna, drug user, sex craved stereotypes

there are many gay jews, christians, muslims, and all religions and even the stephen hawking astrophysics society members like us and we are at peace with religion and nature and happy
12. 2010-12-22 15:08  
i hope gay malaysian will stay strong, and never let internet criticism get in their way... i feel sad about many gay korean celebrities hanging themselves after being criticised on the internet this year... a strong spirit can make a difference...
13. 2010-12-22 21:38  
Saya Gay'ah, Saya Okay!..... Yeahhh!.. Read This , Diversity is our great wealth, Whine and Jeez about the status quo in Malaysia c/o Marina Mahathir.

14. 2010-12-23 00:09  
Ironically, Berita Harian embedded Azwan's video on their website, talk about instant exposure.... :)
15. 2010-12-24 17:10  
Kavidha , you rock girl ! I wish there were more people like yourself in Malaysia . Pastor Joe Pang's message is truly inspirational . Thanks guys .
16. 2010-12-25 13:32  
Azwan Ismail and Joe Ong and others are courageous. Love and respect to them. Let's see more coming out, being who they truly are. Malaysia truly Gaysia! Let's judge others on their actions not on who they are. May 2011 be a better year for the millions of GLBTI people in Asia. Let's get the UN to ensure GLBTI people are protected by international conventions, it may not 'do' much but it send a clear message that it's OK to be gay. 7 nations condone death penalties for GLBTI related behaviours. We can all work together to free ourselves and our fellow women/men elsewhere.
17. 2010-12-25 22:38  
Great! As a Malaysian, I owe my duty to give you my support! (Jangan putus asa! Hak asasi manusia perlu dipertahankan demi kebaikan rakyat kita, perjuangan harus diteruskan, berdoa semoga kamu berjaya!)
18. 2010-12-28 10:21  
it's all alittle queer that they didn't mind decades of a corrupt madhathir dictatorship tarnishing the image of their islamic nation
Comment edited on 2010-12-28 10:24:06
19. 2010-12-29 00:02  
Wow. Good for him for being so brave!!!

It is so clear that religions are primarily focused on maintaining power and image. When the catholic church was faced with child abuse, their primary actions were all to do with maintaining the church's image. Similarly here, islam is clearly now concerned with "not tarnishing it's image". (I would suggest that islam's image is already on the rocks given the ongoing anti-civilisation behaviour of its more visible supporters.)

It doesn't matter that people die, or live horrible stunted lives. Using violence, threats, hate, anger, lies etc to protect a religion's image is clearly OK.

All this from the actions of the people purporting to represent these religions. Truth is in their actions. Their intentions are revealed for all to see.
20. 2010-12-30 02:50  
It just shows, how one evolves past the boundary that kept us, tiny and shallow.

Humans fear what they do not understand. What he did will naturally, provoke hostile responses, but in light of that, it also welcomes support and more understanding towards the subject at hand.

The first man who initiates the first step faces the hardest. Bravo!
21. 2010-12-31 14:18  
Saya also gay, saya OK!!!
22. 2011-01-13 21:55  
a great one...i think god also knows u are free to choose...and u were born like this, how can u change Ur life for better religion...do u live to survive or do u live with hate... doesn't make sense sometimes..
I am gay I'm OK .... i hope in the future someone will understand... and respect not to detained this people..
Thank you

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