In a 75-minute live online chat hosted by Yahoo Malaysia on Thursday, Malaysian opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim was asked if he thought lesbians, gays, bisexuals and transgenders (LGBTs) can look forward to a non-discriminatory environment should the opposition coalition Pakatan Rakyat (People's Alliance), of which Anwar is the defacto leader, were to take Putrajaya.
To which Anwar said: "We recognise importance of family and the institution of marriage. But we should not unduly harass or discriminate others. The answer is through education and PAS accepts this view."
Should the coalition capture Putrajaya – the federal administrative centre of Malaysia, the Parti Islam Semalaysia (PAS or Pan-Malaysian Islamic Party) would be part of the federal government. PAS is currently one of three members of the coalition alongside the Democratic Action Party (DAP) and People's Justice Party (PKR). The coalition currently controls four state governments while in opposition to the ruling Barisan Nasional at the federal level.
Malaysia's Yahoo News followed up with a story reporting that a chat thread posting by Malaysian sexuality rights group Seksualiti Merdeka on its Facebook page had sparked a lively debate with the group's co-founder Pang Khee Teik asking how Anwar would protect the community from discrimination and harassment.
Pang was quoted by Yahoo as saying: "It is fine to say we should not harass or discriminate, but the fact is that isn't going to stop harassment and discrimination until we put good policies in place."
He also added that he found the usage of the word 'unduly' to be curious. "Does this mean that there is an acceptable limit to harassing and discriminating others after which it becomes 'unduly'? Is it okay to 'duly' harass and discriminate?" he asked.
Pang in a Facebook status today drew attention to the fact that the Yahoo article titled "Anwar sparks FB debate on LGBT rights" has ironically caused a mini-stir with "lots of homophobic comments from Malaysians". He further urged his friends to "comment and show that Malaysia also has people who can accept diversity."
Anwar, 63, is curently facing trial on sodomy charges for the second time. He was imprisoned on separate sex and corruption charges in 1998, and freed in 2004 when the conviction was overturned. Sodomy is illegal in Malaysia, even among consenting adults.
Last year, a Malay-Muslim man who came out as gay in an online video attracted not only over 150,000 views on YouTube but also threatening comments and death threats.
Seksualiti Merdeka is planning to commemorate International Day Against Homophobia by screening a documentary about Asian LGBT movements and promoting the 29 Yogyakarta Principles, on May 29.
Editor's note (May 23, 2011): Parts of the chat was indeed in English including the second paragraph of this article that erroneously reported that it was originally in Malay. The article has been corrected. An excerpt of the chat transcript in English can be found here.