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30 Apr 2012

Justice for LGBTs, justice for all: Why is justice so far from those who really need it?

With bullies running the country, many LGBTs find themselves hiding further and further beyond the margins of the legal, beyond the reach of the laws that deem them unfit for society. Making a person think he deserves no justice is NO different from denying him justice. And that is how many LGBTs are denied one of the most fundamental rights of being human: the right to justice. 

“Today I withhold this keris. But if one day I can't tolerate anymore, I will use the keris [traditional Malay dagger] against the enemy of this land!”

– Speaker at anti-LGBT rally, 12 Apr 2012 

When the speaker at the anti-LGBT rally talked about killing whoever he imagined is “the enemy of this land”, and by enemy he implied anyone who advocates for the human rights of LGBTs, the authorities looked the other way. But when Seksualiti Merdeka appealed for understanding, compassion and equality, it was deemed a threat to the national security and was banned by the police.

Have we gotten so used to threats that we are now threatened by compassion? Or could it be that we can no longer tell the difference between those making threats and those upholding the law? Look at what is happening at Dataran Merdeka (Freedom Square) this week. By brute force, the authorities have attempted to subdue those who dare to question their authority. If that fails, they will try to snuff out our hope for change by applying administrative terrorism.

It’s not just the police and the DBKL (Kuala Lumpur City Hall). I’m afraid the courts are no better. Seksualiti Merdeka’s judicial review of the ban was thrown out by a judge who insisted that the police’s power cannot be reviewed, effectively allowing the police a caveat to abuse its power unchallenged. 

Last week, a teenager was charged for assaulting a Mak Nyah (transgender woman) with a metal rod. He was fined a mere RM400 (USD130). Meanwhile, when Mak Nyahs around the country are arrested under Syariah offences for expressing themselves and not hurting anybody, they are fined RM1000 each and sent for counselling. We try to rehabilitate these Mak Nyahs for being too gentle, but these men who are so insecure about their masculinity they need to prove it through violence, we let them out to play after a smack on the hand. 

So, at the forum titled “Homosexuality: A right or a crime?” at International Islamic University Malaysia two weeks ago, when the question was posed by an audience, “Aren’t the laws we already have enough to protect the LGBTs? We have laws for murder, for physical assault, for wrongful termination at work, etc. Are they not enough?” I can say, the answer is no. (The forum can be watched on YouTube.)

In this article, I am less interested in what JMM said than in how they get away with what they say. I am interested in how the government of the day, which is supposed to be neutral, takes the side of the bullies against the bullied. 

With bullies running the country, many LGBTs find themselves hiding further and further beyond the margins of the legal, beyond the reach of the laws that deem them unfit for society. Making a person think he deserves no justice is NO different from denying him justice. And that is how many LGBTs are denied one of the most fundamental rights of being human: the right to justice. 

The Bully's Charter

Malaysians don’t seem to understand that a just system is one in which minorities are protected from the majority, not the other way round. The most important minority is the minority of one. And if the law protects this minority against the tyranny of the majority, then it protects everyone. All of us!

Unfortunately, that is not the case in Malaysia. Not only does Malaysian justice not care about inequality, it seems to thrive on it. Some laws in Malaysia are effectively a bully’s charter.

Case in point: there is no law against homosexuality in Malaysia yet many believe it is a crime to be gay and lesbian. People may cite penal code “377a” and “377b”. But according to the wording of the statute, the crime is committed when ANYONE introduces his penis into a mouth or anus. Yes, ANYONE. I’m sorry to break it to you heteros: it is a crime for a husband to receive blowjobs from a wife too. You like this law so much, how about we knock down all your bedroom doors now and check?

Clearly both heterosexual and homosexual oral and anal sex are illegal but where the public and the state are concerned, it is a law against homosexuality. This is because “377” only targets men who have sex with men. If that is not discriminatory, then I don’t know what is.

That’s why many LGBTs don’t bother to seek redress to injustice they suffered. They are simply too disempowered by the perceived illegality of their very existence. They are too busy hiding from an imaginary law.

“You are a devil!”

I know of a girl in Sabah whose mom found out she was in love with another girl. Her mom hit her repeatedly till she bled. She was then locked up in the house for four months. The only times she was let out of the house was when she was sent for counselling during which she was told, “You are a devil. You are a devil.” There are many other girls like her in Malaysia locked up by parents because they fell in love.

I know of a teenaged guy from Penang who was kicked out from the home when his parents cannot accept that he wants to be a man, not the girl he was born as. For being born that way, many transgender folks are kicked out from homes by the very people who gave birth to them that way. Where are the laws to protect children from their own parents? How will they even know what the laws are?

Even those old enough to know the laws can’t do anything about it. I know of a lecturer from Petaling Jaya whose friend threatened to expose his sexual orientation to the university unless the friend was rewarded to keep quiet. He paid up. He had been discreet about his sexuality because he feared such a situation. But his secret also made him vulnerable. Many gay employees and bosses, professionals and civil servants, go to work daily afraid of being exposed. After years of alienation, they may have found comfort in a relationship. Yet this relationship threatens to ruin them. So many give in to blackmailers. How can they seek justice without risking exposure?

I know of a Mak Nyah from Melaka who was arrested for “cross-dressing” and was kicked by the arresting officers until she fell into a coma. She was persuaded to charge them for assault, but in the end, she changed her mind. She wasn’t sure if anyone could guarantee her safety from further assaults by these officials. Many Mak Nyahs suffer physical, emotional, sexual abuse at the hands of religious officers and police officers. Where are the laws to protect them from being abused by law enforcers?

Many LGBTs are spat at, insulted and punished as if we are worse criminals than the corrupt politicians who rob whole countries dry. Why would we be foolish enough to dream that the country would help us?

Once you are betrayed by your own parents, by your bosses, by your friends, by your own country, you will find it hard to trust anyone again. Once you hear about how LGBTs are beaten senseless by law enforcers, as an LGBT you will find it hard to trust the laws again.

Where are the laws?

The laws are there. But they’re out of reach.

Living in a country where justice exists – but not for you – is like growing up in a family where love exists – but not for you. For many LGBTs, such countries and such families are part of our reality.

Both conditions form a vicious circle out of which there seems to be no escape. In order to deserve love, we pretend to be someone else. In order to maintain the pretence, we keep quiet in the face of injustice. By pretending and keeping quiet, we find ourselves at the mercy of those who take advantage of us. Thus more pretending, more keeping quiet, more being taken advantage of.

When I mentioned at the Islamic University forum how the justice system have failed LGBTs, I was offered this reply by a panellist: “Do we not treat criminals different from non-criminals?”

Like many Malaysians, she accepts unquestioningly that being an LGBT is a crime. She called it an immorality but never explained how it is immoral. Throwing children out from homes, blackmailing and beating up mak nyahs are just different ways of treating these “criminals”. Never mind that nobody should be called a criminal until proven guilty. Never mind that throwing minors out of homes, blackmailing, and physical assault are crimes in themselves. Being an LGBT must be a crime so great that others are justified in perpetrating further crimes upon us.

No wonder some Malaysians think it is okay to make violent threats and get away with it. Because they can.

Different languages

At the end of that forum that night, it occurred to me that while both sides of the debate referred to the laws this and the laws that, we actually meant completely different things. When we referred to “the laws”, we were thinking of an instrument that protects people. When some people refer to “the laws”, they were thinking of an instrument that punishes people.

This disparity reveals the opposing philosophies: people as innocent until proven guilty vs people as inherently guilty, in need of control and guidance from the state. One’s justice is fairness, equality, protection of rights. Another’s justice is vengeance, a show of might, reminding the minorities to toe the line.

Our words sound the same but they mean such different things that we are practically speaking different languages from each other. We might as well be talking to ourselves. Perhaps we are, and that’s the problem.

We need to introduce Malaysians to a radical concept: There is more than one definition to a word. More than one side to a story. More than one way to run a country.

More radical still: The state’s job is to facilitate as neutral as possible a space in which all definitions, all sides and all the different ways can dialogue.

That is why we need to get rid of discriminatory laws. We also need to send a stronger message to those who use violence, who threaten with violence, who endorse violence, that it is never okay. Fines and prison time won’t change them. But education may. Too many Malaysians display shocking ignorance about the way the universe and the human body work. That they are in the parliament is even more depressing. They are walking proof that what we need is a revolution in education.

If we just clean one thing at a time, we are practically doing janitorial work. We also have to reform the very fundamental ways we understand governance, democracy, justice. Without a paradigm shift, we are just cleaning up this paradigm’s shit.

Fighting for the same

Whether it is the indigenous peoples in their ancestral lands or the Occupy Dataran folks at Dataran Merdeka or the students at their universities, the increasing scuffles with the authorities reveal today that the struggle for justice is not peculiar just to LGBTs. They are reflections of how far justice is from those who truly need it.

We are stuck with pleading for justice from the very ones who have perverted justice. It is like the grass begging for mercy from the grass cutter. No thanks. 

We need to believe that we are first the people, REGARDLESS of sexual orientation and gender identity. We need to take back the act of defining words that are important to us. We need to tell our stories. We need to stake claim to all the public spaces till they belong to everyone again.

I applaud everyday Malaysians who tirelessly champion for the changes we need in this country. Indigenous peoples, refugees, students, the poor, minorities, LGBTs, women, political dissidents, religion believers, voters, we are fighting for the same: to be seen as human first. What you believe makes you human and what I believe makes me human are just as important. 

The real enemy of this land is inequality. There is no more important struggle today than the struggle for equality. It is by recognising we are all equal before the law that the democracy for which we fight becomes truly meaningful.


Reader's Comments

1. 2012-05-01 19:22  
What we LGBT need is just justice and equality in the eye of law, not discrimination and bashing.
2. 2012-05-02 11:48  
Want justice and equality for the LGBT community? Let's all move to Canada. The cold doesn't particularly turn me on but the country, as a total package, has a great deal to offer because the key underlying principle behind government policy seems to be the acceptance of diversity. My personal view is that that's the fundamental difference between Canada and the US. In the US, immigrants MUST assimilate and, preferably, allow the superimposition of American culture over their own ethnic cultures whereas in Canada, diversity is accepted and embraced. For the LGBT community, gay marriage is legally recognized country-wide in Canada so, one doesn't have to move interstate as one would in the US just to have one's gay union legally recognized.

I'm seriously considering Canada as a place for me to retire when the time comes. Now, all I need is to either get me a Canadian husband or find me a couple of million Canadian dollars to invest in a chunk of Canadian real estate (preferably in Toronto) ......
3. 2012-05-02 12:42  
I am curious if this is a move toward more radical Islam. I visited KL and Penang two times. I found it reasonably tolerant 10 years ago. Has it changed? Is it becoming more homophobic? I hope not as I love the people there
4. 2012-05-02 13:04  
Hope you're kidding heemale. Moving to Canada does not and will not result in justice and equality for LGBTs.
5. 2012-05-02 13:30  
Hi suede, of course I'm kidding. The point I was hinting at is that screaming for justice is not going to get us anywhere in this part of the world because of hard-lined oligarchies that control countries like Singapore and Malaysia. At least, Malaysia has a credible opposition that has denied Barison Nasional a 2-third's majority of Parliament which, therefore, gives it a much louder voice. Here in Singapore, the voice of the opposition remains, at best, weak which means that LGBT rights are never a priority during parliamentary debates because even the opposition has to focus on the bread-and-butter issues that matter to the majority of ordinary Singaporeans. So, for those of us who want to be accorded specific rights by the law like RIGHT NOW, the solution is to move to Canada. Otherwise, be prepared to wait till the next century if we choose to remain in this part of the world.
6. 2012-05-02 13:40  
Homophobic is like a cancer .... we must pay attention on this issue ...
7. 2012-05-02 17:26  
tolerance comes from understanding and compassion... the prime minister was seen right happy and jolly at the golf course (KLGCC) on the morning of 0429... i doubt he has any feeling of remorse over the deeds of his armed forces and neither any compassion for his fellow weaponless countryman... something needs to be done and change is imminent!

Pinocchio: Am i a Real Boy?
Fairy: No Pinocchio, to make Gepetto's wish come true will be entirely up to you.
Pinocchio: Up to me?
Fairy: Prove yourself brave, truthful and unselfish and someday you will be a real boy.

8. 2012-05-02 19:39  
Comment #9 was deleted by its author on 2012-05-02 21:00
10. 2012-05-03 04:05  
congratulations pang...its good to see someone speaking out in malaysia..i am shocked and saddened to see you people being dragged back to what for us seem now to be the dark ages...i have recently outed a gay pastor who was working within a christian fundamentalist anti gay church in new zealand.one of my chinese gay friends who was originally from malaysia said to me why bother.you damage his life.i said it is your apathy that allows homophobia to flourish..and that its lucky for him that he could leave malaysia and come to a liberal country where people have already won the fight for equal rights for gays and where he can cohabit openly with his partner.but these religeous people ,christian and muslim with their outdated beliefs are a threat to the whole planet as well as to gays.when you refuse to be ashamed and come together to protest then eventually you will win although i know thats not easy.but while many are worried abt what their family will think then you remain divided and they can rule you.sure the family respect thing is stronger in asia but if they wouldnt let you be youself then they are not respecting you and you must stand with you brothers and get into the street and show them you are not ashamed.even not a full protest just crowd into a public area ,sit down ,and have banners saying we are worthy of respect...thats stage one???
11. 2012-05-03 17:00  
The recent resurgence of anti LGBT sentiments has a hidden political agenda to cast a negative image of malaysia's opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim.

The ruling government has no other ammunition except to discredit him by stirring up hatred for LGBT who happens to be bisexual. They are using sexuality unscrupulously to dissuade the public from electing a bisexual Prime Minister.

So malaysians please vote for him in this coming GE if we want LGBT rights be restored and protected...
Comment #12 was deleted by an administrator on 2012-05-03 20:12
Comment #13 was deleted by an administrator on 2012-05-03 20:12
14. 2012-05-03 19:22  
malasia is the aparteid state
privileges for ethinc malays
lesser rights for all others
and lgbt are living in crime all their lives
10 years for sodomy
i should be in jail foe a billion years
and to that islamic hate for gays
and you might just soon get stoned to death
Comment #15 was deleted by its author on 2012-05-06 17:23

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