Backlash lingers for Malaysia’s LGBT community after The 1975’s same sex kiss

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While “discriminatory speech against LGBT people is consistently high”, it was even worse ahead of state polls which saw politicians exploiting anti-LGBT sentiment to prove their “conservative, Islamist values”, said Ms Sulathireh. 

“One of the points folks were making was: do not give ammunition to the conservatives to pressure the current government… But The 1975 just handed themselves over to conservatives to be exploited.”

Justice Khor, co-founder of the network People Like Us Hang Out (PLUHO), also said the protest “was unnecessary at this juncture, so close to an election where the far-right movement was rallying anti-LGBT as a key message.”

“It’s a great disappointment, for me personally, that Matt Healy showcased his allysip in such an insensitive way,” he said. “I think a huge part of allyship is to put the community first and in this instance, and I wouldn’t say that the act did no harm.”

‘Actively persecuting us’

Malaysia’s LGBT community has long faced discrimination. Colonial-era “anti-sodomy” laws introduced by the British in the 1870s remain in place, including section 377 of the Penal Code, which criminalises gay sex. Those convicted face spending up to 20 years in prison. 

The multi-ethnic, multi-faith country also has some Islamic sharia laws. Applying to the Muslim majority, these ban same-sex acts and cross-dressing, and run alongside the county’s civil laws in a dual-track legal system. 

But although criminalisation has long existed, activists said the last year has been especially difficult.  

In November 2022, long-time opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim finally became Prime Minister when his left-wing party joined forces with former rivals in a unity coalition. Yet although the 76-year-old had a reputation as a progressive reformer, his government has cracked down on the gay community and vowed to never recognise LGBT rights.

“We are really disappointed in the stance Anwar’s government has taken,” said Mr Rohaizad. “One of [Anwar’s] slogans was ‘reform, reform, reform’, so we thought we might be heading in a new direction… or at least that his government would leave us alone. But they’ve been actively persecuting us.”

For instance, earlier this year Malaysia banned books deemed to promote an LGBT lifestyle to “prevent the spread of elements that are harmful to morality in the community”, while protesters holding placards saying “being gay is not a crime” were detained in July. 

And in May, authorities raided Swatch and confiscated more than 160 rainbow themed watches from the Pride Collection, claiming they were “detrimental” to mortality and public interest as they normalised the LGBT movement. The government went further in early August – now, anyone wearing the watches could face three years in jail and a £4,000 fine.



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