Society

UN Report Slams Lack Of LGBT Rights In Thailand

UN Report Slams Lack Of LGBT Rights In Thailand

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Thailand’s first report assessing the challenges of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) communities in the country concludes that LGBT people report they face widespread social stigma and are afforded few job opportunities.

The “Being LGBT in Asia” Thailand Country Report – a joint analysis by the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) and the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) – highlights a contradiction between Thailand’s public face of tolerance toward LGBT communities and the reality of discrimination toward them. The report found that while the tourism authority actively promotes Thailand as a gay tourist destination, acceptance of non-traditional sexualities in Thai society is still perceived to be low.

“There’s no room for stigma and discrimination in today’s world,” said U.S. Ambassador Kristie A. Kenney. “Truly sustainable development requires everyone’s contribution and participation, including the LGBT community.”

The landmark report is the first comprehensive review and analysis of Thailand’s legal and social environment encompassing in-depth research on LGBT issues in Thailand.

“Thai LGBT activists and organizations have been working very hard to ensure that people of different gender identities and sexual orientations can live their lives openly and be supported by the Thai legal frameworks,” said Midnight Poonkasetwattana, Executive Director of the Asia-Pacific Coalition on Male Sexual Health (APCOM), a Bangkok-based regional nongovernmental organization. “I hope that recommendations from this report will be implemented and look forward to the day that Thailand becomes the leader in ASEAN for LGBT rights.”

According to the report, there is limited education about LGBT issues in schools and LGBT people live in a society where there is strong pressure to be a “good citizen” and put family concerns or interests before their own. This is compounded by the notion that one’s sexuality or gender must not go against accepted norms and should not bring shame to oneself or one’s family. Many of Thailand’s LGBT people remain in the closet, fearful of social stigma and discrimination.

“Thailand is one of the few countries in the Asia-Pacific region where the LGBT community has high visibility. But visibility does not always translate to equality.

The United Nations in Thailand is working with the Government, civil society, and development partners to ensure that LGBT people have equal rights and are free from any form of discrimination,” said UN Resident Coordinator and UNDP Resident Representative for Thailand, Luc Stevens.

The report also highlights that Thai transgender individuals cannot change their gender on identity papers, and male-to-female transgender people are often forced into military service. Thailand’s LGBT people face workplace discrimination, including being denied promotions or fired from their jobs after disclosing their sexual orientation or gender identity. Transgender people are often limited in workplace options. School bullying against LGBT people is very common. While the country’s constitution prohibits discrimination against citizens on any grounds, there are no laws that recognize LGBT relationships or parenthood and laws on marriage apply only to heterosexual couples.

The Thailand country report was produced as part of the ‘Being LGBT in Asia” initiative launched on Human Rights Day in December 2012. It seeks to promote understanding of the fundamental challenges faced by LGBT people and to document the progress being made in anti-discrimination efforts. It also makes a series of recommendations that are designed to complement the findings in different topical areas.

‘Being LGBT in Asia” is a regional collaboration between USAID, UNDP and the LGBT civil society. Other UN agencies such as the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) and the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) and USAID country missions have also partnered with the initiative in individual countries. It is currently being implemented in Cambodia, China, Indonesia, Mongolia, Nepal, the Philippines and Vietnam.

Gay Brits Marry In Hanoi

Gay Brits Marry In Hanoi

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The British Embassy in Hanoi has recently organized a gay wedding for two British citizens after the United Kingdom approved the same-sex marriage law in 2013.

Yein Kai Yee and Sutpreedee Chinithigun had their simple but meaningful same-sex wedding aty the British Embassy at 9:30 am on Monday morning.

The event – which was attended by the couple’s relatives and the embassy staff and Charge d’affaires – was the first same-sex wedding to have been organized by the British Embassy in Vietnam since the passage of the British same-sex marriage law in July last year.

Lesley Craig, Charge d’affaires at the embassy, said that the same-sex wedding was a wonderful opportunity that marked not only the couple’s important milestone but also the development of the UK in terms of gender equality and human rights.

The new British marriage amendment allows same-sex couples to submit their marriage registration file at a number of UK diplomatic missions around the world.

The British Embassy in Hanoi is able to organize a marriage between a British citizen and a partner of the same or different nationality.

But it is not allowed to hold a same-sex wedding ceremony which involves a Vietnamese as the Southeast Asian country has not legalized same-sex marriage yet.

Last year, the legislation to allow same-sex marriage in England and Wales was passed by the Parliament of the United Kingdom in July and came into force on March 13, 2014. The UK’s first same-sex marriage took place on March 29, 2014.

HIV Exploding Epidemic Among Gays

HIV Exploding Epidemic Among Gays

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HIV infections are rising among gay men in many parts of the world, the World Health Organization has warned, urging all men who have sex with men to take antiretroviral drugs to prevent infection.

“We are seeing exploding epidemics,” warned Gottfried Hirnschall, Head of WHO’s HIV department.

Infection rates are rising again among men who have sex with men – the group at the epicentre of AIDS pandemic when it first emerged 33 years ago, he said.

While images of skeletal men dying of AIDS in the 1980s pushed the world to act, a younger generation that has grown up among new treatments that make it possible to live with HIV are less focused on the disease, he suggested.

Today, this group is 19 times more likely than the general population to be infected by HIV, Hirnschall said.

In Bangkok for instance, the incidence of HIV among men who have sex with men stands at 5.7 per cent, compared to less than 1.0 per cent for the overall population, he said.

In its new recommendations for combatting the HIV/AIDS pandemic, published today, the UN health agency therefore for the first time “strongly recommends men who have sex with men consider taking antiretroviral medicines as an additional method of preventing HIV infection”.

Taking pre-exposure prophylaxis medication, for instance as a single daily pill combining two antiretrovirals, in addition to using condoms, has been estimated to cut HIV incidence among such men by 20-25 per cent, WHO said, stressing that this could avert “up to one million new infections among this group over 10 years”.

The new guidelines also focus on other high-risk groups, pointing out that men who have sex with men, transgender people, prisoners, people who inject drugs and sex workers together account for about half of all new HIV infections worldwide.

At the same time, they are often the very groups who have least access to healthcare services, with criminalisation and stigma often dissuading them from seeking help even when it is available.

When people fear seeking health care services it “will inevitably lead to more infections in those communities,” Rachel Baggaley, of the WHO’s HIV department, told reporters.

Globally, transgender women and injecting drug users, for instance, are around 50 times more likely than the general population to contract HIV, while sex workers have a 14-fold higher chance of getting infected, WHO said.

Ghosts, Ghouls, And Gays

Ghosts, Ghouls, And Gays

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Happy Halloween!

But why do we say that when its the time of year that ghosts rise up to haunt us for a night?

In keeping with the time of year, we thought we’d introduce you to some ghosts and hauntings with gay connections.

Well, boys, if 10% of the population are gay, then 10% of those ghosts must be too!

In reality, proving a ghost is gay is virtually impossible, but there are a few suggestions of gay ghosts, as well as plenty of reports of ghosts and ghoulish happenings at gay bars and clubs.

The UK can justifiably believe it is one of the most haunted countries in the world. With such a long history, so many ancient buildings, and grisly deaths, reports of hauntings are common place around the nation.

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The one ghost seriously suggested as being gay, is the one which haunts the 106 year old and aptly named Queens Theatre in the heart of central London. Male staff have reported feeling that they are being watched as they change into their uniforms before a performance. There have also been reports that some of them have had their asses pinched by an invisible presence. Women seldom experience any sort of strange sensations or activity at the Queen’s Theatre, leading many to speculate that the invisible ghost must be a gay man.

The mind boggles at what might happen if the resident ghost really got horny!

Another London landmark, the Theatre Royal Drury Lane, is reputed to be the most haunted theatre of all with a dozen ghosts inhabiting different areas of the building, including a “Pantomime Dame” in full drag, while the nearby Adelphi Theatre is home to a ghost who was murdered by his male lover who had become violently jealous through alcoholism. Yet another London theatre, the Victoria Palace, has a resident poltergeist which apparently enjoys throwing the stage wigs around – maybe he couldn’t find one that suited him!

Napoleon’s, a long gone up-market gay club in central London, had a restaurant on the ground floor while the bar and dance floor were underground in an rather old bulding which had once been a hospital in pre-Victorian times.

The club, according to the staff, has a resident ghost, a woman dressed in old fashioned clothes, who would often appear in the disco, mostly after the guests had left, but there were also reports that she had been seen when the club was full of dancing queens – we wonder what she might have thought of a room full of shirtless men camping it up!

One of London’s longest established gay pubs, The King William IV, has a well documented ghost in the spiritual form of a Mrs Wyatt who was murdered by her husband and walled into the cellar. Staff recommended the no one enters the cellar alone!

Yet another gay pub, The Black Cap, famous for its drag shows, is reputed to be haunted by the first innkeeper, the Mother Red Cap (which was the pub’s original name). Mother Red Cap was accused of murdering a lover and believed to be a witch and on the night she died, locals claimed to see the Devil go into her home. There’s also a suggestion that the DJ’s booth is located right on the site of an ancient gallows.

A little away from London, is the 700 year old Fitz Manor in the county of Shropshire, where legend has it that a priest was crucified in the dining room, of all places, for being gay, and his ghost is reputed to haunt the place to this day, with apparitions, painful moans and thumps on the furniture. As the place is a guesthouse, it must take a little nerve to stay there!

On the south coast of England, the seaside town of Brighton is home to an ancient pub, the Regency Tavern, which also happens to be a pricey gay venue. We’re not sure if the surly staff or the ghostly spirits are responsible for the hauntings reported by many of the former landlady floating through the premises – perhaps she wants to instill some manners in bar staff here, or maybe they’ll see the same fate as the little girl who was gassed in a bedroom upstairs and still walks the hallways.

Across the world in the US, the old French city of New Orleans has its share of haunted gay bars too.

The Bourbon Pub, the city’s longest running gay bar, allegedly has three in house ghosts including one which likes to beat customers on the soles of their feet. A ghost with a foot fetish!

The Cafe Lafitte in Exile, another long running gay bar, boasts a couple of famous resident ghosts – playwright Tennessee Williams and author Truman Capote are occasionally spotted relaxing on the first floor, while mysterious figures have been seen on the balcony before disappearing into thin air – drunks falling into the street below perhaps?

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The city’s Jimani Lounge was the scene of one of America’s worst hate crimes against the LGBT community in 1973 when a petrol bomb destroyed a great deal of the premises and killed 32 people including the patron and his boyfriend.

Screams, and other disturbing noises are heard in the upper floors of the building, and no one has been brave enough to fully repair the damage to the upper floors.

To the north in New York, a gay bar opened in the most unlikely of locations on the site of a former funeral home dating back to 1915. Unsurprisingly, the Urge Bar appears to be home to a departed soul who disapproves of drinking as he levitates glasses from the bar and throws them around! Who pays the bill in that situation?

Back home in Asia, its not easy to find references to gay ghosts and most of those are in corny horror flicks, which in the case of Thailand often involved katoeys (ladyboys) as the haunted or the spirits, including “Ja-Ae … Goi Laew Jaa”, which featured transgendered pagent winner Treechada Marnyaporn as the ghost, in a story very loosly based on another very famous (straight) ghost, Mae Nak.

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The spirit world is part of Asia tradition; In Bangkok’s Silom Road, local gays at one time considered one building in particular to have been ‘cursed’, and it certainly saw some bad luck over a period of a few years.

Originally the home to the very successful and popular gay owned and run Rome Club, its problems began when the owner took leave to receive medical treatment and left the running of the club to his manager. Within days, a sign appeared outside in both Thai and English: “No homosexuals”. The result left the club in financial ruin and even the return of the owner could not save the business. He was later murdered by his gardner at his home on Samui island.

The next series of attempts at starting a business in the same location all ended in failure within a short space of time, one after another, and at one point the front of the building collapse while renovations were underway. However, it seems that perhaps the curse has now been lifted as the current occupants appear to be making a success of their business.

On a lighter note, an amusement hall in Bangkok’s Rachadapisek Road formerly known at The Haunted Mansion, was recently taken over and turned into what appears to be a very hot, and jumping gay disco. Lets hope they have a very spirited halloween!

In Myanmar (Burma) one of the country’s biggest festival is both an homage to spirits as well as a big gay-themed event. Natkadaws are Spirit Mediums who act the role of Nat Spirits in the many Nat festivals. Most of the Natkadaws are gay and the Taungbyone Festival is the biggest “Nat Pwe” in the country. Although this video does’t show it, its a big attraction for gays and transgenders.

Some background to Halloween:

Originally a pre-christian Celtic festival held on 31 October and 1 November known as Sammhein, it marked the day the harvest ended and the winter began. It was also was seen as a time when the spirits could more easily come into our world and were particularly active. Feasts were held, at which the souls of dead relatives and friends were called to attend and a place set at the table for them. It was believed that failure to invite them could result in some unpleasant happenings.

As Christianity evolved, a new religious festival was introduced which took over some aspects of Sammhein, All Souls Day (also called All Hallows Eve), and All Saints Day.  The north American style ‘Halloween’ didn’t really cross the atlantic to Europe until the late 20th century, prior to which it was purely a low key religious festival.

Gays And The Ad Media

Gays And The Ad Media

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In recent times, advertising aimed at the gay community has started to expand, from a tiny niche its slowly entering the mainstream as advertisers wake up to the value of the pink dollar/baht/euro/pound, and also realise that some ads aimed at the gay market will appeal to women too.

The worldwide “Pink Dollar” is estimated to be worth over US$1 trillon.

Of course some ads might be a little too much for the general population, including those commercials by popular underwear purveyor Andrew Christian which markets directly to the ‘butch’ gay male market. Even their cut versions are only for gay men!

Here’s a ‘tame’ cut of one of their promo videos.

While this Abercrombie and Fitch promo, obviously aimed right at the crutch of gay men, could almost be a prelude to rather hot porn movie:

Of course promoing safe sex is important and almost universal, and humour often hits the mark. Here’s a short safe sex message from Thailand:

And this French one is both funny and direct, getting the message across:

Ads don’t have to be about safe sex or underwear to appeal to a niche market – beauty clinics abound in Asia and they’re very popular, but picking the right one can be hard. Here’s a suggestion:

Airlines have also realised the commercial importance of the gay market. Recently New Zealand Airlines staged an inflight gay wedding, as well as offering a (one-off) gay-only flight to San Francisco. Apart from NZA, Britain’s Virgin Airlines have always been gay-friendly:

And some booking agents are even more keen to get their hands on you:

While one airline has a special place for the ladies:

Travelling often means motoring for gays, and this is a classic gay commercial from Hyundai:

Clothes Maketh the Man, so they say, and gays spend a fortune on apparel so any manufacturer worth its salt wants into the market. We’ve seen an underwear ad, so now here’s a slightly intimidating, jeans ad:

Another pointed ad from Thailand, which went viral recently, proves that its not just women who wear bras:

And in the Philippines much the same can be said for those expensive shampoos:

Most gay men enjoy a drink, but some drinks can be a bit different:

So far we’ve seen a range of mostly funny ads for commercial products, but ads serve great causes too. One of the best campaign ads for equality came out of Ireland, traditionally not very friendly towards LGBT, but this video helped to change minds:

And this commercial has a wonderful twist, sending a powerful message to bigots and homophobes from a famous name:

And this little cookie serves as both a commercial and a promo for Pride; anyone up for a nibble?

And finally, a beautiful promo for an Italian LGBT rights group:

Gays, Dharma, & Society

Gays, Dharma, & Society

The documentation of homosexuality in Thailand is not a recent development. Apart from being mentioned in the Tipitaka, it also appears in Lanna religious texts and in the ancient Tra Sam Duang legal code. According to Prempreeda Pramoj na Ayutthaya, a transgendered researcher, the ancient Lanna texts mention the creation of the Earth and three genders – puri, itthee, and nuppoongsaka, believed to be men, women and homosexuals, respectively.

This corresponds with the Tipitaka, which categorises people who didn’t readily fall into traditional male or female stereotypes (bandoh) into five sub-divisions, in accordance with their sexual orientation, one of these being nuppoongsaka.

”This means the Tipitaka recognises sexual diversity,” Prempreeda noted.

There is also historical evidence of lesbians and gays. In the old palace, for example, only women were allowed to perform in dance troupes called lakhon nai, with some playing male characters both in plays and in their private lives, leading to lesbian sex being called len peuan (playing with friends). Dance troupes outside the palace, or lakhon nok, only allowed male performers, and some married princes were rumoured to sleep with feminine actors, said Prempreeda. Such sex among men was called len sawaat (playing with lovers).

And while homosexuality is nothing new in Thai history, nor is discrimination.

While the mention of homosexuality in the Tipitaka was aimed at warning monks what not to do, the ancient Kod Montien Barn legal code of the Ayutthaya period targeted homosexual members of the court. It imposed such penalties as being hit on the fingernails and neck tattooing for those engaging in homosexual sex, both len peuan and len sawaat.

Despite such discrimination, Assoc Prof Peter A. Jackson, senior fellow in Thai history of the Australian National University, argued that the situation is gradually improving.

According to him, the broader Thai community admires beautiful katoey, and people who are successful in their careers, and there is an increasing number of successful katoey performers and business people.

However, there is still a lot misunderstanding about different sexual orientations, he noted.

To help redress the problem, Prempreeda has written more than 20 research papers on transgender issues and has also been working as a consultant for researchers on the subject. Among her works are Ladyboys in Cabaret Shows, her master’s thesis for Chiang Mai University, and The Fluidity of Thai Queer Sexuality and Experiences of Accessing Sexual Health Care, her master’s thesis for her degree in health social science from Mahidol University.

‘The more I learned, the less I could turn a blind eye to gender inequality,’ she noted.

Many transsexuals who have faced discrimination have joined Prempreeda’s battle against discrimination. One of them is Suttirat Simsiriwong, or ‘Mod’, a brand manager for a French cosmetics company. She made headlines earlier this year when a famous hotel in Siam Square barred her from entering the hotel’s nightclub as a matter of policy. Her campaign (and pressure from the international gay community) resulted in an apology and the revocation of the hotel’s ban on transsexuals.

But due to misconceived stereotypes of transsexuals as untrustworthy, such bans are still the rule at many hotels and nightspots, especially those in tourist destinations such as Pattaya and Phuket, said Sitthiphan Boonyaphisomparn, an advocate for transsexual rights.

Without legal recognition for transsexuals, they also routinely suffer discrimination. When Prempreeda lost her ATM card, for example, her bank refused to cancel the card over the telephone because her feminine voice did not match the ‘male’ designation in her bank documents.

Another big problem for transsexuals in Thailand is the lack of Thai-language information on the pros and cons of gender reassignment surgery to help them with such important decisions.

“Policies relating to rights and laws for the transgendered are still overlooked in Thai society, even though the Thai transgendered culture is richer here than in many foreign cultures,” Prempreeda said.

First published in the Bangkok Post 5 November 2007

One Muslim Warias Struggle

One Muslim Warias Struggle

Haiibalah is Muslim and transgender. The hostile reactions from other women and men towards her decision to wear the jilbab (muslim head scarve) in public was based on the belief of the irreconcilability of being [tooltip title="Info" content="Waria is a combination of the Bahasa Indonesia words for woman (wanita) and man (pria)." type="info" ]waria[/tooltip] (transgender) and expressing religiosity in the gender of choice.

While other waria do not mix gender identity with religious identity, women like Haiibalah attend prayers at the mosque alongside other cis-gender women much to disapproval of some, particularly those who argue that physical contact with Haiibalah’s biologically male body can render another woman’s prayers annulled.

Jangan lepas jilbabku begins in 1997 when Haiibalah turns 16. The writer describes her gradual transition from male to female as eventful as the moment Indonesia regains its democracy at the end of Suharto’s dictatorial regime in 1998. She describes the kind of woman she wants to be: an ordinary woman, good-looking even without make-up, someone who wears the jilbab, independent, headstrong, and accepted. In school, Haiibalah is an active editor of the school’s Islamic magazine, and a popular student. Using her popularity and religious image as a social buffer, Haiibalah began experimenting with her appearance. She plucked her eyebrows into a pair of thin, arching crescents; suffice it to say, this led to other arched eyebrows. After being told that her eyebrows were seen as “inappropriate” for young men, Haiibalah went on to tackle what ostensibly is taboo: she, a transwoman, wearing a jilbab.

Haiibalah is one of many transgender Indonesians who are religious and adopt the jilbab, but how the transgender community see themselves is diverse. Some, like Haiibalah, identify as women – within them lies a woman’s soul (jiwa) in a man’s body. Others, on the other hand, view themselves as both male and female, and there are waria who identify as the third sex. Unlike Haiibalah, some transwomen who wear the jilbab attend prayers in male attire but revert to women’s clothing and feminine demeanor the rest of the time.

The waria community has long been stereotyped as hairdressers, make-up artists, and sex workers in Indonesia. In film, they are doomed to dehumanizing comedic roles. But transgender Indonesians, particularly the male-to-female waria, have witnessed the rise of high-profile media personalities, such as Dorce Gamalama, cited by many as Indonesia’s answer to Oprah Winfrey. Her success is a significant step towards more positive representation of the waria.

More recently, the well-received film, Realita Cinta dan Rock ‘n’ Roll (Reality, Love, and Rock ‘n’ Roll, 2006), foregrounds the relationship between a transwoman and her son. The film is a startling departure from older cinematic stereotypes of the waria, as it features a good-looking, affluent, judo-wrestling and salsa-dancing trans-mother. Jangan Lepas Jilbabku is not the first book by a transperson to make it to the best-sellers list. Both Jangan Lihat Kelaminku (Do Not Look At My Genitals) and Perempuan Tanpa V (Woman Without a Vagina) by Merlyn Sopjan are tales of personal triumph over transphobia, winning Sopjan fame and fortune as writer, later as beauty queen, AIDS activist, and mayoral candidate.

Although much of their media presence is highly sensationalized, the rising number of transgender Indonesians entering the public sphere in the face of increasing Islamization may be a strategy for acceptance. But as Haiibalah’s experiences attest, even religious expression is a gendered privilege. The hostility against transwomen like Haiibalah who adopt the jilbab as part their identity raises new questions about the hijab and femininity.

In this case, the jilbab becomes more than just a head covering, as it is perceived as a kind of privilege accorded to cis-gendered Muslim women. Also, it throws the issue of transphobia within sacred spaces into sharp relief. Denying a transwoman’s right to wear the jilbab highlights the fundamental notion that being a woman is reduced to a vagina attained at birth. Like public toilets, not only do places of worship pose as no-go zones for transwomen, but they undermine the assertion that transwomen are women.

Haiibalah sets a precedent for a public discussion on gender privilege and religious expression in Indonesia, and indeed, the discussion goes beyond the jilbab and praying next to other women, as it is fundamentally about power and privilege in religious communities.

Alicia Izharuddin is a postgraduate student in Gender Studies at the School of Oriental African Studies in London with a keen interest in sexuality in Southeast Asia. She has written for a variety of media outlets on feminist and religious issues. This article was previously published at Muslimah Media Watch.

State Sponsored Hatred In Malaysia

State Sponsored Hatred In Malaysia

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For those who might not be aware of it, the Malaysian government has been, for a quite a long time, conducting a serious effort is demonize and repress a minority group through a series of actions that are a fundamental breach of human rights, and which have some parallels with the early activities of the Nazis in Europe in the 1930s.

Its almost unbelievable in the 21st century that a so-called democratic government can actively persecute a minority of its citizens with impunity. You’ll hear little or no condemnation from world powers like China, the US and the EU or the regional ASEAN organisation, despite the fact that almost on a weekly basis there are strong verbal attacks, and sometimes more, on that minority group by government ministers, and religious leaders, who also actively seek to restrict or deny that group it’s human rights. Such actions could be considered criminal and those responsible should be called to account.

Who are these oppressed people? Gay, lesbians, and transgenders; the same group that Hitler attempted to exterminate in his death camps along with the unfortunate Jews. Some in Malaysia have also advocated that gays be sent to “re-education” camps, and some ‘effeminate’ youth were actually detained in one for a while .

The following reports just some aspects of ongoing government repression:

In 1994, the government banned anyone who is homosexual, bisexual or transsexual from appearing in the state controlled media.

In 1995, the state of Selangor Religious Affairs Minister praised the Islamic Badar vigilante groups who had organized in 1994 to assist in the arrest of 7,000 for engaging in “unIslamic” activities including homosexuality.

In May 1998 forty-five transvestites were tried in an Islamic court following a police raid of a drag beauty pageant held in Alor Star, the capital of the Malaysian state of Kedah. Fifty crossdressers had been vying for a title for the Indonesia-Malaysia-Thailand Growth Triangle before some 300 guests in the Kedah Indian Association hall when police burst in and arrested all the contestants.

Five non-Muslims were released, but the rest were charged with wearing female clothes and posing as women in a public place, charges carrying maximum penalties of six months’ incarceration.

In 2001, the former Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad stated that the country will deport any visiting ministers, or diplomats who are gay. Mohamad also warned gay ministers in foreign countries not to bring along their partners while visiting the nation, while his daughter Marina Mahathir has called for an end to discrimination based on sexual orientation.

In 2000, Abdul Kadir Che Kob described homosexuals as “shameless people” and homosexuality as a “sin worse than murder.” Abdul Kadir is head of education and research at Malaysia’s Islamic Affairs Department, which operates as the morality police with 50 enforcement officers across the country. These officers are empowered to arrest Muslims, including unmarried couples, homosexuals, transvestites and transsexuals, suspected of breaking Islamic laws. in 1999, 111 men were arrested in Kuala Lumpur for “attempting to commit homosexual acts”.

In September 2003, a nationally televised speech marking Malaysia’s national holiday by then Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad was riddled with anti-gay epithets and threats.

Speaking to a crowd of more than 300,000 following a massive parade in the capital, and broadcast live throughout the country, Mahathir said Malaysia’s achievements proved its policies worked. He then claimed that foreign powers were trying dominate weak countries and warned that Western influences threatened Malaysia’s traditional values.

“Western films idolize sex, violence, murders and wars,” said Mahathir, a critic of US-led globalization. “Now they permit homosexual practices and accept religious leaders with openly gay lifestyles.”

“They are very angry, especially their reporters, many of whom are homos, when we take legal action against these practices,” Mahathir said.

Mahathir warned that “if there are any homosexuals in Malaysia they had better mend their ways,” or face the maximum prison terms.

In 2005, the Royal Malaysian Navy (RMN) chief Mohd Anwar Mohd Nor stated that the Navy would never accept homosexuals.

In 2010, the Film Censorship Board of Malaysia announced it would only allow depiction of homosexual characters as long as the characters “repent” or die.

The “People’s Anti-Homosexual Voluntary Movement”, was created in 1998 to lobby for stricter criminal laws against homosexuality, and is part of the ruling United Malays National Organization (UMNO)

In April 2011, the government of the Malaysian state of Terengganu announced a program in which effeminate boys would be sent to a ‘boot camp’ for retraining and re-education.

On 3rd November 2011, The Huffington Post and other media reported that Malaysian police ordered the closure of a “Sexual Independence” festival that had been a low key annual event for three previous years and was held in private to support the beleaguered LGBT community. The Huffington Post story said:
“Authorities will ‘prevent any function relating to the program,’ deputy police chief Khalid Abu Bakar said in a statement run by national Bernama news agency and confirmed by police representatives.

Many organizations “feared the program could create disharmony, enmity and disturb public order,” Khalid said.

Earlier, Deputy Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin had described the event as “inappropriate” and a “waste of time,” according to local news agency Bernama.

Gay rights activists said the festival was meant to counter widespread homophobia in this socially conservative Asian nation, where a young gay man received death threats last year after posting a YouTube clip defending his sexuality.

“Asking us to keep quiet is asking us to take your abuse with a smile … it’s time to put a stop to all the hate and misunderstanding and abuse,” festival spokesman Pang Khee Teik said in an online statement posted before the event was banned.

This year’s program also included plans for talks on sexuality issues, a poster exhibition and a makeup workshop by a drag queen. One session is titled “Defense Against The Dark Arts: Homophobia 101.”

Media censorship rules forbid movies and song lyrics that promote acceptance of gays, while a decades-old law makes sodomy punishable by 20 years in prison, though it is seldom and selectively enforced.

The festival’s sponsors and supporters included the Malaysian chapter of Amnesty International, the country’s main grouping of lawyers and other human rights organizations.”

In April 2012 an anti-gay demonstration took place in a Kuala Lumpur university campus which was attended by more than 1000 people.

On 27 June 2012, Prime Minister Najib Razak made it plain in a statement on his website that the Malaysian LGBT community had no part to play in the nation’s life or development, saying “any deviant aspects such as liberalism, pluralism and Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender (LGBT) would not have a place in the country”. The reference to pluralism also reflects UMNO’s desire to remain permanently in control of the country.

In November 2012, An ASEAN “Human Rights” declaration was heavily criticised for having little substance after Malaysia and some other countries objected to the inclusion of LGBT rights in the document. A long list of civil rights organisations jointly signed a condemnation of the impotent charter.

On 26 November the wife of the Malaysian Prime Minister told the Phnom Pehn Post: “You know why HIV and AIDS occur… how it is being spread. Now the number of people suffering from HIV is alarming. What is it you want? Do you want to allow this… or do you want to contain it. You have to nip [homosexuality] in the bud. If you don’t, when the time comes and you have to stop [homosexuality], you will find it’s too late.”

In response President of the Cambodian Center for Human Rights, Ou Virak, described Rosmah’s comments as ‘bogus and extremely homophobic’.

‘Come on, it’s 2012,’ Virak said. ‘The world knows this is not true. This confirms our fears about the (ASEAN) declaration – that these clauses were included to give governments excuses to not uphold universal principles of human rights.’

Rosmah described human rights as ‘the rights of an individual based on what you believe in, based on your culture and your religion’. She said it was ‘fine’ for other countries to recognize LGBT rights, they wanted to run Malaysia based on ‘high morality’, implying that LGBT people are of low morals by nature.

On 7 December 2012 The ruling UMNO party at it’s annual conference stated that “anti-Islamic elements threaten the country”, singling out homosexuality and those who “promote liberalism in mainly Muslim Malaysia.”

“This LGBT is haram in Islam. (But the opposition) is making LGBT halal … they even said that the law on sodomy is obsolete,” said Pendang delegate Mohd Kamal Saidin, who accused Opposition Leader Anwar Ibrahim as the man responsible for the promotion of “vice.”

(In 1998, former deputy Prime Minister Anwar Ibrahim was charged with corruption and sodomy. In 2000, he was sentenced to nine years for allegedly engaging in sodomy with his 19-year-old male chauffeur and his former male speech writer. Despite national and international protests, he was not released until 2004 when he had already served four years of his sentence, when the Federal Court of Malaysia acquitted him of all charges.

After his release, Anwar stated that he was innocent and the allegations were part of a government conspiracy to end his political career. He also felt that the national criminal laws against homosexuality ought to be reformed to protect consenting adult’s right to have a private life, although he also stated that gay marriage, “is going a bit too far”.

In 2007, former Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad responded to a civil lawsuit filed by Anwar by stating that a homosexual should not hold public office in Malaysia and that he knew Anwar was a homosexual because Anwar’s male chauffeur and a male speech writer both stated in court that they had had sexual relations with Anwar.

In July 2008, Anwar was arrested again, accused of sodomy with a male former aide. The arrest came shortly after Anwar claimed to be in a position to challenge the governing coalition after the opposition’s successes in the March elections. However, he was released on bail and won the campaign for his former seat in Parliament, and currently leads the opposition in Parliament. UMNO lost its long held tight grip over Parliament after dismal election results but remained the governing party.)

In January this year, an unbeliveably ignorant and stupid statement was made by the deputy education minister, Puad Zarkashi, that ‘lesbians, gays, bi-sexuals and transgenders (LGBT) are an illness that can be treated.’ – For an education minister, the man is sadly lacking in both education and intelligence.

He was a speaking at a now notorious ‘seminar’ which was supposed to show parents how to recognise the symptoms (of being LGBT) early to prevent their children from practising the LGBT lifestyle.

For those already ‘adopting’ the lifestyle, Dr Puad said “intervention by teachers and parents, followed by counselling, can help them to return to the right path”. The use of a phrase like this clearly shows that there is a huge amount of ignorance within the government of Malaysia, as well as bigotry and homophobia. No gay, lesbian or transsexual ‘chooses’ to be that way, anymore than you can chose your height, or hair colour.

“LGBT is a social illness. We have to raise awareness on it. Just like drugs, a lack of awareness will cause LGBT to spread,” Puad said.

He called on parents to be attentive to their children and take note of their behaviour. “If your son keeps asking for permission to spend the night at the house of another male friend, then you must check to ensure that nothing else is happening,” he said. The seminar, which was attended by hundreds of teachers and parents, was the 20th in a nationwide series.

Later, this same series of seminars became a laughing stock both internationally and inside Malaysia, when the ‘Education’ ministry approved a set of ‘symptoms’ for parents to watch for in their children. Amongst the ludicrous symptoms mentioned were:

Having a muscular body and liking to show their body by wearing V-neck and sleeveless clothes; Preferring tight and light-coloured clothes; Being attracted to men; and liking to bring big handbags, similar to those used by women, when hanging out.

The warning signs for females were equally stupid: Being attracted to women; Besides their female companions, distancing themselves from other women; Liking to hang out, have meals and sleep in the company of women; and having no affection for men.

For Mohammed Islam, the continued intolerance against the LGBT community is directly opposing the professed message of tolerance being pushed by the government and Prime Minister Najib Razak about Islam.

“I feel this is counter to everything we are being told and what we are telling the world about Islam,” the 24-year-old graduate student and gay Malaysian, told Bikyanews.com. “If we are going to be a leader in the world and talk about tolerance, we must be accepting to all people and citizens. These seminars are just continuing to show Malaysia as a backward country.”

Unfortunately, this is not the first time the ruling government has lashed out against the LGBT community. Last year, the government called LGBT as being “of the devil.”

The Umno, in ending its final assembly ahead of the elections, said that anti-Islamic elements threaten the country, singling out homosexuality and those who promote liberalism in “mainly Muslim Malaysia.”

One delegate called for a rehabilitation center for the LGBT community to “re-educate” them and bring them back to society.

At the time of writing (Early April 2013), a musical play is touring Malaysia spewing hatred against the LGBT community – and its fully supported by the bigots in the Malaysian government.

The government-financed musical that aims to ‘warn young people about the perils of being lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT)’ has sparked controversy over its “state-sponsored bigotry” and potential to incite hatred.

Asmara Songsang (Abnormal Desire) follows the lives of three LGBT friends who throw loud parties, take drugs and have casual sex, thereby incurring the wrath of their religious neighbours, who attempt to reintroduce them to the teachings of Islam. Those who repent are spared, while those who don’t are killed in a lightning storm.

This abhorent ‘play’ completely ignores that fact that most LGBT live very ordinary, routine lives, virtually identical to those of heterosexuals, and is produced purely to incite hatred. Drug taking and casual sex is not entirely unusual amongst heterosexuals in Malaysia, while corruption and sexual misdemeanours are common enough among some high ranking officials who like to preach to others about how they should live.

These few examples are just the tip of the iceberg of state sponsored hatred against a minority group that doesn’t bother anyone and just wants to peacefully get on with life in the same way that other citizens can.

Can you imagine living in a country where your own government – elected to serve the whole community – is actively persecuting the community you are a part of?

Aziz (not his real name) is a gay Malay Muslim. He described to Asiaout how he and some of his friends live in a climate of fear and intimidation, despite being what he describes as “good muslims”.

“We are afraid of being attacked on the street; afraid of being fired from our jobs; afraid of being arrested on some pretext and then beaten by the police; we’re afraid of what the government might do next.”

Peter, a gay ethnic Chinese, added; “The whole atmosphere is one of fear. When the government incites hatred against us, there is no recourse at all. We’re in a hopeless situation.”

Suleiman, another Malay Muslim, noted that living abroad was the best option for many gay Malaysians: “I was lucky enough to have the chance to study and live in England, where despite some racial attitudes, I still feel safer than at home in Malaysia. If I was unlucky enough to suffer an attack or discrimination I know that I can go to the authorities and get help; something that is impossible in Malaysia.”

As mentioned in our opening remarks, Malaysians have a rare opportunity to vote Najib and his bigoted cohorts out of power, and hopefully in due course these extremist politicians will be held accountable in a court of law.

First Impressions

First Impressions

Mark Kiakai Writes: No, that’s not my first impression, but just too good not to post. More about that a bit later.

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As Asiaout’s new editor, I thought it might be interesting to tell you guys about my impressions of returning home to Thailand after spending many years in the UK, where I went to school and uni, and more recently worked for a while in the back room of a media company – that’s a back room, not a dark room :-)

I’ve only been back a few days and I guess its a mix of culture shock and enjoyment; the culture shock is not about traditional things Thai, but about how tatty and grubby things look after London (although that fair city has its issues too), how bad the traffic is, and how much litter gets thrown onto the streets. The enjoyment is being back with friends and family, and feeling comfortable in my environment; even after living in London for so long and getting a cockney accent (so I’ve been told), I was still sometimes made to feel out of place there.

Even if its not always genuine, you can get a ready smile and easy chat with anyone in Bangkok, unlike London where they think you must be up to no good if you break a smile on the Tube (MRT) or on the street – except of course when the other party is a handsome hunk!

One of my main impressions on getting home, surprisingly, was Facebook. Yes, I know Facebook has billions of members and yes its big in the UK too, but for some reason I’ve never joined, until I got back home a couple or so days ago.

Its been an education; lots of friendly guys, both Asian and western, all happy to interact, all happy to be friends. Initially it seems that my Thai FB friends are more willing or more likely to reveal their inner feelings of the moment, while the westerners are generally a bit more concerned with day to day life, trivia, and politics. Of course, this is an early impression taken from a small group.

What amazes me is that some guys have many thousands of FB friends – it must be impossible to interact with even half of them, and some of these guys seem to want to build big numbers of friends just to show off. Others are a bit more selective allowing only ‘real’ friends to add them. My other shock about Facebook is the amount of nudity and even porn you can see openly, which I thought was against the rules.

Now back to the vid at the top of the page. I couldn’t resist this silly but fun lipsinc vid from a very cute guy on Facebook, the title of which roughly translates as “White Legged Dancing Girl”. If I didn’t have a boyfriend I’d happily want to date him, “dancing girl” or not!

While it happens everywhere, it can be a shock sometimes to return to a place you haven’t seen for a while and find that it has changed so much. I come from Nonthaburi province, just outside Bangkok, and while some places look just the same, other places have changed so much they are almost unrecognisable, with new skytrain lines running above many of our local main roads, and tower blocks of offices and shopping malls where there used to be rice fields. And, and, the cost of living is much higher than before. In some cases I think some things are about the same price as in the UK!

Of course arriving home in the middle of the rainy season might not be the best idea but, for me at least, the rain is refreshing in the heat I’m not used to.

I have to get a driving license, and unlike the UK where it can take a couple of weeks or more, I can get one at my local Land Transport office in an hour or less, and I can update my ID card in about the same time or less. I’ve already got a local SIM for 3G service, and a new smart phone.

So now, my job is to post and edit news stories for myasiaout and prepare some features for the main Asiaout site right here. If anyone reading this thinks they have an interesting story to tell, about their lives or anything else, then please contact me.

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