The only way to progress as human beings is to stop shackling, shaming and silencing homosexuals with our prejudices.
I felt disturbed to the point where I couldn’t close my eyes without re-reading the words. The words of the article I had been reading prior to bedtime in clear Verdana font. The specific excerpt that distressed me read:
NGO, PTAs to educate parents, oppose ‘free and perverse sex’.
I have so much to say but this matter is so offensive and condescending on so many levels, I am not sure where to start. Maybe I will begin by saying I feel violated and afraid for the young parents and children in school as I could not take anything out of the excerpt beyond its reference to homosexuality.
“You are not gay, why are you offended?”
Although I am not a subject of discrimination, I do feel threatened knowing that there are people in my surroundings who do not care or who will simply allow victims of discrimination suffer the deprivation of their rights. I disagree with many things the Malaysian authorities do and don’t do mainly because they give the façade of consistency with the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) while implying the direct opposite with regard to various groups and organisations. Life is definitely harder for freedom fighters, as we have recently witnessed with the banning of Seksualiti Merdeka.
The absence of sex education in Malaysia has also made many fearful of the unknown. The first step is to understand the matter and keep conversations of such topics going so that people do not hate blindly. Right now, we judge too quickly. We label, we stereotype, we discriminate. Malaysia has languished in her adolescence for far too long; now is the time to grow up. Members of the Rakyat who cannot accept those different from them need to broaden their horizons because they are not the only ones living on this planet. Why ruin people’s lives with such labelling and stereotyping?
With all this hate in our society, how can we tackle the larger problems we face on a daily basis? How can we maturely solve with open minds, issues like the increasing income gap among Malaysians? Climate-changing deforestation? Unwanted pregnancies, teenage pregnancies and baby dumping? Or truancy at schools? How will we be able to take on the incidences of miseducation in our schools? Political chaos? Restrictions on our freedom of speech? (There’s more, of course; just ask!)
To be honest, I was only exposed to LGBTiQ in my last year of secondary school. A girl who always sat in front of me in my tuition class confided in me one day regarding her sexuality. I avoided her for two weeks after that episode but felt like I had killed someone on the inside. Was I homophobic? I did not know as I had never understood it. Never in my life before had I come across a conversation concerning LGBTiQ because it had always been taboo at school. So I just did not know what to say or how to react correctly. I only remember it being talked about in class once – just once over the 11 years of public schooling I had received. But even so, the teacher had tried to quickly change the subject, saying that supporting a gay lifestyle was ‘devil’s thinking’ (Bahasa Melayu: Pemikiran syaitan). It is really a shame that Malaysian public schools do not provide Sex Education as a subject.
I eventually spoke to the girl at the park near our tuition class and I had so many questions! It was so liberating to be able to talk about it without someone suggesting I should go for psychiatric sessions. I was not close to her at all before but we were on good terms. She had confided in me because she had really needed someone – anyone – to listen to her, that was all.
Right now, she is now in another part of the world on a partial scholarship. But I know she is still struggling because of her family’s firm rooting in cultural traditions, including the practice of arranged marriage. She came out of the closet (so to speak) with her parents early last year and her father has not spoken to her since. In fact, it has become known to me that her family will not pay for her visits back here unless she vows to ‘reorientate her sexuality and marry a man they choose for her’. Further, they have even given her an expiration date for that ‘deal’.
“Gay people should expect harassment when they turn gay.”
This is a big slap to all civil movements. This line is to gays as “Females should expect to be sexualised because they are female” is to females and “The poor should expect to be exploited because they are poor and therefore have no power!” is to the less fortunate.
The first Article of UDHR states:
“All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights”.
So why should they expect to be abused physically, emotionally, and psychologically? Why should gays suffer the inhumane treatment they receive for their sexuality? Do we Malaysians democratically approve of such ill treatment ? If you do not approve, and if Malaysia continues to steer towards democracy, I believe we can stop accepting such inequality by voicing out our opinions.
In the article (you know, the one that kept me from sleeping soundly), the offending excerpt continues with this statement: “[Malaysia] is an Islamic country and we cannot compromise on this”. Hold your horses, Encik Azwanddin Hamzah, President of Pertubuhan Jaringan Melayu Malaysia (JMM) – is Malaysia constitutionally an Islamic country? Below, Art Harun, prominent lawyer, defines Article 3 of the Constitution (video courtesy of KS Tan):
As you can see, Article 3 of the Federal Constitution simply states that Islam shall be the religion of the Federation. That is all. Documents available from our historical archives affirm this. Despite that, many claim that Malaysia is actually an Islamic country, perhaps for their own self interests. Further, while history recognises the insertion of the provision that Islam is the religion of the Federation, the fact remains that Malaysia is a secular country. The record has to be set straight.
“What are gay people good for?”
Gays are just like you and I. We are all people with dreams, fears and ambitions. (For a glimpse at just how regular gay people are, check out ‘My Gay Lifestyle‘ by Domenick Scudera.) As for the question of ‘good’ and ‘bad’, well, our being good or otherwise is not dependent on sexuality but principles which comes from nurturing. In my opinion, the argument is similar with religion. There can be both ‘good’ and ‘bad’ religious people, for instance. But it is not the religion itself that is good or bad. Ultimately it boils down to the individual.
Perhaps I have slightly biased opinions but I do feel (and hope) that the struggles and experiences of discrimination constantly faced by gays will translate into a stronger collective will to change things. They may also encourage more opinionated sharing when it comes to discussions and debates on issues, even sensitive ones. Hardship builds character, after all.
“I have no problem with gays, unless my child is one!”
When I read the article (you know which one by now), I thought of Eric James Borges immediately. Eric James was bullied throughout his life and disowned by his parents due to his sexual orientation. He succumbed to suicide last Wednesday. He was 19. The Trevor Project on which Eric James worked prior to his death, has statistics citing that LGBTiQ youths whose parents reject them for their sexuality are eight times more at risk of suicide compared to those whose parents accept them.
I have so many questions for parents, because I do not find rational, the parenting method promoted by JMM. In fact, I urge all mature adults and not just parents to reflect on the following questions:
1. Does the sexual orientation of your child changes the quality of the relationship between you and your child?
2. Shouldn’t parents be providing a safe environment in which their gay child can express him or herself freely without being judged?
3. Wouldn’t you rather see your children for who they are, and not masked pretenders who only want to please you to a point of self-destruction?
I cannot string up the words for a proper closure to this post, so I will borrow a poem from Taylor Mali (see video below):
Rest in Peace, Eric James. To all my fellow Malaysians, meanwhile, I would wish only this: that we continue the fight for a truly democratic nation. One whose peoples accept and respect Malaysians of different colour, creed and sexual orientation.
More on this topic when you check out the following articles:
(Featured image accompanying the article on the main page courtesy of Davide Taviani via Flickr, source: www.flickr.com/photos/helios89/1360757052/)