LGBT rights in Malaysia

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Template:Infobox LGBT

The PT Foundation, an LGBT centre in Malaysia

Lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) persons in Malaysia face legal challenges not experienced by non-LGBT residents. Sodomy is a crime in the country, under a British Empire colonial era law. Social attitudes towards the LGBT community are also shaped by Islam, the official religion in Malaysia.

Human Rights Watch states that "Discrimination against lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) people is pervasive in Malaysia."[1]

Legality of same-sex sexual acts[edit]

Malaysia retains its colonial era criminal ban on sodomy (as well as oral sex), broadly defined to include both heterosexual and homosexual acts, with possible punishment including fines, prison sentences of up to twenty years, and even corporal punishment. A subsection of the Criminal Code also provides additional punishment for men convicted of "gross indecency with another male person".[2] In addition to the secular law, Muslim citizens may also be charged in special Islamic courts.[3]

There has been some public discussion about reforming the law so as to exempt private, non-commercial sexual acts between consenting adults. Some members of the major opposition party have expressed support for such a reform, most notably Latheefa Koya, but this is not the official position of the party. No political party or elected member of Parliament has formally proposed such a reform.[3]

In 1994, the Government banned anyone who is homosexual, bisexual or transsexual from appearing in the state-controlled media.[4]

In 1995, the Religious Affairs Minister of the state of Selangor praised the Islamic Badar vigilante groups who had organised in 1994 to assist in the arrest of 7,000 for engaging in "unIslamic" activities such as homosexuality.[4]

In 2001, former Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad stated that the country will deport any visiting foreign cabinet ministers or diplomats who are gay.[5] Mohamad also warned gay ministers in foreign countries not to bring along their partners while visiting the nation.[6] Mahathir's daughter, Marina Mahathir, however has called for an end to discrimination based on sexual orientation.[7]

In 2005, the Royal Malaysian Navy (RMN) chief Mohd Anwar Mohd Nor stated that the Navy would never accept homosexuals.[8]

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.[9][10] In 2017 Malaysia tried to censor Beauty and the Beast over some gay moments but eventually caved in to pressure and let the movie be shown.[11] [12] The censorship board also had no objections to the screening of Power Rangers even with a lesbian scene in the movie.[13][14]

In May 2017, the LGBT pride march organised by Taylor's University planned in June was cancelled due to Islamist pressure. The event was condemned by pro-Islamist blogs because it was disrespectful to do in the holy month of Ramadan.[15]

In 2018, two women were convicted for attempting to have Lesbian sex in a car parked in public area, and were caned before an audience in a courtroom.[16]

Gender identity and expression[edit]

Human Rights Watch reports that state-level Sharia (Islamic) laws prohibit cross-dressing, and transgender people "face arbitrary arrest, physical and sexual assault, imprisonment, discriminatory denial of health care and employment, and other abuses."[1]

Transgender individuals have often been arrested by police officers under the civil laws governing "public indecency", and if they are Muslim, can be further charged by religious officers under Sharia Laws for "impersonating" women. A 2014 Human Rights Watch report alleged that transgender people are subjected to "assault, extortion, and violations of their privacy rights" by police, and humiliation, physical and sexual assault by Religious Department officials.[17]

In 1998, 45 Muslim transvestites were charged and convicted in court for dressing as women, and twenty-three more transgender persons faced similar fines and imprisonment in 1999.[4]

It has been estimated that a large number of transgender persons are forced to work on the streets as commercial sex workers to earn a living.

In November 2014, three transgender women from the state of Negeri Sembilan arrested for cross-dressing via Sharia law successfully appealed for review of the judicial law at the Court of Appeal for appropriate clothing of people with gender dysphoria. Due to the lack of a mention of gender dysphoria and the lack of medical evidence for a state legal adviser's claim that transgender people were insane, the court unanimously declared the anti-cross-dressing Sharia law as void and violating the constitutional right of "freedom of expression, movement and the right to live in dignity and equality".[18] On 8 October 2015, the Federal Court of Malaysia overturned the ruling on procedural grounds. The Court found that the three women should have obtained judicial permission of a Federal Court judge when they commenced their constitutional challenge. Although a High Court judge had granted permission in November 2011, the Federal Court ruled that it had done so erroneously.[19][20]

In August 2016, the Kuala Lumpur High Court ordered the National Registration Department (NRD) to update a trans man’s information on his identity card to better reflect his gender identity and chosen name. The judge argued that "the plaintiff has a precious constitutional right to life under Article 5(1) of the Federal Constitution, and the concept of life under Article 5 must necessarily encompass the plaintiff’s right to live with dignity as a male and be legally accorded judicial recognition as a male." The NRD subsequently appealed the ruling.[21][22]

Public opinion[edit]

A 2013 Pew Research Center opinion survey showed that 9% of the Malaysian population believe homosexuality should be accepted by society, while 86% believe it should not.[23] Malaysia was one of the Asian countries polled with the least acceptance, in front of only Indonesia and Pakistan with 3% and 2%, respectively. People over 50 years old were more accepting than younger people: 11% of people over 50 believe it should be accepted, 10% of people between 30 and 49 and 7% of people between 18 and 29. There, however, was a slight increase in acceptance since 2007, when a Pew Research poll showed that 8% of the population believe homosexuality should be accepted.

LGBT rights in Malaysian politics[edit]

The "People's Anti-Homosexual Voluntary Movement", was created in 1998 to lobby for stricter criminal laws against homosexuality, and is a member of the former ruling party United Malays National Organisation (UMNO).[24]

Parti Sosialis Malaysia is the only political party that openly support and defend the rights of LGBT people and they see LGBT rights just like any other minority rights.

The current ruling coalition, Pakatan Harapan has had a few MPs voice out for LGBT Rights, along with the daughter of the prime minister. However, there is still no legal protection for the LGBT community yet.

Prosecution of Anwar Ibrahim[edit]

In 1998, Anwar Ibrahim was charged with corruption and sodomy. In 2000, he was sentenced to nine years for 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 he had served out four years of his sentence, in 2004, when the Federal Court of Malaysia acquitted him of all charges.[25]

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 adults' rights to have a private life, although he also stated that same-sex marriage "is going a bit too far".[26]

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.[27]

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.[28] However, he was released on bail and won the campaign for his former seat in Parliament, and currently leads the opposition in Parliament.

In the beginning of 2015, Anwar was arrested again and is currently serving a five-year prison sentence.[29]

LGBT-supporting organisations in Malaysia[edit]

Malaysia does not have a national organisation committed to LGBT rights. Instead, a loose coalition of non-governmental organisations, artists, and individuals organise the annual sexuality rights festival Seksualiti Merdeka. Seksualiti Merdeka, meaning "Independent Sexuality", is an annual festival consisting of talks, performances, screenings, workshops, and forums to promote sexuality rights as a human right, to empower marginalised individuals and communities, and to create platforms for advocacy. Besides organising the programmes of this annual festival, members of this coalition are also involved in letter-writing campaigns, organising regular film screenings and discussions, academic advocacy and training of trainers. However, the Government has attempted to prevent these events from happening since 2011.

The groups involved in Seksualiti Merdeka have also on their own advocated for the rights of LGBT within the framework of human rights advocacy. These include established human rights organisations such as the Human Rights Committee of the Malaysian Bar, SUARAM, PT Foundation, KRYSS, Women's Candidacy Initiative, Persatuan Kesedaran Komuniti Selangor (EMPOWER), Purple Lab, Matahari Books, and The Annexe Gallery.

Several other groups such as Sisters in Islam, Women's Aid Organisation, and Amnesty International also have dealt with sexual orientation issues within their public health advocacy. The focus on AIDS-HIV education has allowed for more public discussion of sexual orientation, gender identity and human rights.

PT Foundation, originally called Pink Triangle, focuses on "providing HIV/AIDS education, prevention, care and support programs, sexuality awareness and empowerment programs for vulnerable communities in Malaysia". The communities include MSM (men who have sex with men), transgender, sex workers, drug users, and people living with HIV. They are joined by other organisations, such as "LPG" (for gay men) and "OutDo" (for lesbians) which organise regular activities for their target communities.

The position of Najib Razak[edit]

Ex-Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak made clear in a speech in August 2015 at an international Islamic moderation seminar in Selangor, that he believed Malaysia should not support LGBT rights. Razak stated that his administration will do its best to uphold human rights but only within the confines of Islam and that Malaysia cannot defend the more "extreme aspect of human rights", such as gay, lesbian and transsexual rights. This prompted Human Rights Watch to suggest that Malaysia withdraw from the United Nations if the government was not serious about upholding human rights for all.[30]

HIV/AIDS issues[edit]

While not solely a problem for LGBT people, the public health response to AIDS-HIV has required greater public discussion of topics such as human sexuality, gender roles, and sexual orientation.

Since the first official case of AIDS appeared in the nation in 1985, the government has been under more pressure to promote education and prevention campaigns as some experts have suggested that the number of Malaysians infected with HIV could go as high as 300,000 by the year 2015.[31]

In 2006, the Government launched a new comprehensive public campaign that includes therapy and needle exchange programs for drug addicts and free medications provided at government clinics.[31] However, in 2007, Malaysia's Ministry of Health was banned from advocating the use of condoms to prevent the spread of the disease due to a concern that such a campaign would be equated with a governmental endorsement of sexual conduct outside of a legal marriage.[32]

Summary table[edit]

Same-sex sexual activity legal No Illegal (20 years with or without fines and whippings as punishment)
Equal age of consent No
Anti-discrimination laws in employment No
Anti-discrimination laws in the provision of goods and services No
Anti-discrimination laws in all other areas (incl. indirect discrimination, hate speech) No
Same-sex marriage(s) No
Recognition of same-sex couples No
Stepchild adoption by same-sex couples No
Joint adoption by same-sex couples No
LGBT people allowed to serve in the military No
Right to change legal gender No
Access to IVF for lesbians No
Commercial surrogacy for gay male couples No (Illegal for all couples regardless of sexual orientation)[33]
MSMs allowed to donate blood No

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b "World Report 2015 - Malaysia". Human Rights Watch.
  2. ^ "Sodomylaws.Org". Sodomylaws.Org. Retrieved 8 February 2012.
  3. ^ a b "Rethinking Malaysia's sodomy laws". The Malaysian Bar. 26 July 2009. Retrieved 8 February 2012.
  4. ^ a b c Malaysian Trans People Leap Forward With The First Political Appointee and The “My Trans Ally” Project
  5. ^ "Sodomylaws.Org". Sodomylaws.Org. Retrieved 8 February 2012.
  6. ^ "Gay ministers barred, Malaysia tells UK". BBC News. 1 November 2001. Retrieved 7 May 2010.
  7. ^ "PM's daughter slams Malaysian anti-gay group". BBC News. 23 October 1998. Retrieved 7 May 2010.
  8. ^ "Sodomylaws.Org". Sodomylaws.Org. Retrieved 8 February 2012.
  9. ^ Bolcer, Julie (22 March 2010). "Malaysia: Gay Characters OK, If They Go Straight | Entertainment News". The Advocate. Archived from the original on 24 March 2010. Retrieved 8 February 2012.
  10. ^ Razak, Iskhandar (5 July 2015). "Transgender Malaysians targeted as religious authorities' influence grows, LGBTI community says". Australian Broadcasting Commission. Retrieved 15 March 2017.
  11. ^ Beauty, AndTheBeast. "Disney Malaysia Lodges Appeal. Censorship Board Says It Will Not". TheStar. TheStar. Retrieved 6 January 2018.
  12. ^ BBC, Beautyandthebast. "Beauty And The Beast Postponed In Malaysia". BBC. BBC. Retrieved 6 January 2018.
  13. ^ "Malaysia to show Power Rangers despite lesbian storyline". PinkNews. Retrieved 6 January 2018.
  14. ^ "Malaysia Okays "Power Rangers" Movie Despite Gay Character". newnownext. Retrieved 6 January 2018.
  15. ^ "LGBT pride march in Taylor's University cancelled after Islamist pressure". themalaymailonline. 18 May 2017. Retrieved 8 November 2017.
  16. ^ Women caned in Malaysia for attempting to have lesbian sex, Independent, 3 September 2018
  17. ^ "Malaysia: Transgender People Under Threat". Human Rights Watch. 25 Sep 2014.
  19. ^ Malaysia: Court Ruling Sets Back Transgender Rights Human Rights Watch
  20. ^ Malaysian Court Reverses Transgender Legal Victory Buzzfeed News
  21. ^ SAMAN PEMULA NO: 24NCVC-1306-08 /2015
  22. ^ Good news from Malaysia, Namibia, Ukraine Erasing 76 Crimes
  23. ^ The Global Divide on Homosexuality
  24. ^ "Sodomylaws.Org". Sodomylaws.Org. Retrieved 8 February 2012.
  25. ^ "Sodomylaws.Org". Sodomylaws.Org. Retrieved 8 February 2012.
  26. ^ "Sodomylaws.Org". Sodomylaws.Org. Retrieved 8 February 2012.
  27. ^ "Former PM says gays should not rule mostly Muslim Malaysia". 9 January 2007. Archived from the original on 11 January 2007. Retrieved 8 April 2017. we cannot have a prime minister who is homosexual
  28. ^ "Malaysia's Anwar Ibrahim arrested". BBC News. 16 July 2008. Retrieved 7 May 2010.
  29. ^ Malaysia jails Anwar Ibrahim for five years for sodomy
  30. ^ "Quit UN if not keen to defend human rights for all, watchdog tells Putrajaya". Malaymail Online. 18 August 2016. Retrieved 24 August 2015.
  31. ^ a b "HIV infections in Malaysia could surge to 300,000 by 2015, official warns –". International Herald Tribune. 29 March 2009. Retrieved 8 February 2012.
  32. ^ "HIV/AIDS | Malaysia Health Ministry Cannot Promote Condom Use To Prevent Spread of HIV, Official Says –". Archived from the original on 23 December 2007. Retrieved 8 February 2012.

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