Being transgender in any country is never easy. The legality of identity and ultimate policing of gender by governments and the overall social atmosphere can be devastating to the morale and psyche of the trans community. But in Malaysia, where the rights of the LGBT community are mostly unrecognized, as homosexuality, oral sex, sodomy and cross dressing are illegal according to the criminal code, it is easy for violence to spread quickly.
The community is starting to speak out as religious authorities in the country gain more power. Malaysia is primarily a moderate Muslim nation, with 60% of the country identifying with the religion. As religious influence has grown within the country’s government, the transgender community has seen an increase in violence toward their members.
This past June, nine transgender women were arrested for cross dressing. These women were fined or jailed based upon a ruling by the Sharia court. The laws and increased emphasis on religion have ultimately made it unsafe for transgender people to leave their homes and work. While there are centers for the LGBT community in Kuala Lumpur to provide meals and job training, government funding is being cut due to pressure from religious authorities.
The attitudes of these religious authorities are perpetuating hatred toward LGBT communities across Malaysia. As recently as 2011, the government attempted to “stamp out” homosexuality by running a camp through the country’s education department to stop boys from being gay.
All countries, no matter the primary religion or governmental affiliation, see discrimination against LGBT-identified people. In the US, for example, despite recent strides taken with marriage equality, eleven trans women have been murdered since the start of the year. This happens across the world. And while the country is Muslim-dominated and the recent issues do lie with religious leaders’ influence, it is important to remember that Islam, and by extension, Muslim people, are not inherently homophobic or transphobic. Rather, there are cultural implications and influences that drive discrimination.
The coming years for the Malay LGBT community will be critical in establishing a system of acceptance. The community is strong, and those on the outside looking in can hope that such changes will happen due to their dedication to the cause.
Mehek Naresh is an Indian American lesbian, living and working in Florida after recently graduating with a Bachelors in Political Science. Her hobbies seeking out small talk with cashiers, reading, and spending more time staring at tumblr than she’d care to admit.