Trans Rights Movement in Malaysia
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I regret not having written this sooner while the event was still fresh in my mind, but better late than never. On the 12th of July, I went to ‘Beyond Binary’, a talk hosted by national trans ally campaign, I Am You.
This was my first exposure to the Malaysian trans community. I went with a friend and her friend. None of us knew anyone else there, not personally. Most of those in attendance seemed to know one another, though, which was overwhelming in the beginning. The event was semi-formal so there was plenty of time to talk before and after. I left with an impression that theirs was a tight-knit community, palpable in their solidarity. This article is my respectful contribution to the cause as an ally of trans rights in Malaysia.
The talk included a presentation of a video and further elucidation on Gender Identity Disorder (GID) and the efficacy of a trans rights platform based off the American Psychiatric Association's DSM. Related to these are on-the-ground issues facing transwomen and the trans rights movement in Malaysia. Topical cases regarding trans rights were also discussed, such as the Section66 case which was recently brought to the Court of Appeal.
In Malaysia, Shari’a law is enforced on Muslims, but ostensibly does not affect non-Muslim citizens. Gender expression that fall outside of male-female binary as stated on your identification records are criminalized, which includes men ‘posing’ or dressing as women. The Shari’a law differs from state to state. The discussion on the legal aspects of trans rights was especially imperative at the time because of the recent arrests of 16 transwomen in Negeri Sembilan under Section66 of the state’s Shari’a law. The women were sent to court for a hearing in which they had no access to a lawyer.
On the 17th of July, the constitutionality of Section66 was challenged at the Putrajaya Court of Appeal, arguing that the law violates the rights of the transwomen as codified in the Federal Constitution. These violations include freedom of movement, freedom of expression, and equal protection (more can be read on the topic here and here). In court, such egregious arguments such as the accusation of those with GID being of unsound mind were heard from Negeri Sembilan state legal advisor, Iskandar Ali Dewa.
Therefore, hearing the judges agree that GID cannot be cured and that trans people did not choose to be trans was accompanied with bright hope. The judgment will be delivered on 7th of November. If Section66 were to be struck down as unconstitutional, it could set a precedent for all the Shari’a laws upheld by other states. To hear more on the discriminatory civil and Shari’a laws related to transpeople, a second episode of the video presented at Saturday’s talk has been released .
As someone who has read widely but admittedly not very deeply on the subject, I would say that I didn’t exactly come to the talk expecting to glean any new information. I knew about gender identity and have read the news on the Negeri Sembilan cases. However, I was glad I attended because I got to meet the people. It was a bit of a shock – one that has yet to wear off – to have met people whose names I see often on the Internet. A definite highlight was listening to their lived experiences, especially of those considered veterans in this field of advocacy. It was exciting to talk to the people behind the movement, some who had fascinating day jobs all the while contributing to the cause.
Something I admire about I Am You is that their aim is to educate. They are committed to raising awareness and building a strong ally base with offers to give talks and hold sensitization workshops at corporate companies, colleges, and et cetera institutions. Mainstream media, the extremely conservative and exuberantly liberal alike, have contributed to painting Malaysians as a people not yet ready for radical changes, but that is far from the truth. I’ve taken to saying this a lot but most of the people on the street either just do not know or have not been pressed to think about it. With their work, Malaysia’s trans rights community operates by placing pressure on these people and normative ideas. Many are actually more than willing to open their minds.
*These videos are in my native language, Malay, but the articles linked provide sufficient explanation.
For any Malaysians reading this, the above mentioned organizations are looking for volunteers with tangible skill sets. I urge everyone to get acquainted with their local trans movement and engage with them as allies.