Kuala Lumpur gay event Seksualiti Merdeka 2011, banned

This is going to be such a long ass post! I’m going to take many hours to write this. To do the reading required. To take breaks to reflect upon my thoughts and feelings about it. Why? All for what? Well the whole purpose of this blog is to…  well, I just want to say something about the issue. And to have something about it to reflect months or years from now when I look back…

1. A little about me first.

I want to start this entry by stating that I am very much ‘out of the loop’ with gay matters. I am gay, living with my partner, have gay friends, like to read up on gay issues every so often, take an interest in movies and novels with gay themes. But that’s about all the extent of my involvement and interest with the gay aspect of me.

I’m not involved with the gay ‘scene’ or community. I haven’t been to a gay bar for years, or any other bar for that matter because I quit alcohol years ago, and I’m worried that with all the cigarette smoke in my face I’ll be tempted to light up again after all the hell I put up with to quit smoking only two years ago.

I used to volunteer for a gay group years ago as a librarian but left because I felt useless. It was only a fortnightly-or-so thing. And while the aim of this particular organisation was indeed noble, the service they provided was simply under-used, and it became more like a place for a group to hang out and chat, like a gay social club. Nothing wrong with that, and I respect the founders and the other volunteers for all the time and effort they put in to start and keep the outfit going. But I felt like I didn’t fit in with these guys, and my own role was just not very useful. So I left.

Ok, I know that’s one hell of a long-winded intro. Sorry! I’ve never been articulate. I’m just trying to say that the following paragraphs does not mean that I’m belittling Seksualiti Merdeka, an event held since 2008. I think the people behind this event are brave and noble for bringing attention to LGBT people who face discrimination and violence.

However, I do believe it is naive of my gay Malaysian neighbours, those who expect all of Malaysia to accept and embrace LGBT. It is after all a Muslim country, and therefore a conservative country. What do you expect? You can try to use the ‘but the government says we are 1Malaysia!’ cry all you want, but just because the government is making major effort to unite better the country racially and to strengthen this unity, well you can’t take away the fact that in the Malaysian constitution, Islam is the state religion. And that, let’s face it, the culture of being openly gay is just not compatible with the culture of Islam. Or should I say, the culture of Malaysian Muslims. By the way, it’s not just the Muslims. I’ll get to that towards the end of this entry.

2. About the event.

The following excerpt was taken from Wikipedia:

Seksualiti Merdeka is an annual sexuality rights festival held in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. Seksualiti Merdeka features a programme of talks, forums, workshops, art, theatre and music performances, interactive installations, and film screenings, organised by a coalition of Malaysian NGOs, artists and individuals. Merdeka is the name for Malaysia’s Independence Day (Aug 31), hence Seksualiti Merdeka can be loosely translated as “Sexuality Independence”.

Seksualiti Merdeka is founded by arts programmer Pang Khee Teik and singer-songwriter Jerome Kugan in 2008.

And the following are various excerpts from the 6th November article ‘Seksualiti Merdeka organisers to explain movement’s objectives‘  from The Star online. The article is about their press statement.

“We are citizens who are being denied our rights to our identity and self-determination… The false allegations and ill-intended remarks made to incite hate towards us are completely unjustified… Sexual rights are universal human rights based on the inherent freedom, dignity and equality of all human beings.”

Of course the press statement would not be complete without what I feel is a little dig, at how Islam is not quite ‘with it’ like all the other beautiful and peaceful religions of the rainbow:

The Malaysian Consultative Coun­cil of Buddhism, Christianity, Hin­duism, Sikhism and Taoism has condemned the hateful speech that was directed at members of sexual minorities in Malaysia…

“The council recognises that the norms for sexual practices within each religion, as in numerous other matters, are governed by the commandments, laws, rules and regulations and values as set and practised within each religious group,” it said. “Often there are differences in a given subject between one religion and another in our coalition.” However, it said it recognised the differences, respected their practice by members of that faith, opposed any attempt to impose the norms and values of one upon another.

This year the event is called “Queer Without Fear”. (I dislike that word ‘queer’ by the way. It’s like a black man calling another ‘nigger’. Just because it’s blacks doing it does not make it okay. It’s still an offensive word.)

From my understanding of what I’ve read, it’s a quiet harmless event, not some in-your-face gay pride parade. The programme sounds very sedate with things like book launches, an art exhibition and performances. Personally, I feel it all sounds very cultured and refined, and that the event should have been allowed to go on, if only it had not attracted the attention of trouble-makers looking for the chance to turn the festival into something ugly.

3. My opinion about the ban.

I’ll lay it out right now. Because of these trouble-makers, I am glad the festival was banned this year. To me the Malaysian police made the right decision in banning it. After not banning it since 2008 when it began, when it was still quietly held, to ban it this year was prudent because the festival has now attracted the attention of some crazy people. Are some of these people opposing the festival because of their Islamic religious beliefs? I believe yes, but I also believe religious faith is only part of the story.

I suspect it is actually equal parts religious and political, if not more of the latter. I suspect it has more to do with opposition parties using the gay community to pick another fight with the ruling government.

4. Why I support the ban for this year’s edition.

Because if the festival goes on, with the attention it has garnered by now and with the kind of tempers running now, the religious group will definitely carry out its threat to protest at the festival, which I feel will easily turn ugly and even violent. People will get hurt. Not all peaceful gatherings end peacefully, and this one is just trouble waiting to explode, if it goes through.

So for the sake of safety, the event should not continue. In fact in their press statement, the organizers themselves said that all public events over the festival had been called off for the safety of its participants.

According to this article featured on Yahoo Singapore, this is what the Deputy Inspector-General of Police Datuk Seri Khalid Abu Bakar said:

“We are not against the people’s right to freedom of speech or human rights… However, if the event creates uneasiness among the vast majority of the population, it may result in disharmony, enmity and threaten public order.”

Interpret that how you will. I choose to interpret it as the police wanting to avoid a protest that will lead to clashes and violence.

5. Why I feel offended as a gay man.

As a gay man, I feel attacked that the noble efforts to help the stigmatized among LGBT people across the causeway, has been labelled as ‘immoral’ by the ignorant.

I feel horrified that a young gay man received death threats last year, after being so courageous as to post a YouTube clip defending his sexuality. And that even though no official action had been taken against him, it remains that he had been accused by authorities of insulting Islam, according to this article.

I feel that events like Seksualiti Merdeka are necessary to help counter the prejudice and the hatred against LGBT people. The discrimination is there of course, and something must be done. This year, the event is under attack. I hope the group will be able to come up with some other way to spread the word that LGBT people are people too who deserve to live their lives without fear. I cannot argue with the rationale of Mr. Pang when he says:

“Asking us to keep quiet is asking us to take your abuse with a smile. That is why some of us choose to be open, because it’s time to put a stop to all the hate and misunderstanding and abuse.”

The whole point of the event, the whole point of making it open and available to the public, is to spread awareness to counter homophobia. So that’s the tricky part. If it’s public, it invites the wrath of the religious. But if it’s not public, it loses the whole point.

The fact that a mere awareness programme (not even a pride parade) to highlight and counter homophobia in society, can be so opposed by further ignorance and hatred that it needed to be banned; this should indicate clearly the high level of discrimination. I hope the authorities in Malaysia, some official somewhere in some department, will note this and try to do something concrete to help. Get in touch with Seksualiti Merdeka and other organisations that help the LGBT.

If not some government representative, then perhaps some big-hearted philanthropist with the clout and cash. Start with assisting with the critical cases. I’m thinking along the lines of people who have been denied of really basic things like housing and a job, because they have been thrown out by families and fired for being gay.

6. Why I feel offended as a Muslim man, as well.

Homophobia in Muslim-majority Malaysia. Inevitably, the issue brings forth some bashing of Islam and Muslims, even if it’s in the form of subtle digs, or article-openers like: Police ordered gay rights activists in Muslim-majority Malaysia on Thursday to scrap an annual arts festival aimed at fighting discrimination.

“Oh, it’s the Muslims again.” So hateful. So intolerant. So not with the programme.

Note the following quote by Deputy Inspector-General of Police Datuk Seri Khalid Abu Bakar:

“The decision to issue the ban was made after taking into account the views expressed by many individuals as well as protests from non-governmental organisations, including lslamic and non-Islamic religious bodies.

Yes, both Islamic and non-Islamic. And yet in all of the newspaper reports I’ve read, with some used here in the links above, there was no mention of the non-Islamic religious bodies. No journalist cared to ask or check out who they might be, it seems. Nobody from Seksualiti Merdeka, no readers, no commenters, seemed to be interested enough to ask just who these non-Islamic groups might be. Nope. Apparently being homophobic must be an all-Islamic affair, at least in Malaysia.

7. More of me… because I don’t know how, and am too exhausted to think how to conclude this entry properly :-)

I’m not effeminate, and neither is my partner. We are not openly gay, except to some of our family members. I don’t face many of the challenges that many other LGBT do, I’m sure, especially transvestites/transsexuals. Therefore, I cannot relate to them. But that does not mean I belittle or trivialise their struggles.

Also, I am not naive. I do not kid myself that I am ‘safe’. It takes only one person, government official or not, who does not like me or my partner, who wants to cause us trouble, to cause chaos into our lives. To inflict us with the troubles and pain of prejudice and discrimination. And this is in Singapore. Where there is homophobia too, just like there is in Malaysia, just like there is all over the world. Eastern country or western country. First world or whatever world.

Oh, if only we are rich. If only we can afford to move to another country. I would so pick Thailand! I love Chiangmai! Sawatdeekrap!! :-)

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4 thoughts on “Kuala Lumpur gay event Seksualiti Merdeka 2011, banned

  1. Pingback: Malaysia: Sexuality Rights Festival Banned · Global Voices

  2. I remember looking forward to attending my very first gay gathering just a couple of months ago. Then I got cold feet. I don’t know what happened but I did a u-turn and fled. And I had so looked forward to attending it! What happened at the last minute I have no explanation. I’m out to family, workplace, boss and friends. But I couldn’t bring myself to be in a roomful of people like me :o\

    • I’m so sorry to hear that, Evan Raz! I must admit I don’t understand the part where you said you couldn’t bring yourself to be in a roomful of people like us. I’m making a guess here that perhaps the issue is strangers? Anyway, whatever it is, I hope you will find peace and a solution to it. I wish you well, and I hope you will attend the next gathering when it comes around again, since it is something you were looking forward to. My suggestion is to bring a friend or two along for the comfort of familiarity.

      • You’re right on two counts — 1, indeed the gathering was made up of complete strangers to me and 2, if I had gone with someone (as I had intended) it would have given me some measure of courage. Strength in numbers! On the other hand, I wasn’t sure what I was expecting to find at such an event and if attending it would make me ‘more established as a gay man’. I’m happy being what I am and where I am. Maybe I was just curious.

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