By Leannza Chia
KUALA LUMPUR, Sept 15 — Gender equality advocates say Putrajaya is sending the wrong message about sexuality and social conformity by endorsing a controversial “guideline” aimed at helping parents recognise “symptoms” of homosexuality in children.
The groups are demanding the federal government retract its endorsement, saying the descriptions are misleading and may lead to discrimination against the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LBGT) community.
The groups — Seksualiti Merdeka, PT Foundation and EMPOWER Malaysia — said the federal government of lacked knowledge and understanding in dealing with sexual identity issues among the about the LGBT community, and should “stop all these discriminatory practices” even as it aims to raise the country’s flagging educational standards.
“We are alarmed and duly concerned at the misinformation portrayed and the effect that such a guideline would have on the children,” said Raymond Tai, who is acting executive director in charge of programmes at PT Foundation’s Pink Triangle (MSM).
“What message are we sending out to our school children, conform or we will punish you for non-conformity? How will this help us mould tomorrow’s leaders?” he asked.
Putrajaya has reportedly endorsed a list of identifiable gay and lesbian traits that was distributed to schools and parents, published by the Yayasan Guru Malaysia Bhd and Putrajaya Consultative Council of Parents and Teachers Associations.
The guidelines are ostensibly aimed at preventing the “spread” of the phenomenon among teenagers, especially students, according to media reports.
Tai explained that it is impossible to identify who is gay or lesbian by looking out for “symptoms”, as sexual identity has nothing to do with the way one dresses or one’s social preferences.
He also compared the guideline to be “what regimes like North Korea or the old Myammar would do”, and worried that this guideline could lead to a “witch-hunt” that causes “irreparable damage to a student’s self-esteem”.
“Our concern is that the recent anti-LGBT actions such as this guideline will continue to drive such activity underground where HIV festers. Sexual transmission has overtaken injecting drugs as the main cause of new HIV infections in Malaysia in the past two years. This latest action does not help,” he said, of the government move.
He said he hoped the Ministry of Education would withdraw its endorsement or admit it was misquoted if it wanted to salvage its reputation as the controversial guideline “reflects on the sad quality of leadership in the ministry”.
“It certainly cast doubts on the Education Ministry’s seriousness in implementing the new Education Blueprint,” Tai added.
Co-founder of Seksualiti Merdeka Pang Khee Teik condemned the Ministry of Education for endorsing the guidelines and called it a “bully” against children and the LGBT community.
“In a world beset by inequality, conflict and limited resources, education is the best tool we have in dealing with these issues. Instead our Ministry of Education seems only interested in teaching hate, promoting inequality and playing politics,” he said in an e-mail response to The Malaysian Insider.
Pang also warned about the adverse effects of having such a policy to the community in general, and called for the ministry to be mindful of these possible effects.
“The high rate of suicide among youths, the high rate of LGBT people forced into unhappy marriages, the high rate of scandals that result, the high rate of depression among LGBT adults, the high rate of bullying and violence against LGBT persons — these are but some of the wounds. These wounds take generations to heal.”
He urged the government to “stop this inhumane campaign against vulnerable children” and “teach all children to be confident and to respect each other no matter who they are”.
EMPOWER Malaysia programme officer Lau Shu Shi also likened the guidelines to a “witch-hunt”, saying the government lacked understanding of the LGBT groups to be able to make a solid conclusion about the matter.
“The government should try to understand the situation before making conclusions. We don’t have enough understanding (now). When they come up with these so-called solutions, I don’t think they even consult with these LGBT groups.
“If you don’t really understand the issue, how can you say this is the problem? How can you provide a solution without basic understanding?
“The way that the government endorses these suggestions, it seems like (they are saying) it is the right thing to do to discriminate LGBT groups,” Lau said in a phone interview.
She said these guidelines would also lead to discrimination against people who were not LGBT but exhibited these “symptoms”.