What Lies ahead for the Transgenders in Malaysia

By Nesha Pany

There has been an increasing resistance towards the LGBTQ (Lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender community) in Malaysia especially these recent years. The non-binary lifestyle is regarded as ‘western imports’ which appear to be deviant to the local culture and religious beliefs. The country’s conservative laws and policies accentuate the strict conformity to the traditional gender binary classification, often leading to social-legal condemnation of the LGBTQ community.

Nur Sajat is facing charges in Malaysia for cross-dressing. The police have urged her family to persuade her to return home. Meanwhile, Human Rights Watch (HRW), a civil liberties group, said the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees has granted Sajat refugee status,

The recent arrest of transgender cosmetic entrepreneur, Nur Sajat in Thailand instantly became sensational countrywide. As the Malaysian government seeks extradition of Sajat from the Thai authority, this has got the transgender community especially the Malay-muslims ruminating on their future in this country. Implications of stricter law enforcement has been suggested by various politicians and religious leaders over the months, resulting in even greater discrimination as it is against these people of non-normative genders. From denied rights to employment, housing, education, and healthcare, the transgender community face active exclusion in Malaysia.

In an interview with Shahi Esfelazi, an activist who works closely with the transgender community, he said, “In the spirit of the constitution, all Malaysians have equals rights even the gender minorities.” He then continued, “However, we are moving towards less rights for transgenders than before, there seems to be a panic among the religious and conservative political leaders that they are moving into openly persecuting them in this country.” If the government forces stricter laws on transgenders, he said the community will be forced to live in hiding, also more would flee the country to find refuge elsewhere. “It would be an annihilation of a community that has been present and visible in Malaysia since forever,” he added.

An eminent figure in the transgender community, Elisha Kor Krishnan who is also the president of Pertubuhan Kesihatan dan Kebajikan Umum Malaysia (PKKUM) said, with heavier sanctions the community will be even more marginalised and been seen as criminals. “There will be an increase in suicides, drug use, and sex work, none of which that will benefit the country,” she said. When asked for her opinion on Sajat’s recent arrest, she commented “Imagine Sajat having to leave behind her family and the place she calls home where she was born and bred, leaving her successful business which she worked so hard to build just because she is not accepted as how she identifies and expresses herself, even worse having her contribution to the economy and community dismissed.”

The on-going issue has been a constant polemic between universalism and cultural-relativism whereby in the eye of a universalist-human rights advocate, this is a blatant infringement of human rights where else in a religious-cultured context, the practice of transgenderism or even any sort of LGBTQ lifestyle is a violation of religious laws. While the debate continues, members of the transgender community remain in a dilemma- whether or not they can enter public praying facilities or even to use public toilets, the struggles they are experiencing is affecting their well-being tremendously. “I hope the religious and conservative community come to see that there is a bigger problem in Malaysia like corruption and mismanagement. I have yet to see religious fatwas against politicians that are corrupt. There are other issues that Malaysians need to focus on like our economy, our rights and a vision for a better Malaysia,” said Shahi in expressing his aspirations.

The future for the transgender community in this country seems bleak at the moment. With increasing hate crimes to stigma and discrimination from both social and legal aspect, it is challenging to provide a safe passage for this vulnerable and marginalised community. “Forcing someone to be who they are not is only a waste of time and effort,” Shahi stated.

The views expressed here are that of the author’s and does not necessarily reflect that of Weekly Echo’s.