KUALA LUMPUR: The couple steals kisses, holds hands and dances the night away in one of Kuala Lumpur’s top clubs. The only difference from the scores of other couples on the floor is that the two are both women. In recent months, discussions on LGBT rights in the country have increased, and for these two girls, there is some hope for change in Malaysia.
“I think not as many people really give us a hard time when we are out together and showing affection,” began Rina, a 23-year-old recent university graduate. She spoke of her relationship with Youssra, a 22-year-old student who told Bikyamasr.com that her family is not pleased by her coming out.
“I told them recently about Rina and they were shocked. I thought my father was going to kill me, but even though they are not happy, I think they have accepted who I am,” she argued.
For the country’s lesbian and gay population, the struggle for rights is an uphill battle. With the country’s legal code based largely on the British system that was implemented last century during its occupation of Malaysia, and coupled with the growing power of Islamic clerics, creating openness and dialogue is often difficult.
But couples like Rina and Youssra are beginning to see changes in everyday perception towards their relationship.
“First it was our friends who were a little taken aback by our getting together, but they came around,” continued Rina. “Now we can go to a number of clubs in KL and elsewhere, spend time on the beach and not be bothered, because we see that once people learn about us and see us, it is different.”
Still, they worry about other gay people in the country who often struggle to find an outlet for who they are. Youssra, whose family is a conservative Muslim one from Johor, believes that as people become aware of the LGBT community, they will not fear them.
“I really do believe that it is a lack of understanding that has people scared. How many Malaysians know a gay person who is open and out? Probably not that many, so that makes things difficult to change,” she argued.
There is fear among the community here that the government and Islamic groups will take advantage of the growing openness of LGBT and attempt to crackdown. Already there are “monitoring” organizations who look into other groups they claim are “turning people gay.”
The Malaysian Islamic Development Department (JAKIM), announced last month that it is monitoring organizations that are trying to influence teenagers towards free sex and lesbian, gay, bisexual and transexual (LGBT) activities.
It said that it would ensure that “appropriate actions can be taken” against the community.
JAKIM director-general Datuk Othman Mustapha, disagreed, saying the organizations were using social media including blogs to “influence teenagers to support the LGBT movement in the country.
“Based on our initial investigation, there are blogs that are trying to influence youngsters to get involved in LGBT activities. About 3,000 fans are surfing such blogs,” he told reporters at the “Ramah Mesra” program with the Orang Asli community in Sungai Rual, and was launched by International Trade and Industry Minister Datuk Seri Mustapa Mohamed.
He added that JAKIM would be collaborating with other relevant authorities including the police, State Islamic Religious Departments and Malaysian Communications and Multimedia Commission (MCMC) on the matter.
Othman also advised teenagers to stay away from LGBT activities and urged parents to monitor their children’s movements to ensure that they would not be trapped in the negative culture.
Still, for Rina and Youssra, who hold hands and kiss often in certain public places, they are positive that perceptions toward the gay and lesbian community in Malaysia is changing.
“It is happening faster than before and we always see new people who are not afraid to talk with us about their insecurities, so it is getting better we think,” added Rina.