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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.”
Much to the continued frustration of the community, the government continued its anti-gay strategy on last Tuesday, arguing that the country’s constitution does not give LGBT rights.
Deputy Minister Mashitah Ibrahim told the Dewan Rakyat that the federal constitution does not protect gay rights in the country. (seriously??! and not shy to announce it too!)
Mashitah said that Article 8 of the constitution, which talks about equality, has never been interpreted to mean sexual preference and only applies to gender.
“Article 8 of the Federal Constitution says there must be no discrimination of citizens in terms of religion or sex. ‘Sex’ has never been interpreted to mean sexual orientation; it has always been interpreted to mean either male or female, and they are [the only ones] protected by the constitution,” said Ibrahim.
Clause 1 of Article 8 states that “all persons are equal before the law and entitled to the equal protection of the law”. Clause 2 states that “there shall be no discrimination against citizens on the ground only of religion, race, descent, place of birth or gender.”
She said this in reply to a supplementary question from Ngeh Khoo Ham (DAP-Beruas) during question time this morning.
Ngeh had asked whether it was right for the government to respond to the LGBT issue based on religious doctrine.
The deputy minister had earlier said that the government is serious in tackling the issue of LGBT as it went against the constitution of the country, which states that Islam is the official federal religion.
She said that through the many government initiatives, including rehabilitation and other programs, “many have returned to the path,” an idea that has LGBT activists angered.
“We see that LGBT happens following what is happening in Europe. It is not only individual but a movement. They are being mobilized to come out, as if they have been oppressed, on the excuse that their human rights have been taken away,” she added.
The LGBT community in Malaysia has repeatedly told Bikyamasr.com that they fear for their safety often after repeated government attempts to curtail their basic rights.
One activist and lesbian told Bikyamasr.com recently that “while society is becoming more tolerant to gay people, the government is doing the opposite.”