An article by a Malaysian newspaper on how to identify lesbians, gays, bisexuals and transgender people has sparked outrage on social media, as the country grapples with the growing influence of religious hardliners.
The LGBTQ community is routinely persecuted in Muslim-majority Malaysia, where sodomy is a crime and the government sanctions campaigns seeking to curb gender and sexual minorities.
The offending article published last week by top-selling Malay-language daily, Sinar Harian, included a bullet point list giving tips on how to identify gays or lesbians.
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The list describes masculine gay men as having a penchant for “wearing tight shirts to show off their six pack” and keeping facial hair, and a separate line that says effeminate gay men go wide-eyed every time they see a handsome man.
Lesbians were described as man-haters who are extremely jealous and enjoy hugging and holding hands.
“I know a lot of priests, I know a lot of ustaz (religious teachers), I know a lot of really religious people who love keeping long beards... are you trying to say they’re gay?” asked Arwind Kumar, who posted a four-minute video on Facebook criticizing the story.
Grace Poore, the Asia-Pacific program coordinator for LGBTQ advocacy group OutRight Action International, stressed that Sinar Harian's how-to-spot-a-gay checklist is part of a broader trend of anti-LGBTQ efforts in the country.
"The Malaysian government is not only complicit with religious conservative groups in portraying LGBT Malaysians as deviant, diseased, and dangerous to religion and culture, but since 2011, the government has sponsored and funded public education programs that single out LGBT people," Poore said in a statement sent to NBC News.
She said anti-LGBTQ activities tied to the Malaysian government include handbooks for parents on how to identify "signs" of homosexuality, a series of plays that "vilified gay people" and a self-help book and counseling module on how to "change one's sexual orientation through psychological rehabilitation."
"The Malaysian government has received numerous recommendations from international governments and LGBT activists to remove discriminatory policies against LGBT people but it has refused and instead continues to fuel dangerous conditions that have led to bullying, death threats, verbal denigration, physical violence," Poore added.
Malaysia does indeed have a record of taking homophobic positions. In June, the health ministry launched a contest on how to “prevent” homosexuality and transgender identities, though it dropped it after pressure from LGBTQ groups. A few months prior to that, a “gay moment” in the Walt Disney movie “Beauty and the Beast” almost led to a ban on it being screened in Malaysia. And in 2015, Malaysia’s highest court upheld a ruling that banned cross-dressing.
Neighboring Indonesia, the country with the largest Muslim population, is on the cusp of revising its national criminal code to impose restrictions on same-sex relations and consensual sex between men and women outside marriage.
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