Transgender people face discrimination and abuse from state officials and agents, including from public sector health workers, teachers, and local government administrators. (Pic: © 2014 Javad Tizmaghz for Human Rights Watch)
A Malaysian state department has revealed that more than 1,000 people have gone through its programmes to “educate gender-confused individuals” since 2010.
The Director of the Department of Islamic Development of Malaysia (Jakim), Datuk Othman Mustapha, told the New Straits Times that in collaboration with the State Department of Religious Affairs it “had approached more than 1,000 individuals through several programmes such as ‘Mukhayam’ (camping) which aims to strengthen themselves spiritually and to rehabilitate them.”
He stated that only 15 to 20 people rejected these programs, claiming that these individuals were usually members of LGBTI groups or associations.
Othman insisted that no-one had been forced to take part, and that most participants were volunteers who came forward in response to the department’s promotions, including those posted on Facebook.
“What is more important is that they have left their old lifestyle and helped Jakim continue to reach out and rehabilitate their friends who are also gender-confused,” he said.
Othman further expressed his hope that the three individuals who last week successfully sued the government to overturn an Islamic sharia law banning cross-dressing would volunteer to take part in the Mukhayam programme.
Major medical and mental health organisations around the world have denounced efforts to change sexual orientation or gender expression as ineffective and potentially harmful. Instead, they believe that therapy should be used to help people accept who they are.
The Malaysian government has previously expressed its support for anti-LGBT laws and programmes.
The Minister in the Prime Minister’s Department, Datuk Seri Jamil Khir Baharom, recently said that the cross-dressing law that was struck down was necessary as it assisted “in curtailing lesbianism, gay, bisexual and transgender leanings among Muslims.”
In 2012, it was revealed that the Malaysian Teachers Foundation was hosting seminars to help teachers and parents “identify gay children” in order to stop “the spread of the unhealthy lifestyle.”
That same year, Malaysia’s largest political party, the United Malays National Organisation (UMNO), lashed out at those who promote tolerance of LGBT people as being “anti-Islamic” and “of the devil.”
In September, Human Rights Watch released a report documenting the horrific experiences of transgender people in Malaysia. It found that state Religious Department officials and police regularly arrest transgender women and subject them to various abuses, including assault, extortion, and violations of their privacy rights.
In addition to discrimination faced by transgender individuals, gay sex is illegal in Malaysia under colonial era legislation, with penalties including 20 years in prison – with or without fines and whippings.