Malaysia’s Ministry of Health says it’s amended its heavily criticised video competition for young people that promoted the idea that LGBT identities can be “prevented” or “controlled”.
The controversial contest urged those aged 13 to 24 to submit original videos on topics including “gender dysphoria,” and stated that they should address how to “prevent, control and seek help” for people who are LGBT.
The competition’s guidelines also suggested that “preventing” or “controlling” same-sex attraction or transgender identities would reduce the incidence of HIV infection.
In a letter to Health Minister Dr. Subramaniam Sathasivam, Human Rights Watch raised concerns that the competition promoted stigma and discrimination.
“By suggesting that LGBT people are second-class citizens whose very existence is viewed as a problem to be solved rather than an aspect of human diversity to be respected and nurtured, the Health Ministry undermines LGBT people’s rights to the highest attainable standard of health, and to equality and non-discrimination,” commented Neela Ghoshal, Senior Researcher on LGBT rights at Human Rights Watch.
Ghoshal warned that the competition could lead “to increased homophobic and transphobic bullying and exclusion, affecting LGBT young people’s performance in school and even leading to drop-outs”.
Sexual and gender diversity cannot be ‘prevented’ or ‘controlled’
In a statement on Thursday, the Deputy Director-General of Health, Lokman Hakim Sulaiman, insisted that the intention was not to discriminate against LGBT people. He said that there were “certain misunderstandings” in the “terminology used” in the poster promoting the competition.
Sulaiman added that in a meeting with stakeholders, including groups representing “key populations,” these misunderstandings were cleared and that “collectively improvements were made to the competition guidelines”.
The ministry has not, however, responded to Human Rights Watch’s demand that it “clarify to the Malaysian public that sexual and gender diversity cannot be ‘prevented’ or ‘controlled’ and apologise to LGBT and gender-nonconforming people for the harm done”.
In response to the competition, Grim Film, a Malaysian film company has launched a pro-LGBTI video contest.
Medical doctor-turned-comedian Dr Jason Leong, one of those behind the initiative, told Malay Mail Online that the competition is “just basically to show that there are still people who support the rights of the LGBT community”.
He added: “It would be nice if some videos support them because once the Ministry of Health’s competition is up, there will be a lot of videos that may hurt or harm the LGBT community.”
Homosexuality is illegal in Malaysia, with penalties of up to 20 years in jail.