The Malaysian Education Ministry has denied reports that, worried about the spread of the "unhealthy phenomenon " of homosexuality and "working to curb the problem," it endorsed guidelines to help parents identify "symptoms" of gay orientation.
The Star reports that the Education Ministry, in a statement posted to its official Facebook page on Saturday, denied reports that it endorsed guidelines to help parents identify gay schoolchildren. The statement said that Education Deputy Minister only attended a parenting seminar held in Penang on Thursday organized by NGOs. The satement, however, appears to contradict its denial where it says: "Nonetheless, the ministry views cases of social ills in the community seriously and will always give guidance directly and indirectly to all school children to ensure that they stay away from unhealthy activities."
The guidelines were launched in Penang at a seminar, “Parenting in addressing the issue of LGBTs (lesbians, gays, bisexuals and transgenders).” The seminar was officiated by the Education Minister.
According to the Malaysian website Free Malaysiakini, the guidelines advised parents to look out for eight major symptoms of homosexuality in their children. Four of the symptoms pertain to gays, the other four to lesbians.
According to Free Malaysiakini, the major gay symptoms to look out for are:
A muscular body and [gays] like to show their body by wearing V-neck and sleeveless clothes;
Prefer tight and light-coloured clothes;
Attracted to men; and
Like to bring big handbags, similar to those used by women, when hanging out.
The symptoms of lesbianism are:
Attracted to women;
Besides their female companions, they will distance themselves from other women;
Like to hang out, have meals and sleep in the company of women; and
Have no affection for men.
The guidelines warn, darkly: "Once the children have these symptoms, immediate attention should be given.” But like many such warnings against homosexuality for "immediate attention," the guidelines gave no details of the sort of "attention" that should be given those found showing "symptoms of gay and lesbian."
Free Malaysiakini reports that the Sin Chew Daily says the guidelines were published by Yayasan Guru Malaysian Bhd and Putrajaya Consultative Council of Parents and Teachers Association and endorsed by the Education Ministry.
Reports say Penang is the fourth Malaysian state to hold a seminar on the subject of the "threat" of homosexuality to Malaysian society. Selangor, the Federal Territory of Kuala Lumpur and Perak also held a seminar about identifying homosexuals. According to officials, the effort is "multi-religious and multicultural, after all, all religions are basically against that type of behavior."
The Education Deputy Minister said that educating the public on the symptoms of gays and lesbians was an effective way of exposing them and fighting the spread of the "unhealthy phenomoneon among students." Puad, addressing about 1,500 teachers and parents that attended the seminar, spoke of the "spread" of homosexuality as thought it were an infectious disease: "Youths are easily influenced by websites and blogs relating to LGBT groups. This can also spread among their friends. We are worried that this happens during schooling time."
The Huffington Post reports that the new guidelines have triggered angry reactions on Facebook and other social media. Free Malaysia Today reports that LGBT activist and co-founder of Seksualiti (Sexuality) Merdeka, Pang Khee Teik, said the Ministry of Education is “only interested in teaching hate, promoting inequality and playing politics”. He added: "The Ministry of Education is now officially a bully. I never presumed to be in the position to teach the meaning of education to the people running the Ministry of Education. But it has come to that." The Huffington Post reports he said: "[The ministry] must stop this inhuman campaign against vulnerable children. It should teach all children to be confident and to respect each other no matter who they are.”
According to Free Malaysia Today, Pang, who is openly gay, said that studies show that discrimination based on sexual orientation is harmful to individuals and society. He said: “Many of these studies originate in countries which have made such mistakes in their past and who are desperately now trying to undo the wounds that discriminatory policies had left on the psyche of their people,” He advised the ministry to give attention to more socially destructive issues such as forced marriages, bullying and depression.
According to Free Malaysia Today, Fadiah Nadwa Fikri of Lawyers for Liberty, described the guidelines as absurd. She said: "don’t see why they are doing this. This group is already being persecuted and intimidated. And now they are trying to expose people and continue to attack them instead of trying to understand the whole problem. They are forgetting human rights. These people blur the lines between personal beliefs and a criminal act."
Muslims are the majority in Malaysia. Reuters reports Muslims make up 60 percent of the country's population of 29 million people. Anti-gay sentiments are very strong. According to Reuters, Malaysian civil law disapproves of oral and gay sex as "against the order of nature."
The New York Times reported that authorities blocked a festival organized to celebrate gays and promote greater tolerance for gay Malaysians in 2011, saying the festival "threatens national security." According to The New York Times, the festival drew attention of the authorities when the organizers Seksualiti (Sexuality) Merdeka, called on gays to proclaim their "seksualiti" by posing videos online. After more than a dozen people submitted videos in support of the campaign against bullying of gay men and lesbians, there were strong reactions from conservatives and religious leaders with death threats.
"Sodomy" is a crime punishable by 20 years in prison in Malaysia. The Huffington Post reports that although the law is only rarely enforced by prosecution, it has been used to intimidate and victimize opposition leaders, as in the case of Anwar Ibrahim, opposition leader who was sentenced in 1998 to nine years in prison on charges of sodomy but whose conviction was overturned after serving six years in prison.
Gay Star News reports that recently, Azril Mohn Amin, vice president of the Muslim Lawyers Association of Malaysia, who has an MA from the University of London's Institute of Commonwealth Studies, argued that LGBT rights should be "excluded from a human rights declaration currently being drafted by Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN)." Gay Star Press reports that in a letter to a Malaysian newspaper, Amin wrote that "Malaysia must express its ‘unalterable position on LGBTs during the upcoming regional consultation on the draft declaration." He argued further: "Malaysian and those who are against LGBT rights are thereby protecting the human race from the secular fallacy, perpetrated by the United Nations, that human beings may do as they please, within their so-called 'sovereign borders.'"
Amin said that giving LGBT people social recognition "would be confusing and destructive to the development and witness of our own children." He claimed that "homosexuality was declassified as a disease in America after ‘intimidation.'"