On Wednesday 2 November, 2011, a sexuality rights festival, Seksualiti Merdeka (sexuality independence) was banned by the police in Malaysia. The festival, which is held annually, represents a coalition of NGOs that includes the Malaysian Bar Council and Amnesty International. Through workshops, talks and film screenings, the festival aims to promote human rights and acceptance of the LGBT community. The festival’s vision is for everyone ‘to be free from discrimination, harassment and violence for their sexual orientations and their gender identities’.
Following the ban, organisers of the event have agreed to temporarily suspend all activities.
In a moderately conservative country like Malaysia, this issue has received a lot of mixed opinions, with some fully supporting the cause and others believing it promotes immoral acts.
The Deputy Prime Minister, Muhyiddin Yassin, have been quoted calling the festival a ‘deviationist activity’. Islamist Party of Malaysia’s Youth chief was also quoted saying that the gay lifestyle should not be adopted by anyone, and made reference to an upcoming Elton John concert in Malaysia as promoting the gay lifestyle and supporting homosexuals in Malaysia.
The blogger by the pen name of Gerakan Timur believes (written in Malay) that the festival goes against the religious practices and beliefs of the nation, and that the culture and lifestyle of Malaysians is being threatened by immoral practices.
Che Nah, also brought religion into the equation by saying homosexuality is not permitted in Islam:
I’d like to add that Ambiga was idiotic to have suggested that what the festival promoted would solve the problem of baby dumping in the future. I hate it when non-Muslims and a number of liberal Muslims become too vocal in campaigning their causes that are against the teaching of Islam, the official religion of the country.
The blogger at Simple & Gayforward, also supported the ban, but only for this year’s event:
Because of these trouble-makers, I am glad the festival was banned this year. To me the Malaysian police made the right decision in banning it. After not banning it since 2008 when it began, when it was still quietly held, to ban it this year was prudent because the festival has now attracted the attention of some crazy people. Are some of these people opposing the festival because of their Islamic religious beliefs? I believe yes, but I also believe religious faith is only part of the story.
I suspect it is actually equal parts religious and political, if not more of the latter. I suspect it has more to do with opposition parties using the gay community to pick another fight with the ruling government.
If the festival goes on, with the attention it has garnered by now and with the kind of tempers running now, the religious group will definitely carry out its threat to protest at the festival, which I feel will easily turn ugly and even violent.
However, he did add that he felt offended as a gay man himself:
As a gay man, I feel attacked that the noble efforts to help the stigmatized among LGBT people across the causeway, has been labelled as ‘immoral’ by the ignorant.
Norman Goh is a supporter of the event:
I, for one, supports the effort by organisers of Seksualiti Merdeka and Marina Mahathir’s work to speak up for the discriminated minority groups in Malaysia, particularly LGBT (Lesbians, Gays, Bisexuals and Transgendered).
They are not organising so-called Free Sex Party (Party Seks Songsang) as mentioned on certain TV stations and newspapers. This is absurd and irresponsible act of cowardice to ‘demonise’ such good effort made to help these people from harassment, violence, abuse and of course, uphold Human Rights for the LGBT group.
The blogger at Kerabumangga also believes that the festival is not about promoting the gay ‘lifestyle’:
Honestly, you can easily be a ‘normal’ heterosexual to get involved with all those what you consider ‘nasties’ of the society. The dark side of the world has got absolutely nothing to do with your sexuality. I'm not asking you to accept homosexuality or any other forms of sexuality or any particular groups which you may think is wrong as correct just like that. All I'm asking you is to acknowledge them and treat everyone with the same respect and dignity. We are all humans.
And this what I think Seksualiti Merdeka (SM) is about. Penerimaan dan (acceptance and) respect. And support. And seriously, SM is more than just about homosexuality as the media is portraying. It's not about sex.
Kimm-Chi also felt that the banning of the event was uncalled for:
There is absolutely no incentive to ban Seksualiti Merdeka on the grounds of it being ‘immoral’ or ‘inappropriate’. We are all consenting adults and what we do behind closed doors is nobody’s business. The festival doesn’t propagate rampant gay orgies in public view nor does it aim to ‘convert’ people to homosexuality. You can’t choose to be queer, you are either gay or you are not.
Some have taken to Twitter to show their support for the event as well:
@cindilse: One thing good abt Seksualiti Merdeka – Journalists are now speaking out against the extremism.
@art_harun: For those who do not understand, support for the rights of seksualiti merdeka to express does not equate support for homosex act.
@debbieloh: Seksualiti Merdeka has been on past few years and nobody fussed. What's d big deal now? Oh, general elections are coming, that's why
@anakcelup: Biased media coverage of #SeksualitiMerdeka is state-sanctioned bullying of the LGBTIQ comm. If anythng's splitting the nation, it's this.
As of now, the festival has not been given the permission to continue.