Malaysia Health Ministry Changes Contest Details After Meeting with Gay Activists

Hadi Azmi
Kuala Lumpur
170608-MY-gay.jpg Malaysian activist Nisha Ayub talks about homosexuality in Malaysia during an interview in Kuala Lumpur, May 12, 2016.

Malaysia’s Health Ministry said Thursday that it had straightened out its video competition about sexual health by removing the term “gender identity disorder” from a category after an uproar from gay and lesbian groups in the Muslim-majority country.

The ministry said it had changed one of the categories for a video contest among young people and deleted the guidelines about “preventing homosexuality,” following a meeting between health officials and leaders of the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender (LGBT) community and other groups.

“The meeting successfully cleared the misunderstanding and collectively improvements were made to the competition guidelines,” Lokman Hakim Sulaiman, the ministry’s deputy director-general, said in a statement.

Advertised on the ministry’s website and Facebook page, the contest sparked indignation among activists who said it could spawn hatred and violence against the LGBT community.

On Thursday, the ministry said the categories have been changed to “gender and sexuality,” “reproductive health” and “cybersex.”

Officials said the contest was not aimed at discriminating against the LGBT community, but to explore views among teens and identify other health issues. The competition asked contestants aged 13 to 24 years old to submit video clips, and offered cash prizes of about U.S. $1,000.

‘Damage control’

But the health ministry’s latest move did not impress the LGBT community.

“All that is just damage control,” Neo Redzuan, an activist and member of the LGBT community, told BenarNews. “There wasn’t any confusion about the wording or terminology. It was very clear what they intended to do.

“The news about the competition is all over the international news, so it’s a ‘save-face’ measure at best,” he said.

On Wednesday, a local filmmaker and a comedian launched a counter-competition to send positive messages on Malaysia’s LGBT community.

Jared Lee of Grim Film Productions and comedian Jason Leong called for contestants to create a three-minute video clip in Bahasa Malaysia, English or Chinese with the theme “Pro LGBT.”

“We both believe in making a stand that it is not wrong to be in the LGBT community,” Lee told The Malaysian Insight, an online news provider.

“The LGBT community should not be segmented and that they should not fear,” Lee said.

Malaysia has retained its colonial-era criminal ban on sodomy, broadly defined to include homosexual acts and punishable by prison sentences of up to 20 years or corporal punishment, such as whipping.

In March, Malaysian authorities postponed the release of Disney's “Beauty and the Beast” because of gay content. But Disney refused to bow to the government’s demands to cut a scene of the gay character LeFou and the movie was eventually shown uncensored.


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