Playing my part in making life for fellow LGBT countryfolk bearable.
March 5, 2013 3:09 PM   Subscribe

The State-sanctioned homophobia and transphobia in Malaysia, my country of origin, is breaking my heart. What can I do as a currently overseas citizen to make things better for my fellow LGBT folk back in Malaysia, particularly in raising awareness of the issue internationally?

I left Malaysia for various reasons, but one core reason was escaping the various persecutions and micro/macro-aggressions I felt for who I am. Most of this has to do with race (my parents are Bangladeshi migrants) and citizenship/residency, but I also felt that I wouldn't be safe exploring my sexuality in a country that so deeply vilifies sexuality that "sexy" is a slur and politicians get run out of Parliament for what they wear (or don't) in their sleep. It took me until I had been in Australia for a few years that I felt safe and able to explore my sexuality and gender without having to look behind my back to see if I will get screwed over by the Malaysian Government. I have had friends and acquaintances who cannot go back to Malaysia because they will face persecution, and one person whose Government scholarship was revoked and who was forced to come back home because her ex outed her as a trans woman.

I am trying to get the word out about the situation in Malaysia, especially this ridiculous propaganda musical, but I am facing a few roadblocks:

1. I am overseas and am not likely to return to Malaysia anytime soon, so my ability to organise something back home is limited. If I did try to do something in Malaysia, I'd be dismissed as a "foreign Zionist agent" of some fashion.

2. Incorporated into the musical is a plot point about how LGBT people who protest are being paid a handsome sum by the Opposition party and are merely reacting against the advice of "reasonable Malay Muslims". This makes any show of protest difficult to be taken seriously - especially when the main sexuality rights event in the country gets shut down for "threatening to disrupt public order" - pretty much the main excuse for arresting any protestor ever.

3. I am trying to get the word out in the Bay Area (where I live right now), especially with the Queer People of Color circles I am heavily involved with. Not many people have really picked up on this though - most people get stuck on "a musical about anti-gay sentiment! ISN'T THAT IRONIC" and don't move on from there. Also it seems that Malaysia doesn't quite have the White/Western Savior Cred of places like Uganda or India, where people seem to care more about LGBT issues there.

4. Even when there are people that DO care, I'm at a loss for what they could do. Petitions are pointless, because the Malaysian Government isn't going to pay attention (the whole paid-by-the-Opposition thing). International attention would be handy, but then it becomes "Foreign Zionist Agents". Tying this in to the United Nations may be useful, but I'm sure there will be a stack of countries who will take Malaysia's side.

5. People often bring up voting, but Malaysia has arcane voting laws that make it near impossible for overseas residents to vote. I technically am allowed to vote overseas because I'm an international student (one of the few classes of overseas residents allowed to vote), but I have to register in Malaysia first - not overseas. Gah! (Besides, it's not like there is anyone to vote for in my district that isn't Ruling Party, and there's a lot of electoral fraud.)

I want Malaysians to see that the so-called deviants are people like everyone else, diverse and unique and part of their community, and not a danger or scrounge to society. My current idea is to organise a performance of monologues, ala Yoni ki Baat (semi self link) or The Vagina Monologues, about Malaysians dealing with the stigmatization of sexuality. Not just in terms of being LGBT, but also slut-shaming, ageism against young people, and misogyny - one does not have to do much to be branded a sexual deviant in Malaysia. I have been and am currently involved in these sorts of This requires being back in Malaysia for a substantial amount of time, which I am not able to do right now. I'm also reminded of how the Vagina Monologues are banned in Malaysia and how anything of this nature would have to be underground...which then leads to the issue of preaching to the choir, the people who already know that LGBT people are not evil...rather than the people who will be affected by this propaganda. Something along the lines of the Pussy Riot worldwide protests would be awesome, but I'm not sure how to get people to care.

Any ideas of what I can do to get international support? I'm reaching out super slowly, one person at a time, but I really don't want Malaysia to get away with it and continue being an unsafe hostile space for people like me.
posted by divabat to Law & Government (5 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
Are there any grassroots advocacy groups or equal rights organizations in any stage of "formalization" in Malaysia? Perhaps you could connect with them and either try to organize donation drives for them in the US or connect them to partners in the US or globally (maybe to provide training for activists or whatever).

At the risk of sounding like a broken record, I stand in a somewhat similar relationship to Russia/Ukraine/Eastern Europe. Every government is going to claim that activism is just foreign sabotage. Every government is going to claim that protestors are taking money from the opposition. It's a very tough row to hoe, but you have to make progress taking those challenges as givens. I imagine that if there are any grassroots organizations in Malaysia, they will be aware of how to make at least some sort of progress while avoiding the worst of state-sanctioned violence.
posted by Nomyte at 3:40 PM on March 5, 2013

This may be far-feteched, but... How about shooting a crowdsourced documentary? You can make an underground call through your connections and people can (anonymously) shoot testimonies, personal stories, opinions, and send the electronic files to you/your group via internet. Malaysians abroad who have no intention to go back could speak more freely. People could interview scholars outside of Malaysia who are willing to speak. You can get footage of newscasts of sexual oppression incidents.

After gathering footage for a while, you could find a badass editor and director who can transform that mess into a more cohesive narrative, and you could crowdfund the post-production and distribution. Then distribute online and in the LGBT/Human Rights festival circuits.

It would take a few years, but it could have a big impact, potentially. Naturally, all involved would have to be extra careful.
posted by TheGoodBlood at 3:55 PM on March 5, 2013 [2 favorites]

Fundraise for the organizations in Malaysia who are doing the on-the-ground activism.
posted by quince at 5:09 PM on March 5, 2013 [2 favorites]

Why do you need international support? That's as likely to hurt as to help given the fierce nationalism in Malaysian politics.

I have glbt friends in Malaysia (we're in Singapore), and their experience varies hugely because as you point out, race and class and culture as hugely interwined there. The biggest thing would be local visibility and advocacy, especially for teenagers.

Start a malay-language online magazine/blog/forum for GLBT teenagers and their allies in Malaysia. Something like that would be so great and helpful.

Talk to GLBT activists there about specific funding needs that you could raise funds for overseas.

I am eh about documentaries because that is a heck of a lot of work unless you already have a passion for making documentaries and are already looking for a subject.

A film festival would be great - Malaysian and S.E. Asian film and performances. You could stream it online for Malaysians.

Seriously, a website for the GLBT teens forced to sit through that crap would be so great. Something where you could have overseas Malaysians help moderate and write for, a safe online space that celebrates the GLBT communities in Malaysia and connects them would be so great.

Do you know about Fridae? They would be good people to connect with. I know one of the editors and she is a passionate advocate for online community building for Asian GLBT communities.
posted by viggorlijah at 12:03 AM on March 6, 2013 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: I ask for international support because that's where I am, and I know that a lot of Malaysians who give a fuck end up leaving the country because it's so hostile. Also I'm rather tired of being implored to care (by other foreign LGBT people) about the situation in Uganda or Nepal or India or Japan or random parts of Europe, but anything to do with Malaysia gets hardly a look-see. (It hasn't just been about this.)

I am not fluent enough in Malay to create my own website but I think there are a few already existing that serve the same purpose (though I'm not certain what language other than English). I know of a couple of organisations that could be useful to work with, though from my experience they can be gay-male heavy and also I'm wondering about the logistics of sending money without setting off alarm bells.
posted by divabat at 3:45 PM on March 6, 2013

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