A PUBLIC contest by Malaysia’s Health Ministry has been making headlines this week for promoting anti-gay attitudes in the Muslim-majority country, where the LGBT are already stigmatized and homosexual activity outlawed.
The contest, advertised on the ministry’s website and its Facebook page, offers cash prizes of up to RM4,000 (US$940) to contestants aged between 13 and 24 with the most creative video submissions on sexual health and ways to prevent homosexuality.
The contest, themed Value Yourself, Practice Healthy Lifestyle, runs from June 1 to Aug 31 and invites participants to submit as many three-minute video entries as possible, choosing from one of three categories: sexual reproduction, cybersex and gender confusion.
Activists in the country are enraged by the third category, which the contest describes further as issues involving the LGBT.
The contest says each entry must introduce the issue and its consequences as well as suggest prevention methods and ways to control, resolve and seek help for the problem.
Entries will be judged on their originality, level of creativity and quality of production, among others.
Responding, Malaysia’s leading defender of transgender rights Nisha Ayub accused the ministry of encouraging the spread of misinformation and inciting hatred against the LGBT.
“They don’t even know the difference between gender identity and sexuality, where they compiled both in the scope of Gender Identity Dysphoria… Get your facts right first, then only you start to educate the public,” the activist who last year became the first transgender woman to receive the International Women of Courage Award from the US State Department.
“This is against human rights values… I hope the UN, WHO and Global Fund European Union and all those that support human rights would come forward to support the community.
“We need to expose such unethical projects or agenda,” she added.
Phang Kee Teik, another prominent gay rights activist and co-founder of the Seksualiti Merdeka festival, also weighed in on the matter, lashing out in particular at the ministry’s description of the LGBT as those suffering from “gender confusion”.
“The very fact that they lump LGBT people under a category called ‘gender confusion’ shows that the authorities are very much confused themselves,” Pang told the AFP (via New Straits Times).
“It is mind-blowing that a government agency wants the whole country to be sucked into its confluence of confusion.”
The ministry has since responded to the uproar. Health deputy director-general Lokman Hakim Sulaiman in a statement reportedly explained the contest was to enhance teen knowledge on healthy lifestyle choices.
“This creative video competition is purely to tap knowledge and creativity of adolescents on sexual and reproductive health related matters and does not intend to create discrimination to any particular group,” he said in the statement, as reported by the AFP (via Singapore Straits Times).
He said the topics were chosen due to a rise in sexual and reproductive health issues among teens, including higher rates of sexual activity and of HIV transmission.
The official also stressed that the ministry does not discriminate against any group when it comes to providing health services, including the LGBT. The statement, however, does not appear to address the main concerns raised by the activists.
On its Facebook page, the posting on the contest has received some criticism from commenters.
“I think sexual orientation, gender identity and expression is medically researched and diagnosed and calling it ‘kecelaruan’/confusion is already a negative myopic view.
“I don’t know which incompetent moron endorsed this campaign but you need to fire this person. Health should be based on medical facts in the best interest of the patient, not based on some religious pseudo-scientific perception,” one Facebook user wrote.
Homosexual activity is illegal in Malaysia, which is largely seen as religiously conservative despite attempts by leaders to claim otherwise.
In March, Malaysians were outraged when news broke that the long-awaited screening of Walt Disney blockbuster Beauty and the Beast would be shelved because local censors insisted on removing a “gay moment” in the film.
The country’s former deputy prime minister Anwar Ibrahim, the key protagonist of the current federal opposition pact Pakatan Harapan (pact of hope), is currently serving jail time for sodomy.