SOCIAL stigma is something that can be very influential even if it is not the rule of law, because it is how society treats any particular issue, and usually it is with scorn, ridicule, and even abuse.
For example, the stigmatisation of HIV/AIDS, the victims of abuse and rape, and even divorce and illegitimate children has a negative impact on the affected communities, as well as society overall.
Recently, Malaysia’s ministry of health has been seen actively trying to demonise the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transexual (LGBT) community by organising a video competition to see who can come up with the best way to prevent homosexuality and ‘gender confusion’.
The government is offering cash prizes of up to RM4000 to participants who can produce videos that will aid in the prevention of people becoming homosexuals, or just being ‘confused’ by their gender’.
‘Gender confusion’ is one of three different themes that participants can choose from. The other two are ‘sexual reproduction’ and ‘cybersex’. The tagline for the video competition is ‘Value yourself, practice healthy lifestyle’.
It would seem that the ministry of health has the perspective that the LGBT community are a confused group of people and that there needs to be preventive measures taken so that people would not be ‘confused’ and become a member of this community.
This would be considered dangerous because if the government is seen as advocating the demonisation of a segment of the country’s population, then the negative social stigma would almost be legitimised and condoned.
For context, homosexuality is considered a crime in religiously conservative Malaysia and the act of sodomy is outlawed. As it is, the negative perception of the LGBT community is alarmingly high even without the encouragement of the government.
Just a few months ago, there was such a ruckus made over a simple 3 minute scene in the movie Beauty and the Beast which certain quarters took as a condoning of homosexuality. The movie was almost banned but then was allowed to be shown.
The danger is that the LGBT community in Malaysia could face even more persecution and hatred by the rest of society after this. And we definitely do not want this to escalate into violence against them as well.
Several sexual rights and health activists have already started being vocal about their criticism against the government. Gay rights activist Pang Khee Teik says that this would only add to the confusion, distrust and fear that people already have.
Transgender activist Nisha Ayub stated this video competition would only encourage discrimination, hatred and even violence towards the minorities. She adds that the ministry should focus on health issues instead of sending negative messages out to the public.
The ministry of health has issued a statement in response to this criticism. The statement read that the competition aims to empower adolescents to make wise decisions regarding their sexual and reproductive health.
It also stated that the ministry does not discriminate when it comes to healthcare and that, with regards to the LGBT community, all health workers are to treat every individual equally and with due respect to an individual’s right.
Even if it we were to look at Malaysia’s conservatism as an environmental background to understand the issue, the best way to tackle it would be to encourage engagement and discourse rather than outright condemnation.
It really boils down to a lack of understanding. And this lack of understanding, as I have mentioned, is due to the lack of engagement.
So instead of organising a video competition to try and prevent the expansion of the LGBT community, why not organise a panel discussion with them instead?
** This is the personal opinion of the writer and does not reflect the views of Asian Correspondent