A PUBLIC university in Malaysia recently held a contest to “convert” lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) students, a move that has been criticised as discriminatory.
LGBT students say such events are normal in and outside campuses in Malaysia, a multi-ethnic Southeast Asian country that is majority Muslim, NBC reported.
In the latest controversy, the University of Science Malaysia (USM) invited students to submit ideas and to create posters to help LGBTQ students who have “disorders in sexual orientation return to their natural instincts” as part of a public forum.
It’s a “pattern of conversation” that 21-year-old English major at the university Ernest Mah, knows all too well. The forum was organised by the Muslim Students’ Association with the formal approval of the university. The country’s Ministry of Higher Education logo could be seen on the event posters.
One of the forum organisers Abdul Hadi Radzi explained that the goal of the March 24 event was to “menyantuni LGBT”, which translates to “reach out to LGBT”. Society is increasingly accepting homosexuality and gender expression in Malay society, he said, thus the reason for holding the forum.
“The LGBT community is brave enough to do their programs openly,” he said. “We don’t want more people to get involved with them.”
Non-heterosexual sexual orientation is taboo in Malaysia. In the Penal Code, oral and anal sex are forbidden are described as “against the order of nature”, and punishable by up to 20 years in prison, caning or a fine. Anti-homosexuality laws are rarely enforced, however.
Reuters notes that authorities issued guidelines and held seminars in 2012 to help teachers and parents detect signs of homosexuality in children. Last year, an awareness programme by the Malaysia Islamic Development Department (Jakim) at Universiti Malaya, drew flak for only inviting Muslims who had “left” the LGBT community without inviting those still identifying as LGBT.
While pro-LGBT events exist in Malaysia, they have been curbed by conservative pressures in the Muslim-majority country.
One of the poster-making contest winners Fatimah Jamaludin said she only wants to better understand her peers to help them feel peace. In her poster, one hand is drawn passing Muslim prayer beads to another wearing a rainbow-coloured bracelet.
“One thing that you can do to make your heart feel calm” is to say “thanks to Allah, ‘Allahu akbar,’ ‘Allah is great,’ and that will make you feel peace,” she said.
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Other posters stated: “God condemns whoever practices sexuality” and “Help the LGBT groups. Do something according to your mind not your soul, because the soul comes with desires, and desires will lead you to evil”.
Another USM student, who wished not to be named by NBC News for fear of reprisals from her peers and the university, said resisting the anti-LGBT narrative dangerous.
“Nobody can touch religion here … I worked really hard to get into this university. I really don’t want to get kicked out.”
A version of this story was originally published on our sister website Study International News.