On 2 June, Malaysia's Ministry of Health (MOH) announced a contest on how to "prevent" homosexuality and transgenderism, drawing major criticism both locally and globally that it was encouraging hatred and violence towards the LGBT community.

The next day, the ministry defended its decision to host such a contest, citing that the competition was aimed at “helping teens make better health decisions". 

A spokesman for Health Minister S. Subramaniam said he was not aware of the contest and declined to comment. Other ministry officials could not immediately be reached.

The contest, titled "National Creative Video Competition on Adolescent Sexual and Reproductive Health", was held to gather views and enhance knowledge among teens on healthy lifestyle practices with no intention to create discrimination to any particular group, said Lokman Hakim Sulaiman, deputy director-general of health.

Contest includes one category on "gender identity disorder"

The contest on the ministry's website calls for participants to submit video clips for multiple categories, including one on "gender identity disorder". The guidelines state that the videos must include elements showing the "consequences" of being LGBT, as well as how to "prevent, control and seek help" for them.

Winners will receive between RM1,000 and RM4,000 after the competition deadline at the end of August and "will be judged on originality, content, concept and creativity as well as quality production, by a panel of judges appointed by the organisers," as depicted on the MOH's website.

The topics were chosen based on statistics that showed an increase in sexual and reproductive health problems among teens, including higher rates of sexual activity and a rise in HIV transmission, said Lokman.

"With regards to the LGBT, MOH embraces the principle of health for all without discrimination in providing health services. We have specific guidelines for all health workers to treat every client equally and with due respect to an individual’s right," he added.

Lokman continued to detail that the MOH has "gone the extra mile" by providing services based on their specific health needs through collaborations with other relevant agencies and NGOs, in addition to the current process of expanding HIV screening services for the LGBT community and funding NGOs for HIV-related activities.

A flyer promoting the competition with the theme 'Value Yourself, Healthy Lifestyle Practice' , which the MOH claims is to enhance healthy lifestyle knowledge and practices in young Malaysians. Photo credit: MOH website
A flyer promoting the competition with the theme 'Value Yourself, Healthy Lifestyle Practice' , which the MOH claims is to enhance healthy lifestyle knowledge and practices in young Malaysians. Photo credit: MOH website

LGBT activist: "Authorities are very much confused themselves"

However, activists are enraged at the view that the MOH has on homosexual and transgender individuals, treating it as a "disorder".

"The very fact that they lump LGBT people under a category called 'gender confusion' shows that the authorities are very much confused themselves," said Pang Khee Teik, a well-known local activist.

"It is mind-blowing that a government agency wants the whole country to be sucked into its confluence of confusion," Pang added.

On the contrary, Pang also said LGBT people have difficulty accessing good medical services in Malaysia due to a distrust of healthcare authorities.

Nisha Ayub, Malaysia's most prominent LGBT activist ̶ who became the first transgender woman to be named in the list of International Women of Courage by the US State Department last year ̶ condemned the contest saying that the health authorities would further drive hatred and discrimination against the community in Malaysia.

Recurring theme of hatred and discrimination of LGBT community

This is not the first time Malaysia has attempted to change the mindset of its citizens on homosexuality and transgenderism.

In 2012, authorities issued guidelines and held seminars aimed at helping teachers and parents spot signs of homosexuality in children.

Signs of homosexuality in boys include preferences for tight, V-neck shirts and large handbags, while girls with lesbian tendencies like to hang out and sleep in the company of women.

The year prior to that, Terengganu organised a camp for "effeminate" boys to show them how to become men.

Homosexuality is also considered taboo, where gay sex is criminalised, punishable by up to 20 years in prison, caning or a fine.

Prominent lawyer-activist Siti Kasim says the government needs to check on religious extremism that has been leading such hatred and discrimination against the LGBT community.

Dr Rafidah Hanim Mokhtar, vice-president of Pertubuhan Ikatan Pengamal Perubatan dan Sains Kesihatan Muslim Malaysia (I-Medik), an NGO representing Muslim medical practitioners and health workers, echoed Kasim's concerns stating that if the government continued with such campaigns, it would lead to a situation much like Indonesia, where there is an increasing crackdown on transgender and homosexual practices.

She assured that the MOH staff “have all this while shown nothing but dedication in carrying out their jobs dutifully, managing HIV/AIDS-infected patients from among the LGBT community without any prejudice". MIMS

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