The Western world’s treatment and perception of LGBTQ+ people has changed irrevocably over the past 50 years. Now, LGBTQ+ people no longer have to live in fear of being imprisoned, they are free to legally marry, and the amount of persecution they face has significantly decreased.
However, outside of the Western hemisphere and Europe, the treatment of LGBTQ+ people remains extremely oppressive.
In July 2017, it was revealed that gay relationships are illegal in 72 countries, with eight countries in the world still punishing homosexuality with the death penalty, according to an annual report by the International Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans and Intersex Association (ILGA).
One of the countries where homosexuality is illegal is Malaysia, and LGBTQ+ people there can be subjected to up to 20 years imprisonment with or without fines or whippings. The country’s laws have largely been shaped by Islam, Malaysia’s official religion.
Homosexuality is deemed to be “unislamic” and Islamic laws prohibit cross-dressing, causing transgender people to “face arbitrary arrest, physical and sexual assault, imprisonment, discriminatory denial of health care and employment, and other abuses.”
Now, the country has come under international fire for releasing a “how to spot a gay” checklist.
The checklist was published by major Malaysian newspaper Sinar Harian and lists a number of qualities which are supposedly exclusive to LGBTQ+ people. It received international backlash on social media before Malaysian activist Arwind Kumar responded to it.
In his now-viral YouTube video, the Malaysian-born social media star dismantled the checklist’s points and said that he was speaking on behalf of people “filled with so much of fear in them”.
“Transgenders have been murdered in this country,” he explained. “Soft or feminine guys have been bullied and harassed in such ugly ways. There’s always this worry. That if I ‘come out’, what would happen to me? Would people beat me up? Would I be thrown into the pits of depression?”
His response to the checklist can be viewed in its entirety below:
“I was absolutely baffled by this article,” activist Arwind Kumar told the BBC. “And obviously I was disappointed with how misleading the content was. It was pure nonsense.”
According to the checklist, gay men frequent the gym so that they can “admire other men”.
It claimed that “gay men’s eyes light up when they see handsome men”, and lesbians frequently hug each other and are partial to holding hands.
Women can also be identified as lesbians if they have a tendency to “belittle men”.
The checklist also claimed that men with beards are gay.
Aside from the fact that these points are not rooted in any kind of fact, the publication of a list like this one will only serve to further Malaysia’s persecuted LGBTQ+ community, and it could have the dangerous effect of causing straight people being accused of being gay too.
Last year, Disney’s live-action remake of Beauty and the Beast was not released in the country because movie censors would not approve its release unless its “gay” scene was cut.
Malaysia’s health ministry also released a video encouraging young people to create videos about the prevention and consequences of being a member of the LGBTQ+ community.
The country’s homophobic attitudes led to a Human Rights Watch report finding “pervasive” LGBTQ+ discrimination last year.
“If you ask someone not to be themselves that will have an adverse impact on the health and well being of the person,” said the co-founder of the transgender activist group Justice for Sisters, Thilaga Sulathireh.
The checklist was not published in isolation either. It was accompanied by an interview with preacher Hanafiah Malik, who was promoting an urgent need to prevent the rise of the LGBTQ+ community in Malaysia.
We hope that the international backlash the country’s homophobia is receiving eventually makes it a safer place for LGBTQ+ people to live.