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LGBTQ+ Malaysians Exist, Whether Their Government Accepts That or Not


Despite news reports, it’s unclear what Tourism Minister Mohammadin Ketapi actually said about LGBTQ+ people at a recent event in Berlin.

A Malaysian government official recently said something that many news outlets are interpreting as a denial of LGBTQ+ Malaysians' existence. It's not clear that he actually said this, though the recent crackdown on queer and trans Malaysians should not be ignored.

At an event leading up to the opening of the Internationale Tourismus-Borse Berlin, the world's leading tourism trade fair, a reporter asked Malaysian Tourism Minister Mohammadin Ketapi whether gay tourists would be welcome in the Southeast Asian country. It's unclear what Mohammadin's exact response was. One popularly cited source for the comments, Deutsche Welle, translates his answer to "I don't think we have anything like that in our country." Another source,Berliner Morgenpost, reports that he said: "Homosexuality? I think we do not have such a thing in our country. Whether it's safe or not, I can not answer."

CNN, Pink News, and a number of English-language media outlets have paraphrased Mohammadin as saying "there are no gays in Malaysia," but that's not exactly accurate -- though it does push an Islamophobic narrative that majority-Muslim countries, like Malaysia, are uniquely homophobic, while ignoring how majority-Christian countries like the United States are also becoming increasingly unsafe for LGBTQ+ visitors. Speaking of harmful, Islamophobic narratives, it should be noted that the same reporter who asked Mohammadin whether gay tourists would be safe in Malaysia also asked him if Jews would be safe in Malaysia. This might have been in reference to Malaysia's recent ban on Israeli athletes competing in Malaysian sporting events, which was enforced earlier this year in response to Israel's ongoing occupation and oppression of Palestinians. It should also be said that Deutsche Welle is a German government-funded international broadcaster a la Russia Today and Voice of America, so anything it produces should be treated like propaganda first and foremost. It's also worth noting that Berliner Morgenpost is said to have a conservative political bent, considering the subject matter at hand.

If Mohammadin did, in fact, deny the existence of LGBTQ+ people in his country, his comments would be totally in line with that of the government he works for. Ever since the election last year, which saw the first regime change since Malaysia declared independence from the United Kingdom in 1957, local queer and trans people have reported an uptick in harassment and violence in the country, where sodomy remains criminalized under colonial era law. In August alone, two women were fined and caned in public after being caught having sex, a trans woman was brutally beaten in the street in front of onlookers, and a police raid on popular gay club Blue Boy resulted in multiple arrests and 20 men charged with illicit behavior.

"It's very uncomfortable, [people are] feeling very oppressed right now," Numan Afifi, a local LGBTQ+ activist, told CNN in 2018. "We don't know what's going to happen in the future. That's the general feeling."

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Harron Walker