KUCHING: The Galen Centre for Health and Social Policy (Galen) is concerned with Malaysia’s recent decision to take action against the transgender community.
Galen chief executive Azrul Mohd Khalib said it is documented fact that transgender persons in Malaysia encounter harassment, discrimination, and are subject to physical assaults.
“Despite the injustice and demonisation faced by this community, perpetrators of abuse against them often act with impunity and escape unpunished.
“In some extreme cases, transgender persons have become seriously injured or lost their lives,” he said in a statement.
He was responding to Minister in the Prime Minister’s Department in charge of religious affairs Dr Zulkifli Mohamad Al-Bakri’s recent Facebook post declaring he had given ‘full licence’ to the Federal
Territories Islamic Religious Department (Jawi) to take action against the transgender community.
Azrul said the ministers’s provision of a ‘full licence’ had sent a terrible signal, which may cause an escalation of harmful and discriminating actions, both institutional and vigilantism, against the transgender community.
As such, he opined the minister should consider withdrawing his statement.
He recollected that Zulkifli, during his time as mufti of the Federal Territories, had in fact promoted a message of compassion, empathy, and understanding towards the transgender community with the intention of helping and providing assistance.
“In 2017, he engaged in dialogue with a group of them at a Chow Kit drop-in centre. In 2018, as mufti, Dr Zulkifli hosted a delegation of transgender women at his office for discussions and called for reforms.
“His main message then was that people should not condemn, judge, or punish the community, but rather to find a common ground. Now, he is calling for their arrest. What happened?” asked Azrul.
He said Galen is concerned that the minister’s message will also create obstacles and barriers for transgender people needing health services.
He added that fear and discrimination discouraged them from seeking treatment and care.
“They may have trouble finding alternative healthcare services if they are turned away,” he pointed out.
Azrul asserted that everyone is equally entitled to the rights and protections provided for under Malaysian law.
“And that includes being able to walk about without having to fear of being prosecuted for who we are, being beaten up, or subject to physical harm,” he added.
Galen senior fellow Mitch Yusof said transgender persons had been and would always be a part of the society, a part of the country, and to exclude them based on their identity boiled down to discrimination at the highest level.
“Where then is the compassion in Islam?” he wondered.
Galen is an independent public policy research and advocacy organisation based in Malaysia dedicated to discussing health and social issues through the lens of public policy.
It works to improve health and social conditions through research, advocacy, networking, and relationship-building.
Visit www.galencentre.org for more information.