KUALA LUMPUR, Sept 11 — Malaysians must stand with the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) community to stop political and religious authorities from targeting the group, said cultural anthropologist Leyla Jagiella today.
The German research assistant in religious studies with the Chair for Contemporary Cultures of Islam at Bayreuth University (Germany) also claimed that Islamic laws such as those outlawing cross-dressing were an attempt to distract the public.
“What needs to happen is a solidarity of the mainstream public. The mainstream needs to declare a solidarity with the trans people,” she said during her talk at the Cooler Lumpur Festival here entitled “RE: Crossing Paths — Spiritual Resources for Queer/Trans Empowerment”.
“Only when that happens, then the religious and politically powerful realise that they can’t use LGBT people as scapegoats anymore.”
She was responding to an audience member who asked for her perspective on the Federal Court decision to reverse the annulment of Section 66 from the Negri Sembilan Shariah Criminal Enactment 1992.
The Court of Appeal had earlier found the law against Muslim cross-dressing to be unconstitutional, in what had been considered a watershed victory for the LGBT community.
“[The political and religious powers] take cases like that to create scapegoats for their political agenda. And as long as that is the case, I think we cannot find any logical or rational argument,” said the academic whose work focuses on questions of orthodoxy and heterodoxy in the Islamic discourses of South and South-east Asia.
“Whatever you tell them won’t change their mind. You can give them thousands of interpretations of the Quran, it won’t change their mind.”
In her talk that centred on the compatibility of spirituality and the LGBT community, Jagiella stressed that Islamic communities elsewhere have traditionally provided space for the group, and that their persecution was a modern phenomenon due to fundamentalist interpretations of the religion.
“Nowadays, we are so much influenced by this reductive understanding of Islam, and so many of this traditions have been wiped out and if they haven’t been wiped out, they are being wiped out right now, that I think maybe we struggle to find new trans/queer spirituality in Islam,” she added.
Muslim-majority Malaysia vehemently objects to the perceived rise in LGBT activities, which it deems to be an assault against Islam together with growing calls for greater civil liberties.
Malaysia also has colonial era laws that criminalise homosexual sex, among others, as carnal intercourse against the order of nature, which is punishable by up to 20 years in prison. The law is, however, rarely used.
The Economist magazine previously concluded that Malaysian leaders, among other countries, used the vilification of the LGBT community as a political platform.
It said the attacks against sexual minorities allow critics to hone in on themes such as how Western influences were a corrupting influence, how liberalism is a culture alien to local norms, and how local religions must gain greater prominence.
However, Malaysians in general do not accept LGBT tendencies. A Pew Research Poll in 2013 found Malaysians to be staunchly against homosexuality, with 88 per cent of the respondents considering it morally unacceptable.