Transgender people should be guided away from sex work and onto the ‘right path’, a Malaysian government minister has said.
Mujahid Yusof Rawa, Malaysia’s Minister for Religious Affairs, said more proactive measures were needed and that the strict enforcement of transgender sex workers had failed, Free Malaysia Today reported.
The minister cited a recent study which reported that 80% of Malaysia’s transgender community were involved in sex work.
‘To solve this problem, we have to get them out of the industry first and this will not happen until we are more open to help and guide them […] that’s more important than the dressing issue and others,’ Mujahid said. ‘Parents need to be aware that this can be stopped from the beginning. We are ready to guide and help because we have the expertise.’
Problems persist for Malaysia’s LGBTI community
The new Malaysian government has demonstrated a willingness to review old laws and practices, but there has been little movement in terms of LGBT equality so far.
Despite indicating the importance of engagement and understanding, earlier this month the minister doubled-down on the government’s commitment to enforcing laws which make homosexuality illegal in Malaysia.
‘I would like to make it clear that based on the laws, it means, and I hope everyone listens carefully and would not spin my statement, that the right of the LGBT community to practise their lifestyle is still subjected to laws which prohibit it […] Do not stand on the Friday pulpit and accuse the PH government of being friendly to LGBT,’ Free Malaysia Today reported Mujahid saying.
Homosexuality is often a socially and politically divisive issue in Malaysia. A 2013 Pew Research survey found that 86% of Malaysians believed that homosexuality should not be socially accepted, with only 9% believing it should.
The country has bans on ‘positive’ portrayals of LGBTI people on television and in film, and recently blocked access to HIV and LGBTI websites.
‘I’m a Muslim, we don’t accept that’ – Mahathir
In May Malaysia elected a new government in a shock victory led by former prime minister, Mahathir Mohamad. Despite being seen by many as a reformer, Mahathir has been clear where he stands on homosexuality: ‘I’m a Muslim, we don’t accept that,’ he told the Guardian before the elections in May. ‘You can be a liberal and accept same-sex marriage and all that, but that’s your business. We are very orthodox people.’
Earlier this month, an LGBTI activist resigned as the press officer for a government minister after an influx of threats and public outcry over him being openly gay.