Malaysia’s health minister Datuk Seri Dzulkefly Ahmad has said he will not review appointing a trans woman to a committee amid a national backlash.
Rania Zara Medina’s appointment to a national HIV committee caused a stir in a country where gay sex is illegal and LGBTI rights are backsliding.
‘The appointment of Rania was done in accordance with the law’ the minister told reporters according to the Malay Mail.
‘There is no need to review or reconsider the appointment’ he also said.
The ministry announced last week trans activist Rania Zara Medina will represent the Malaysian trans community in the Country Coordinating Mechanism (CCM).
She will serve in the two-year mandate, covering 2019-2021.
But, opposition politicians led calls for the health ministry to remove her this week. They accused her of promoting ‘unnatural lifestyles’.
This week, renowned trans activist Nisha Ayub welcomed the minister’s comments.
‘Thank you [minister] for not condoning towards those that are ignorant towards the HIV/AIDS prevention work in Malaysia’ she wrote on Facebook.
This week, the health minister appointed Rania to the Country Coordinating Mechanism (CCM). It tackles HIV and AIDS in Malaysia.
The 25 members include government agencies, NGOs, academics and community representatives from targeted groups. Trans people are among the latter.
Medina is a former winner of a popular contest for trans women, IKON TW. She has also fought for LGBTI rights in the past.
Following the backlash, Rania pointed out that transwomen have been represented since the previous government.
‘This has nothing to do with the new government,’ Medina later replied in a Facebook post.
According to 2016 data, there are 99,338 HIV positive men and 12,578 HIV positive women in Malaysia.
Trans rights in Malaysia
Gay sex remains illegal under British colonial-era laws in Malaysia. Those found guilty face up to 20 years in prison.
In addition to the threat of criminal prosecution, deep-seated cultural stigmas still face the country’s LGBTI community.
What’s more, numerous religious and political figures have consistently whipped up anti-LGBTI sentiments in the Muslim majority country.
And, as the most visible population, trans Malaysians are at a greater risk of discrimination and violence.
Late last year, the city of Klang also saw at least two murders of trans women.