Portraits of two LGBTI activists have been removed from a photography exhibition in Malaysia.
Photos of trans rights activist Nisha Ayub and gay rights activist Pang Khee Teik posing with the Malaysian flag have been taken down from the Stripes and Strokes photography exhibition at the George Town Festival in Penang, the Malay Mail reported on Wednesday.
‘Since when did we discriminate against ordinary Malaysians reflecting on their patriotism?’ said exhibition sponsor Datuk Vinod Sekhar, who described Nisha and Pang as ‘people of courage’ who should be applauded.
‘This is something that all Malaysians should fight. The moment we give in to narrow-minded insular ignorant hate mongers, then where do we draw the line?’ Vinod said.
The month-long George Town Festival is an annual event that has been celebrated as a major event for the arts in Southeast Asia.
The photos were part of a series of portraits by photographer Mooreyameen Mohamad, which depicted Malaysian citizens posing with their national flag. They were reportedly taken last year to celebrate the 60th anniversary of Malaysia’s independence.
Both activists have written about the abuse they received once the photos were published online, even before their removal from the exhibition.
‘I have gotten so many hate messages, comments and even posting. They called me all kind of degrading names, there where lots of vulgarity, they tried to body shamed me , make fun of my name even to extend asking me die . There were even some of them asking people to RAPE and Sexualy torture me to teach me a lesson,’ Nisha posted in a Facebook post. She was also accused of using the photographs for political reasons.
Also on Facebook, Pang wrote: ‘Within 5 and a half hours got 1.4k shares and over 1k comments, mostly homophobic, transphobic, misogynist, including some clever attempts to pun my name with taik, and at least one threat to tembak me. But what concerns me most is that I wish it was a better photo of me and not my resting bitch face.’
New government, same old LGBTI rights?
Homosexuality is a 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.
With strong ties to activist groups in Malaysia, the new Pakatan Harapan government have been hailed as progressive reformers. However, the government has been sending out a ‘series of mixed message’ with regards to LGBTI issues according to Human Rights Watch (HRW).
HRW pointed to the rhetoric by Religious Affairs Minister Mujahid Yusof Rawa, who has condemned bullying and workplace discrimination of LGBTI people, though has also spoken of the government’s concern of the ‘worrying […] spread of the LGBTI lifestyle’.
In July, 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.