Alarm over course to convert transgender women in Terengganu

KUALA LUMPUR • A Malaysian state plans to run a conversion therapy course aimed at transgender women, officials said yesterday, sparking alarm among lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) activists in the conservative Muslim-majority country.

The course would run over several days next year after the authorities have completed a survey of the transgender population, a Terengganu state official said.

Participation in the course would be voluntary, Terengganu executive council member Ghazali Taib said, adding that the programme would include medical, psychological and religious experts, as well as transgender women who have "returned to normal lives".

"Transgender women are part of our society... They are our responsibility," Mr Ghazali told Agence France-Presse.

"At the end, it is up to them to make a choice. The government's concept is not (to) force. (We) give them a path to make the best choices for their lives," he said.

A Human Rights Watch report this year said that discrimination against LGBT people was "pervasive" in Malaysia, where there are laws against sodomy, with offenders facing jail time and caning.

VIOLATING RIGHTS

They're looking more to... corrective therapy, which violates everyone's rights in so many ways... If (transgenders)... feel that they cannot change themselves, they will feel like outcasts from society.

MS NISHA AYUB, transgender activist, on the conversion therapy course.

LGBT activists have condemned the government's plans.

"If you ask someone not to be themselves, that will have an adverse impact on the health and well-being of the person," said the co-founder of transgender activist group Justice for Sisters Thilaga Sulathireh.

Leading transgender activist Nisha Ayub said courses such as these would only deepen the community's isolation.

"They're looking more to... corrective therapy, which violates everyone's rights in so many ways," she said.

"If (transgenders)... feel that they cannot change themselves, they will feel like outcasts from society," she added.

There are no official figures on transgenders in Malaysia, though a Health Ministry document estimated that the country was home to 24,000 transgender sex workers as of 2014.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on December 31, 2017, with the headline 'Alarm over course to convert transgender women in Terengganu'. Print Edition | Subscribe