Malaysia defends contest on how to 'prevent' homosexuality, cites youth health concerns

The competition poster calls for videos to be submitted for several categories, one of which is "gender identity disorder" (kecelaruan gender). PHOTO: MINISTRY OF HEALTH MALAYSIA
A banner reading " Ignorance is not bliss " in the backdrop as Malaysian LGBT activist Nisha Ayub speaks during an interview with AFP at SEED Foundation on May 12, 2016. PHOTO: AFP

KUALA LUMPUR (REUTERS/ AFP) - Malaysia's health ministry on Saturday (June 3) defended its decision to host a contest on how to "prevent" homosexuality and transgenderism, saying the competition was aimed at helping teens make better health decisions.

The Thomson Reuters Foundation reported on Friday (June 2) activists had criticised the contest, saying that it could fan hatred and violence against lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) people.

In response, Malaysian deputy director-general of health Lokman Hakim Sulaiman said the contest, titled the National Creative Video Competition on Adolescent Sexual and Reproductive Health, was to gather views and enhance knowledge among teens on healthy lifestyle practices.

"This creative video competition is purely to tap knowledge and creativity of adolescents on sexual and reproductive health related matters and does not intend to create discrimination to any particular group," he said in a statement.

The contest on the ministry's website calls on participants to submit video clips for categories including one on "gender identity disorder". Its guidelines added that the videos must include elements showing the "consequences" of being LGBT, as well as how to "prevent, control and seek help" for them.

Other categories include cybersex and sexual reproductive health.

Winners will receive between 1,000 (S$322) and 4,000 ringgit after the competition closes at the end of August, the ministry's website said. The short video clips need to focus on "prevention, control and how to get help" as well as "issues and consequences".

The guidelines described the overall theme of the video contest as: "Value Yourself, Healthy Lifestyle Practice."

"Each work will be judged on originality, content, concept and creativity and quality production by a panel of judges appointed by the organisers," according to the health ministry's website.

Lokman said the topics were chosen as statistics showed an increase in sexual and reproductive health problems among teens, including higher rates of sexual activity and a rise in HIV transmission.

The ministry did not discriminate against any group in providing health services, including LGBT people, he added.

"We have specific guidelines for all health workers to treat every client equally and with due respect to an individual's right," he said.

Activists say intolerance of LGBT people has spiked in recent years in Malaysia, a multi-ethnic Southeast Asian country that is majority Muslim.

Transgender activist Nisha Ayub said the contest encouraged"discrimination, hatred and even violence" towards minority groups.

"The very fact that they lump LGBT people under a category called 'gender confusion' shows that the authorities are very much confused themselves," Pang Khee Teik, a well-known local activist, told AFP.

"It is mind-blowing that a government agency wants the whole country to be sucked into its confluence of confusion."

Pang said LGBT people have difficulty accessing good medical services in Malaysia due to a distrust of health care authorities.

"This kind of contest will only add to the confusion and distrust and fear," he warned.

However, Lokman said there were guidelines for health workers to treat all patients equally.

"In fact, the Ministry of Health has gone the extra mile by providing services based on their specific health needs and collaborate closely with other agencies and NGOs," he said.

Nisha Ayub, Malaysia's most prominent LGBT activist, condemned the contest and said health authorities were initiating hatred and discrimination against the community in Malaysia.

"The ministry needs to revise this and think about their actions," added Nisha, who last year became the first transgender woman to be named in the list of International Women of Courage by the US State Department.

Malaysia hit the headlines in March over its attitudes to homosexuality, when the country's film censorship board demanded cuts to Disney's hit movie Beauty and the Beast because of a "gay moment".

But the entertainment giant refused to remove the scene and said it would release the film in full.

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