Malaysian minister Syed Saddiq faces online outcry over press officer's resignation linked to LGBT activism

Malaysia's Youth and Sports Minister Syed Saddiq Abdul Rahman's (above) interim press officer said he was quitting after coming under pressure over his activism on lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender issues. PHOTO: THE STAR/ASIA NEWS NETWORK

PETALING JAYA (THE STAR/ASIA NEWS NETWORK) - Malaysia's Youth and Sports Minister Syed Saddiq Abdul Rahman faced an online outcry after his interim press officer said he was quitting after coming under pressure over his activism on lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) issues.

Numan Afifi Saadan announced his resignation on Sunday (July 8), saying backlash from "opposition propagandists" had made it impossible for him to exercise his duties.

"Therefore, I have decided not to work with the ministry in any official capacity," he said, adding that he would be handing over his duties to a press secretary who would be officially appointed soon.

Syed Saddiq posted a short farewell message on Twitter. "Your service has been invaluable bro since our campaigning days," he wrote. "Stay strong and I'll always respect your decision. You'll always be a bro," he added.

But the the Muar Member of Parliament's comments did not go down well among some LGBT activists and Twitter users, who felt that he did not do enough to defend Numan amid the backlash. The #dontbrome, or don't call me bro, hashtag soon started trending on Twitter.

Some took to Twitter to tell the 26-year-old not to misuse the word "bro". In popular culture, "bro" is lingo for friends who look out for each other.

LGBT activists said they voted for the new Pakatan Harapan (PH) government in the hopes of building a more inclusive and tolerant society, but Syed Saddiq's silence on the cyber-bullying and discrimination faced by Numan over his sexual orientation had been disappointing. The PH manifesto's fifth pillar promises to "create a Malaysia that is inclusive, moderate and respected globally".

"The only kind of 'bro' that Syed Saddiq has proved to be is B-R-O, 'Be Really Obtuse'," Twitter user Kerry Chin wrote.

Another Twitter user, Timothy Phillip Gan, said: "Being LGBT here in Malaysia, in this so-called 'Malaysia Baru' still gets you death threats, cost you your job, even though you're much more intelligent and capable than your harassers," he wrote. "Positive representation matters, and that was what Numan Afifi could have achieved for so many LGBTQ youths out there. But that golden opportunity was robbed from him due to a spineless 'bro' who threw him under the bus due to opposition pressure," Gan added.

Syed Saddiq came under fire last week after critics voiced out against Numan being the organiser of a Pride Day breaking of fast event held in 2017. They insisted that it was inappropriate for a "champion of LGBT causes" to be a government staff member.

In response to the uproar, Syed Saddiq said that Numan was not officially appointed and that the ministry was still interviewing potential candidates for the position.

On Sunday, Numan said he had no choice but to resign, thanking Syed Saddiq for the stint and opportunity. "Syed Saddiq has respected my decision and stands firm against any form of discrimination, therefore I would like to ask for this polemics not be dragged any further," he wrote.

"Hopefully, we get to live as a community in Malaysia that cherishes diversity without prejudices," he said.

The controversy has pushed Syed Saddiq between a rock and a hard place.

Not only are liberal Malaysians disappointed at his silence, conservatives said he had betrayed them by supporting a gay person.

Many are demanding that Syed Saddiq clear the air on whether he had knowingly hired a gay activist into the Youth and Sports Ministry.

"Come on bro, (how can you) support this kind of people. They are cancer in religion," one Capt Mud Asyraf said.

"Syed, don't end up losing in GE15 just because you want to champion the rights of LGBT," said another who went by the online pseudonym Fin.

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