Malaysian minister orders removal of LGBT portraits from exhibition
Abrar Hussain: Festival organizers in Malaysia have removed two portraits of LGBT activists from a public photo exhibition after complaints from the government.
Joe Sidek, Director of the George Town Festival, said he was “directed” to take the portraits out by the minister of Islamic affairs, Mujahid Yusof Rawa.
Mr Mujahid said the promotion of LGBT culture was “not supported” in Malaysia.
The exhibition features a series of portraits with different Malaysians posing with the country’s flag. The photos were taken last year to commemorate 60 years of Malaysian independence.
Sidek told the BBC that he was “directed” to take the pictures out but “I wasn’t threatened”. He said the objective of the public exhibition, ‘Stripes and Strokes’, was to showcase “Malaysian pride, not gay pride”.
“I don’t approve of censorship but I understand why it had to be done.”
He insisted he was looking at the “bigger picture” and that fighting this request could cause problems in the future. “So I chose to lose this battle,” he said, adding that he had been criticized for his decision.
Homosexual activity is illegal in Malaysia under both secular and religious laws.
Mr Mujahid had told Malaysia’s The Star newspaper that Malaysian society “cannot accept LGBT being promoted because that is against the society norms”.
“When you put the picture with the [pride] symbol, if that is not promotion… then tell me what is the definition of promotion?”
The activists featured in the photo series have since spoken out.
“They talk about rights as a citizen of Malaysia but they are denying people like me to express our love to our own country,” said Nisha Ayub, a transgender activist who has won several awards, in a Facebook post.
Pang Khee Teik, co-founder of Seksualiti Merdeka and editor of online forum Queer Lapis, echoed Ayub’s words, saying on Facebook that the only activity being promoted was “loving our country in spite of the hate”.