“National World AIDS Day event marred by ignorance, discrimination and bigotry,” groups say

SEVERAL groups have criticised the use of discriminatory language against people living with HIV and the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer and intersex (LGBTQI+) community at a 2022 National World AIDS Day event organised by the Health Ministry yesterday (Dec 1). 

The Galen Centre for Health and Social Policy, alongside the Malaysian AIDS Council and the Malaysian AIDS Foundation have expressed concern, disappointment and disgust at the comments made by Prof Madya Mohd Izhar Ariff Mohd Kashim from the Faculty of Religious Studies at Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia (UKM), which the groups had described as “disparaging, discriminatory and bigoted”. 

“It is disgraceful and shocking that during this event whose international theme this year is ‘Equalise’, a speaker who is supposed to be learned and representing a religious studies department of an institution of higher learning sought instead to demonise and disparage these communities, illustrating the very inequalities and attitudes faced in daily life which are blocking the end of the AIDS pandemic,” the Galen Centre CEO Azrul Mohd Khalib said.  

“He might think it is harmless, but his words have real world consequences. These communities which include transgender persons and people living with HIV in Malaysia, encounter harassment, discrimination and physical and emotional violence.” 

Azrul went on to note that in some extreme cases, transgender persons have become seriously injured or lost their lives, and perpetrators of abuse against them often “act with impunity and escape unpunished”. 

“Dr Izhar sends a terrible signal which may cause an escalation of harmful and discriminating actions, both institutional and vigilantism, against these communities. Where is his compassion and generosity of spirit?” he questioned. 

Meanwhile, the Galen Centre senior fellow and SEED Foundation executive director Mitch Yusmar Yusof noted that the communities highlighted by Dr Izhar “have been and will always be a valuable and essential part of Malaysia’s diverse society”. 

“To degrade them is discrimination at its worse and is demonstrative of how much work we still have to do,” Mitch pointed out.  

“We are concerned that this message at an important health event will also create obstacles and barriers for people from these communities, including transgender persons seeking health services.  

“Fear and discrimination discourage them from seeking treatment and care. They may have trouble finding alternative healthcare services if they are turned away.” 

According to CodeBlue, a message shared with Malaysian AIDS Foundation chairwoman Prof Dr Adeeba Kamarulzaman by attendees at the World AIDS Day event in Seremban said Mohd Izhar Ariff’s talk was “all about discriminating against the community”. 

“Below are some of the critical statements shared during his talk – calling out the transgender women as ‘pondan’, instead of Mak Nyah. Transgender community needs to ‘insaf’ (regret) and ‘bertaubat’ (repent) from being a Mak Nyah,” read the message as sighted by the health news portal.  

“Being an LGBTQI+ person is a mental disorder and root cause of HIV infection. A ‘halal’ relationship (that includes a man marries 4 times) will not contract HIV.” – Dec 2, 2022 

Subscribe and get top news delivered to your Inbox everyday for FREE