Malaysia has decided to adopt incredibly antiquated and oppressive views to sexual minorities by endorsing gay conversion therapy. Federal authorities claimed in a video that a person’s sexual orientation can be ‘cured’. Ironically, the video in question was an attempt by the Malaysian government to prevent people in the country’s Muslim communities to be hostile towards LGBT people. Indeed, the video says at one point: “the fact is, there are those among Muslims that have non-heterosexual orientation but remain steadfast on the path of Islam”. The video may have been intended to reduce discrimination towards the LGBT community, but the language used reveals just how far equality campaigners have yet to go.
Gay conversion therapy is pernicious for lots of reasons, all of which are appalling. The therapy is dangerous because it combines physical pain with psychological torture. Conversion therapy can take a few different forms. One of the most popular is the use of electrocution. People who homosexual tendencies are hooked up to machines that routinely hurt the participant every time they have thoughts about same-sex attraction. These thoughts are brought on by exposing the participant to a stimulus, which in most cases are images from gay pornography. Aside from electrocution, other techniques come in the form of drinking a liquid designed to make people vomit.
Also, the language used in the conversion therapy sessions is designed to get people to believe that they are sick. Other than being a horrible statement in and of itself, this mindset this concept creates is long-lasting and a vicious circle. For example, a person is told ad nauseum that they are flawed and what makes them flawed is something beyond their control. When this person inevitably isn’t cured by these techniques, they feel like they have failed and therefore develop a fragile psychological state.
The goal of the ‘therapy’ is to get the participant to psychologically associate homosexual thoughts with physical pain. By doing so, the participant is supposed to be discouraged from engaging in homosexual sex in future, and thus the person is ‘cured’. Does it work? Of course it fucking doesn’t. You can’t cure being gay in the same way you can’t cure being blue-eyed.
More generally speaking, it would be an understatement to say that homosexuality is not seen in a positive light in Malaysia. A 2013 Pew Research poll found that 86% of people in Malaysia believe that homosexuality shouldn’t be tolerated, with only 9% of people taking the more tolerant view. Not only is it socially unacceptable to be openly LGBT, the country also has anti-sodomy laws that allow the authorities to prosecute people for engaging in homosexual acts. The penalty for men caught having sex with men is up to 20 years in prison along with fines and/or whippings. The colonial-era laws that Malaysia is using in this area never prohibited women from having sex with other women, which is the case in a surprising number of structurally homophobic societies.
To conclude, Malaysia has taken a course of action that is hostile to the cause of equality. There are some people who view political change as deterministic, that is to say that certain events are inevitable to happen if the conditions are correct. I believe that this is not the case. Circumstances can create the conditions for political change, but without the relentless activity of campaigners and activists nothing would be achieved. Politicians rarely decide to do the right thing out of principle. People need to hold them to account and force them to act.
The progress of the LGBT acceptance in Western countries should be celebrated but that doesn’t mean that shouldn’t look internationally to where people remain under the thumb of oppression. Malaysian activists seeking LGBT equality are working on a daily basis to combat the harmful social norms of their own societies. The LGBT community is international by its very nature, and so should our activism.