Malaysia: Rights groups upset over university’s nixing of LGBT student event

Malaysia: Rights groups upset over university's nixing of LGBT student event
Taylor's has denied the 'Courage in the Face of Adversity' event was cancelled due to external pressure. Source: Nicholas Chan

Civil society groups are railing against the cancellation of a LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender) public awareness campaign organised by Taylor’s University students, saying the move goes against the spirit of Malaysia’s Federal Constitution.

One of the event’s co-supporter, Selangor’s Community Awareness Association (Empower), called the decision a letdown as Malaysia’s Prime Minister Najib Razak had just called on the country to steer clear of extremism to maintain public peace.

“The bottom line is these actions also undermine the constitutional guarantees in Malaysia, which is the freedom of association and assembly and the freedom of expression,” Empower executive director Angela M. Kuga Thas said to Study International.

“These students were just exercising their constitutional rights in pursuit of their educational growth.”

On Wednesday night, a three-day LGBT campaign scheduled for next month at the university’s Lakeside campus was cancelled allegedly over pressure on the university by Islamic hardliners who were incensed the event would coincide with the holy Muslim month of Ramadan.

In its run-up, ultra-Islamic groups had condemned the event, calling it an insulting provocation against Islam.

Taylor’s, however, denied the Courage in the Face of Adversity event was cancelled due to such pressure.

“This event was an initiative of our students and executed without approval from the school and management of Taylor’s University,” it said in a statement after local media reported the matter.

“The university has decided to cancel this event on its own accord and without any external pressure.”

Student organisers, who called themselves “Pride Not Prejudice” have yet to issue a statement over the axing.

Free discussion

The campaign would focus on public awareness and include a movie screening, forum, exhibition, open mic session and a pride march – a “noble initiative” – according to another co-supporter of the event, Campaign for Equality and Human Rights Initiative (Pelangi).

In a statement Thursday, Pelangi said Taylor’s had allowed its business interests trump the “academic freedom and integrity” of its students and faculty.

“University should be a space for productive and critical discourse, where issues of import to society can be freely discussed and debated,” it said.

“It is through deep involvement and keen interest in dealing with complex, even sensitive issues that the youth can become catalysts for change.”

Taylor’s call-off is not the first time LGBT events have had to bow down to conservative pressures in the Muslim-majority country. Some sexually marginalised communities have received threats and violence from both the state and the masses, while spaces for discourse are routinely met with backlash from extreme Islamists.

An article on local news portal once deemed homosexuals to be more despicable than animals, purportedly based on an interpretation of Islam’s holy book, the Quran.

The axing of the Taylor’s event has since evoked two polarising streams of opinions on social media, with one group welcoming Taylor’s decision and others condemning it.

Lau Li Yang, a student leader from the country’s top university University of Malaya posted on Facebook:

“A shame on Taylors’s commitment to safeguarding academic freedom and students’ autonomy to organise event. Didn’t get approval from the communication office? Haha why do we need to beg for approval in the first place?”

Another Facebook user named “Kita Gembur” said:

“These infidel groups will not stop such work. They will try their best to mislead Muslims”.

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