Living in a place like Malaysia, we know a lot about our diversity, and we talk a lot about acceptance. We pride ourselves in being a melting pot of cultures, with people from all races, cultural backgrounds, religions and ways of life coming together to form a united Malaysia. We live and work with people from all walks of life, yet on the same token, we still seem to run into trouble with acceptance.
It’s a sign of the times that accepting other people’s opinions and beliefs is seemingly more and more difficult in 2018, especially when we’re meant to be in such an open, accepting, tolerant and progressive place.
Let me give you an example. When I first experienced my first Pride Parade in San Francisco, it was overwhelming to witness it firsthand. Sure, it was a hot topic back at home (and me being Malaysian and of Malay descendant, I figured my family would judge me for going to an LGBTQ celebration because, God forbid, it would jeopardise my faith and religion). But it actually taught me something else and opened my eyes to other things — about love, tolerance, respect and acceptance.
The trepidation was real. But my fear and anxiety were swept away soon as I witnessed the historical moment that changed the course of so many lives. At the time, the US Supreme Court had just declared the rights for same-sex marriage in all 50 states. The tears, joy and excitement I saw on those peoples’ faces were something I had never seen before.
Then it hit me that — unlike me — these people had been denied love. Shunned and criticised for wanting to have what straight people are blessed to have. I wondered what it was like for them to taste the freedom of choosing who they want to marry and love for the rest of their life? To be told that it is perfectly fine to be who they are and who they want to be. Most of all, to have respect for what they choose to believe in.
Big name companies like Uber, Google and even ice-cream manufacturer Ben & Jerry’s proudly advocated the movement. Making campaigns and revisiting their company policies to endorse fair, equal opportunities for everyone regardless of sexual preference, gender, even race. All that cultivated a sense of acceptance; providing a safe environment for everyone beyond the extents of LGBTQ.
The topic has been given a little bit of airtime recently, and just yesterday on 6 September 2018, same-sex relationships were decriminalised in India. CNN reported that in a landmark ruling, the colonial-era law which criminalises consensual gay sex, overturns more than 150 years of anti-LGBT legislation. This marked yet another nuanced advance in a more progressive direction. This was in India.
How telling it is that this happened right now, when this week, our country was blasted with news of a public caning of two women who were reportedly attempting to have same-sex relations in Terengganu. As reported by The Star on September 4th, the two women pleaded guilty and sentenced with a fine of RM3,300 and ordered to be caned six times each.
It was argued that public caning is unlawful, but ultimately the issue was whether these women deserved caning for their behaviour. The news seemed like a humiliating setback for a seemingly modern country. While the topic of LGBTQ intersects with socio-politics, religion and law, we get it. Idealistically, as a millennial, all I want is for us to live in a world where love prevails if not transcends.
Since the caning happened, our Prime Minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad had issued a statement, saying that the caning does not reflect the quality of justice and sympathy of Islam. The official video and statement are here at The Star.
We’re elated on the tolerant, understanding, and open approach that Tun M took in this statement. To live harmoniously in such a diverse society, we need to adopt the culture of acceptance. Sometimes, the act of letting go has a far greater impact than simply holding on to old convictions. Instead, as a millennial, I have learned to respect people’s opinions. Understand and recognise why we don’t always need to see eye to eye before we claim disapproval. Ultimately, it boils down to our ability to converse about our differences that makes us whole. We hope that people can also be open to Tun M’s culture of acceptance and adopt it, rather than take a hard line.
#TeamCLEO also spoke to a few individuals with regards to the public caning issue and this is what they also had to say about it.
i’ve seen it from their point of view, and we need to love
“Two years ago, K [my husband] and I were walking hand in hand in Oakland (CA). A car came from behind, drove past us and shouted “lesbian” out the window. Back then K had long hair, and we now share the incident with friends with humour, however I always had this chip on my shoulder: even if I was lesbian, what did my sexual preference have anything to do with their lives, and why was the word ‘lesbian’ shouted out in such a derogatory way?
I have friends in the LGBT community and have seen how they express love to their SO/partner. It’s no different from the love that K and I express to each other. Love is love. Inflicting physical pain upon another fellow Malaysian will not change the person’s sexual preference. It only creates more pain, and reflects how accommodating our nation is towards our select regressive, archaic state laws.”
— Elisa Khong, CLEO Hot Shot 2016 and Director of COPC
Update: Since she released this caption on Instagram, someone has reported her post to Instagram and deleted it, simply because she was spreading the word to love and not hate.