LGBT Malaysian Activists Go Online To Fight For Human Rights

Activists in Malaysia show how queer social media is changing the game

Malaysian contestant in international transgender beauty pageant — REUTERS
Jun 30, 2015 at 12:26 PM ET

A tech-savvy network of LGBT activists in Malaysia hosted a Twitter chat on Tuesday using a hashtag to help transgender women express themselves amid draconian rules against the gay and transgender community in the country.

Justice for Sisters inspired over 70 uses of #mytransally to discuss LGBT activism online and away from the prying eyes of the Malaysian government. Less than two weeks ago, the world was reminded that simply being LGBT is still criminalized in 75 countries when nine transgender Malaysian women were arrested for “cross-dressing.” All of them were fined and two were thrown in jail.

“The raids are usually very violent,” said Thilaga, a local Justice for Sisters organizer who helped secure the women’s release. “All the people we spoke to who were arrested were also subjected to violence.” These religious police raids are still commonplace across a country where Islam is the official state religion. Thilaga’s group has already helped with eight similar cases this year.

Over the past five years, groups like Justice for Sisters have learned how to leverage social media tools to connect with like-minded communities around the world at a time when members of the LGBT community no longer feel safe planning public events. Global social media trends prove that even isolated LGBT communities are no longer alone.

“Social media has definitely changed the situation,” said Thilaga, whose last name Vocativ has refrained from publishing to keep her identity safe. “It’s cost effective and has created a space were LGBT people can exist and connect.”

Forums, Twitter accounts and Facebook groups are often used to arrange clandestine local meetings, while English-speaking accounts help mobilize international activism.

“Shariah law is restrictive,” Thilaga said, referring to the legal system based on Islam. “But you see the same sort of persecution from countries with civil law influenced by other Judeo-Christian religions.”


Read More:

“Allah Made Me Queer”: Muslims Share Stories for Ramadan (Vocativ)
Same-sex marriage in Malaysia? Advocates say even basic rights still in short supply (Malay Mail Online)