OutRight Action International formerly known as International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission

Human Rights For Everyone. Everywhere.



Transgender Women’s Constitutional Challenge To Sharia Law Fails in Malaysia

Grace Poore, Program Coordinator for Asia and the Pacific IslandsBy Grace Poore
Regional Program Coordinator for Asia and the Pacific Islands, IGLHRC

Many countries in the Southeast Asian region are incrementally shifting on lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) people’s rights:

  • Vietnam’s Minster of Justice said publicly that rights of same-sex married couples should be recognized.
  • The Philippines Supreme Court has ruled that an LGBT party had the right to participate in national elections.
  • A Singapore Appeals Court ruled that the constitutionality of Section 377A of its Penal Code needs to be examined because it discriminates against gay men.
  • Thailand has long been known as the place to go for gender reassignment surgery.
  • Indonesia’ s Parliament will soon decide whether to appoint the first openly gay man as commissioner on its National Human Rights Commission.

The Malaysian government however continues to stubbornly reject the rights of LGBT people. This position reverberates throughout state institutions, encouraging hostility, discrimination, and abuse by state and religious authorities.

In October, Judge Siti Mariah Ahmad, of the high court of Seremban in Negeri Sembilan, one of Malaysia’s thirteen states, struck down a first-ever constitutional challenge brought by four Malay transwomen who sought the court’s protection for being unfairly targeted by Article 66 of the Negeri Sembilan sharia law.

Mohammad Juzaili Mohammad Khamis (24), Shukor Jani (25), Wan Fairol Wan Ismail (27), and Adam Shazrul Mohammad Yusoff (25) work as bridal makeup artists, and identify and dress as women. In August 2012, they applied for judicial review of Article 66, which criminalizes men “who dress in women’s clothes and behave like women in public.” They claimed that it violated their rights under Articles 5, 8, 9, 10 and 4 of the Malaysian federal constitution, which guarantees personal liberty, nondiscrimination, freedom of movement, freedom to express one’s identity, and supersedes any local state law that challenges the federal constitution.

Their lawyer argued that Article 66 was unconstitutional because it penalized individuals for “an attribute of their nature that they did not choose and cannot change.”

Judge Siti Mariah, who heard the arguments in the judicial review, disagreed. In her decision, she said, “The undisputed facts are that the applicants are born as males, they are male to female transsexuals, and the evidence of the psychiatrist is that they have jiwa wanita (soul of a woman)… Section 66 is part of the teaching of Islam and the applicants are Muslims. They cannot be exempted from it.”

PT Foundation, an HIV/AIDS organization in Malaysia, reports there are 10,000 mak nyahs (the local term for male transsexuals), in the country. Seventy to eighty percent of mak nyahs are Malay and Muslim while the remaining twenty percent are minority ethnicities. Most mak nyahs do not have gender reassignment surgery because it’s too costly and requires travel outside the country. They fear too that their families will not carry out the Muslim burial rites if they are not viewed as a man or a woman.

Malaysian rights advocate, Thilaga, working in the Justice for Sisters campaign for the rights of mak nyah, says, “Transgender people don’t report violations by police or religious officers because they don’t expect justice. Often, they don’t know their rights and lack resources to go to court to fight charges.” The four applicants in the Negeri Sembilan case attest to this. Mohammad Juzaili was detained four times in 2010, charged three times, convicted twice and fined 1700 Malaysian ringgit ($550 US); Adam Shazrul was arrested twice, convicted once, and fined 800 ringgit ($260 US); Shukor Jaini and Wan Fairol were each detained twice.

Muslim mak nyahs can face up to six months in prison from Malaysian sharia courts.  They are sometimes forced to attend Islamic religious classes where they are pressured to reform and give verbal assurances that they will stop being trans. They are particularly vulnerable to routine arrest and penalized by police and Islamic religious officers who verbally humiliate, physically and sexually abuse them while in custody.

Non-Muslim mak nyahs, while not subject to sharia laws, can be arrested and convicted for “disorderly or indecent behavior,” with penalties ranging from 25 to 100 ringgit ($10- $30 US) and two weeks to three months in prison.

During the August hearing, Judge Siti Mariah, visibly disturbed by reports of custodial abuse of the applicants, questioned the representatives of the state department and Islamic Affairs department about the way the applicants were treated. She also questioned the definition of public space, saying, “the moment they step out of their house, it’s public space,” suggesting that religious officers were using sharia law to target the mak nyah community. She questioned if Article 66 applied to the applicants “because they are not men, neither women.”

In her decision last week, Judge Siti Mariah remarked, “The Islamic Religious Department needs to be ‘lebih berhemat’ (more professional),” instructing the Department to work with PT Foundation “to give counseling to transsexuals.”

If we are to better protect the human rights of LGBT people in Malaysia, a far more explicit warning must come from the courts. The Negeri Sembilan Islamic Religious Department should be charged to investigate, prosecute and convict its own religious officers for acts of verbal, physical, mental and sexual abuse against those in their custody, for supposedly breaking morality laws.

Sharia judges across Malaysia must hold accountable Islamic religious officers (and police officers subject to sharia courts) who misuse their authority, take advantage of people’s vulnerabilities, humiliate them, and mistreat with impunity those they are hired to protect—including lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people.

For more on mak nyah experiences, see Nisha Ayub’s presentation (pdf) at the International Gay and Lesbian Human rights Commission panel at the 2012 Creating Change conference.

Grace Poore, the author, can be reached at

Thai Police Dismiss Murders of 15 Lesbians and ‘Toms’ As ‘Love Gone Sour’

grace poore

By Grace Poore

This post originally appeared in the Huffington Post »

On Feb. 24, 2012 in Loei province, Thailand, a 14-year-old girl reported to police that her 38-year-old father, who had sole custody of her since 2008, had been raping her continuously for four years because she “liked to hang out with toms” and wouldn’t listen to his instructions to stay away from them. She told police that the most recent rape had been on Feb. 11, 2012.

On Jan. 15, 2009 in Chiang Mai province, 17-year-old Orn-uma Wongprachit and her tomboy partner, 17-year-old Marisa Srisawa, were found dead. They had been stabbed over 60 times. Orn and Marisa worked at a karaoke bar to support their families. Police said they were killed by a man who was “attracted to one of the women and felt disdainful of the lesbian relationship.”
Continue reading “Thai Police Dismiss Murders of 15 Lesbians and ‘Toms’ As ‘Love Gone Sour’”

UPDATE: VICTORY! Seoul Student Rights Ordinance Passed with Sexual Orientation Gender Identity Clauses Included

The International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission received  good news in the following letter  from Jihyye Kim  telling us of victory for LGBT Students in Korea.

Dear Friends and Colleagues,

 “We won the Seoul Student Rights Ordinance with all Sexual Orientation Gender Identity (SOGI) related clauses in the original draft included! 

…It happened after the 6 days of protest of LGBT young people and activists, day and night. This is a significant progress in our LGBT history, because we fought face-to-face against the homophobic individuals and groups, including many members of the Council…   The Council had serious debates on sexual orientation/ gender Identity  (SOGI) issues in their plenary session for the first time in our history. One of the Council members read out UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon’s recent speech…  That was the moment that the voices of LGBT people began to be heard, and LGBT people’s human rights recognized…

Continue reading “UPDATE: VICTORY! Seoul Student Rights Ordinance Passed with Sexual Orientation Gender Identity Clauses Included”

Korea: LGBT Students In Danger Of Being Left Out Of Non-Discrimination Protections

This post originally appeared in The New Civil Rights Movement.

Read the Update: Victory! Seoul Student Rights Ordinance Passed with Sexual Orientation Gender Identity Clauses Included

by Grace Poore

The Education Committee of the Seoul Metropolitan Council in Seoul, Korea has singled out sexual orientation and gender identity for exclusion from the draft bill of Seoul Students Rights Ordinance that can become law on December 19 in Korea’s capital city unless human rights activists manage to delay the bill or change the minds of the Education Committee. If passed, the Students Rights Ordinance will be the first initiative to explicitly protect students’ rights in Korea.

The International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission has sent an urgent letter (below) to the Korean Education Committee of the Seoul Metropolitan Council calling for reinstatement of the removed protections for LGBT students.

Continue reading “Korea: LGBT Students In Danger Of Being Left Out Of Non-Discrimination Protections”

A Young Activist Perspective on Global LGBT Rights

brian tofte-schumacher

This post originally appeared on The Bilerico Project. Brian Tofte-Schumacher is Communications Associate at the International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission. He tweets on @IGLHRC and personally as @briantschu.

A year and a half ago, when I said my teary-eyed goodbye to my mom after dropping two suitcases packed with all my essential belongings at the check-in counter for my one-way flight to New York City from Spokane International Airport, I had no idea I would soon be writing about my first experience at the United Nations — especially not this soon.

Nonetheless, here I am, ready for it or not. Saturday, December 10 marked the 63rd anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, following a truly historic week. First came President Obama’s memorandum on lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender human rights and US Foreign Policy issued by the White House. Then, we heard an amazingly LGBT-affirming speech from U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to the United Nations in Geneva on Tuesday.
Continue reading “A Young Activist Perspective on Global LGBT Rights”

Trans Day of Remembrance: Advancing the Human Rights of Trans People across the Globe

From Latin America, to the Middle East, from Africa to Asia, we remember….

“The International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission (IGLHRC) today honors the memory of the many trans men and women whom we have lost across the globe. From Latin America, to the Middle East, from Africa to Asia discrimination, ignorance, transphobia and violence have unduly taken the lives of innocent trans men and women who sought to live with dignity and respect. In remembering their lives and their sacrifice, we also honor the courageous work activists and allies around the world do each day to advance the human rights of all trans people.”

Cary Alan Johnson, Executive Director, IGLHRC

Trans Day of Remembrance: Africa · Indonesia · Latin America · Turkey

Trans Day of Remembrance: Focus on Africa

Honoring the Health Needs of Trans Men and Women

Africa Regional Trans Health and Advocacy Conference November 26th to 28th, Capetown, South Africa

In South Africa, IGLHRC has partnered with Gender DynamiX, the first African organization solely for the transgender community. In 2008, IGLHRC and Gender DynamiX together held a Strategy Workshop for transgender activists, the first of its kind on the continent. Held in Cape Town, South Africa, the historic workshop brought together 15 activists from 9 East and Southern African countries—Burundi, Kenya, Uganda, Rwanda, Botswana, Namibia, South Africa, Zambia, and Zimbabwe—to address the very specific needs of transgender people on the African continent. It marked a key step in the process of defining and building the African transgender movement by African transgender people.

Continue reading “Trans Day of Remembrance: Focus on Africa”

Trans Day of Remembrance: Focus on Turkey

“While we remember and mourn the loss of Turkish trans women whose lives were brutally taken from us this year, we must recognize too, the courage of the activists who tirelessly work to advance the human rights of trans people in the Middle East.”

Hossein Alizdeh, IGLHRC Coordinator Middle East and North Africa Program

During the past twelve months, the Turkish trans community has continued to be the target of fatal hate crimes. On April 19, a 36-year-old trans woman identified as R.B. was shot in Izmir, Turkey. She was rushed to the hospital, but she passed away before reaching the hospital. Two other trans women were injured during the shootout. On July 31, Didem, a trans woman, was brutally murdered in Istanbul, Turkey’s most populated city. The assailants cut the throat of this 21-year-old trans woman. On October 6, a woman was shot to death in Gaziantep, one of the southern cities of Turkey.

Continue reading “Trans Day of Remembrance: Focus on Turkey”

Trans Day of Remembrance: Focus on Indonesia

“The killings of transgender people, involving Indonesian law enforcement are poorly or never investigated. More often they are put into the freezer by the state, and left unresolved.”

Grace Poore, IGLHRC, Regional Coordinator, Asia and Pacific Islands

Indonesian waria (transgender) activist Elly Susana was killed in 2007. To date, there has been no justice for her. Elly Susana’s story is told in Courage Unfolds, a video produced by the International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission to reveal the violence and discrimination experienced by LGBT people in Asia and their efforts to fight for equality, safety and decriminalization. Elly Susana’s death, which occurred during an alleged raid by public order officers (Saptol PP), was widely covered by media.

Continue reading “Trans Day of Remembrance: Focus on Indonesia”

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