Pride Month: LGBT rights battles rage in Asia under the shadow of coronavirus

By Mason Quah


THE progression of Pride movements around the world have been stilted by the dramatic events of  2020.

London Pride has been postponed amid fears of coronavirus. In Florida, the killing of Tony McDade by police marks the 12th such death of a transgender or gender non-conforming person in 2020.

Hungary is rolling back the rights of transgender individuals by decades with the legal definition of sex being reclassified to mean gender assigned at birth. The challenges faced by LGBTQIA+ people are not unique to the western world, and there are many stories of both Pride and Persecution occurring across the world.

South Korea’s gay community has been stigmatised away from Covid testing

In February the South Korean authorities tracked a spike in coronavirus cases to a cluster of LGBT nightclubs in Itaewon, and a super spreader who had visited many of them.

This has resulted in a strong uptick in anti-LGBT rhetoric centred around the events in Itaewon, playing out both over on the internet and in media outlets that released the identities of people known to be there.

The social persecution of LGBT people is thought to have stigmatised people infected in Itaewon away from being tested for coronavirus. This may result in a greater number of future cases and a strong risk that the gay community will be assigned blame.

It might be expected that any group exposing people to greater Covid risks would be rightly shunned, but the level of hostility encountered by the LGBT community of Korea is certainly greater than might be expected by a careless church assembly or sports meet.

South Korea is home to a very socially conservative population on matters of LGBT rights, with a relatively young LGBT population that hold few uncloseted role models. The 2019 Pride Marchers in Itaewon were outnumbered by counter protesters and required heavy police protection.

With 2020 Pride festivals cancelled or delayed it will take time to see the full extent of the damage done to the movement.

Malaysia’s anti-homosexuality laws to be challenged in Sharia Court

The news broke at the end of last month that the anti-homosexuality laws of Malaysia will be challenged in court.

GSM activist groups have long argued that the dual legal system of Sharia courts operating alongside civil courts have enabled a strong increase in the persecution towards the gay community.

In 2018 police officials raided a gay nightclub in the capital city of Kuala Lumpur, ordering 20 of the detained men into counselling for “illicit behaviour”.

Speaking on the matter, Khalid Samad of the National Trust Party said the raid would “mitigate the LGBT culture from spreading into our society.”

In 2019 a group of 6 men were arrested and publicly caned after religious police intercepted private messages wherein the men agreed to meet in a private flat for sex.

Perhaps more worrying is the way these anti-homosexuality laws have been used to remove political opponents. The current leader of the opposition, Anwar Ibrahim, has served multiple sentences for charges of sodomy, described by him as politically motivated attempts to end his career.

One of these charges was brought against him in 1998 while he served as Prime Minister and resulted in his dismissal from government and a 15 year sentence. In 2018 Anwar received a royal pardon from his second such conviction, after serving 4 years out of a 5 year sentence.

It is unclear whether the current challenges to Malaysian sodomy laws will succeed. Campaigners in Malaysia share a hope that a court victory at the top will reverse the worrying trend of local governments implementing stricter anti-gay legislation.

A victory in the Sharia courts is not the final goal however, as the penal codes held over from colonial rule also criminalise sodomy.

Article 377, which bans acts of indecency between men, is a relic shared across many nations subjected to British Colonialism. In 2018 India repealed their version of article 377. In March of 2020 an attempt to repeal 377 in Singapore was blocked by the high court.

Which nation Malaysia is likely to follow on hinges on the success of the current challenge in religious court.

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