Health ministry denies 'gay prevention' contest is discriminatory

A flyer promotes the competition with the theme 'Value Yourself, Healthy Lifestyle Practice' , which the Health Ministry says is to enhance healthy lifestyle knowledge and practices in young Malaysians.

THE Ministry of Health (MoH) is defending its National Creative Video Competition on Adolescent Sexual and Reproductive Health, which has been slammed for being discriminatory against the LGBT community by international media speaking to gay and transgender activists in Malaysia

MoH also denies the initiative would encourage hatred and violence towards the minorities.

In a statement today, Public Health Deputy Director-General Lokman Hakim Sulaiman said the competition with the theme, “Value Yourself, Practice Healthy Lifestyle” was to enhance healthy lifestyle knowledge and practices pertaining to sexual and reproductive health among the young.

“In the context that ‘prevention is better than cure’, this competition aims to empower adolescents to make wise decisions and choices regarding their sexual reproductive health,” he said.

Malaysian activists have voiced concern that the health authority is offering a cash prize of RM4,300 for the best videos explaining how to “prevent homosexuality”.

They told AFP that such a competition will further spread fear among Malaysia’s LGBT community, as conservative attitudes chip away at the Muslim-majority nation’s one-time reputation for moderation and tolerance.

The MoH website invites contestants to submit a video clip addressing various categories, including gayness or “gender confusion”, and offering suggestions as to how these could be “prevented or controlled”

“The very fact that they lump LGBT people under a category called ‘gender confusion’ shows that the authorities are very much confused themselves,” said Pang Khee Teik, a well-known activist, told AFP.

Contestants have also to show in their video submissions the “consequences” of being LGBT, as well as how to “prevent, control and seek help” for them.

Reuters ran a similar article quoting local activists who said intolerance of LGBT people has spiked in recent years in Malaysia.

“I was shocked. This is encouraging discrimination, hatred and even violence towards the minorities,” said transgender activist Nisha Ayub from the Seed Foundation, a charity working with transgender people.

The article said a few years ago, the Malaysian government issued “guidelines” on how to spot signs of homosexuality in boys, among which are “a preferences for tight, V-neck shirts and large handbags”,

“The health ministry should look into health issues, but now they are giving out prizes for people to post such videos. This is sending a very negative message to our society,” Nisha told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

MoH, however, pointed to the health services it provides to show it embraces “the principle of health for all without discrimination”.

“We have specific guideline for all health workers to treat every client equally and with due respect to an individual’s right. In fact, MOH has gone the extra mile by providing services based on their specific health needs and collaborate closely with other agencies and NGOs,” Lokman said.

He said there are 23 STI friendly clinics nationwide providing services for high risk groups and attendances are increasing daily.

“MOH is also in the process of expanding HIV screening services in the community by the community. MOH have also provided fundings to NGOs for HIV-related activities.”

Lokman said the competition was prompted by “scientific evidence” from here and abroad showing close association between the risk of HIV with unhealthy sexual reproductive health practices, which can be “intervened through preventive activities and promoting healthy lifestyle”.

He cited Integrated Bio-Behavioral Surveillance’ findings between 2012 to 2014, which showed that the rate of infection has increased from 7.1% (2012) to 8.9% (2014) for men who have sex with men;  from 4.8% (2012) to 5.6% (2014) for transgenders; and from 4.6% (2012) to 7.3% (2014) for female prostitutes.

“This creative video competition is purely to tap knowledge and creativity of adolescent to adolescent on sexual and reproductive health related matters and does not intend to create discrimination to any particular group.

“This competition is in line with the Convention on the Rights of the Child, where it is the right of children and adolescents to obtain accurate and age appropriate information,” said Lokman. – June 3, 2017.

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