Malaysia is the third-least accepting of homosexuality country in Asia according to the results of a survey by Pew Research Center conducted in 2013. Only 9% of Malaysians stated society should accept homosexuality. 86% stated it should not. Attitudes are slightly more liberal in Kuala Lumpur, the capital city of Malaysia, but only slightly so. Only Indonesia (3%) and Pakistan (2%) scored lower than Malaysia in this survey.

Interestingly, older people were more accepting than younger Malaysians. Those over 50 were most accepting of the LGBT community.

The reason for this intolerance is due to religion, as always. Islam is the official religion in the country and inevitably affects attitudes towards members of the LGBT community. According to Human Rights Watch, discrimination against LGBT people is “pervasive” throughout the country. Islamic (Sharia) laws forbid “cross-dressing” and trans people are arrested arbitrarily. They suffer from sexual and physical assault, unjust imprisonment, discriminatory denial of employment and health care and other forms of abuse.

In Kuala Lumpur and elsewhere, trans people are frequently arrested by police for violating “public indecency” laws. They face the further charge of “impersonating” women under Sharia law if they are Muslim.

45 Muslim cross-dressers were tried and jailed for dressing as women in 1998. Another 23 faced imprisonment and fines in 1999. Because of the exclusion, a trans woman in Kuala Lumpur often has no option but sex work. Authorities estimate that a lot of trans people are compelled to turn to the sex trade to earn a living.

Three trans women arrested for cross-dressing filed a successful appeal in November 2014 based on the notion of appropriate clothing of persons suffering from gender dysphoria. Because the condition had not been taken into consideration in the arrest, the Court of Appeal pronounced Sharia law forbidding cross-dressing as void and violating the right of freedom of movement, freedom of expression, and the right to live in equality and with dignity. Sadly, the country’s federal court overturned the ruling in October in the following year. The federal court ruled that the three women needed the permission of a federal judge to file an appeal. Permission existed, but they ruled that Kuala Lumpur High Court had granted it erroneously.

Kuala Lumpur High Court ordered the relevant authorities to update a trans man’s personal data on his ID document to better reflect his chosen name and gender identity in 2016. The authorities repealed the ruling.

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