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Transgender People Have Rights Too!

Photo: Reuters/Olivia Harris for International Business Times

We, the transgender community, are very disappointed, distraught and disheartened with the unfavourable verdict of Justice Datuk Siti Mariah Ahmad on 11th of October 2012 in the High Court at Seremban, where the Judge held that section 66 of the Syariah Criminal (Negeri Sembilan) Enactment 1992 excludes our fundamental liberties under the Constitution.

We are saddened to hear that the court has ruled in favour of the State and its officials, thus condoning discrimination and violence on grounds of gender identity.

We are also shocked by the reliance on Islamic texts in her ruling to justify the existence of the law when it is the Constitution that is the supreme law of Malaysia. We seek a review of the constitutionality of the law as we believe that section 66 and other similar laws are inconsistent with our freedom of expression, right to non-discrimination, dignity, privacy and right to livelihood.

We believe the court erred in its decision in failing to consider all medical evidence and overlooked the mistreatment and violence that the transwomen in Negeri Sembilan have been subjected to because of this law.

Section 66 and similar laws in other states in Malaysia have been used for far too long to violate the rights of the transwomen in this country. Many transwomen, including the four applicants in the case, have been subjected to physical, verbal, emotional and sexual abuse by officers employed by the Islamic religious department. They have been beaten, punched, kicked, groped, molested, insulted, coerced for sexual favours and humiliated in public places by Islamic religious officers. On one account, one of the applicants was brutally beaten up in a public place by the religious officers, leaving her with physical and mental scars. She is still disturbed by the incident and is traumatized when recounting it.

Transgender people do not choose to be transgender and neither can we change it. We do not impersonate or pose as the opposite sex. We live in disharmony with our assigned gender, and express ourselves based on how we feel on the inside, which gives us inner peace and personal happiness. Many transwomen like ourselves start wearing female clothes and make-up at a young age; we prefer to play with girls rather than boys, and some of us intend to change our facial attributes and undergo sex reassignment surgery to live in the body that we are most comfortable with.

In the latest edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM) the American Psychiatric Association (APA) replaced the diagnostic term “Gender Identity Disorder” with the term “Gender Dysphoria,” “a marked incongruence between one’s experienced/expressed gender and assigned gender.” The APA too, in a statement urged the repeal of laws and policies that discriminate against transgender and gender variant people. (Refer to Appendix 1)

Transgender people are subjected to many forms of violence, stigma and discrimination because of our gender identity, because we are perceived as different. At a very young age, we are subjected to name calling and bullying in schools. As a result, many transgender children fall behind in school or display very little interest in continuing and finishing their studies. In some cases, families disown and kick out their transgender children simply because family members cannot accept a child who is different. Consequently, many transgender people are deprived of a loving support system that others enjoy.

Portrayal of transgender people as deviants and threat to public morality in the mainstream media too contributes to the stigma, discrimination and violence that are faced by the transgender community.

We believe as fellow citizens, irrespective of race or religion, transgender people are equally entitled to all the constitutional rights that are enjoyed by other Malaysians. As residents of this country, we are also entitled to protection by the state from any form of injustice, discrimination and violence. We believe the judge’s ruling is a regressive step and adversely affects the human rights of all Malaysians.

Endorsed by

1. Aliran, Malaysia
2. Anjaree Lesbian Group Thailand
3. APCOM (Asia Pacific Coalition On Male Sexual Health)
4. Arus Pelangi, Indonesia
6. Asia Pacific Transgender Network
7. Asia Pacific Network for HIV+ People (APN+)
8. Blue Diamond Society, Nepal
9. Cambodian League for the Promotion and Defense of Human Rights (LICADHO)
10. CARAM Asia
11. Center of Excellence for Transgender Health at UCSF
12. Colors Rainbow, Burma
13. Community Action Network, Malaysia
14. Federation of Sexual and Gender minorities, Nepal
15. Gender and Development Advocates (GANDA) Filipinas
16. Gendercare.com (Dr.Torres)
17. GATE (Global Action for Trans* Equality)
18. Human Rights Education Institute of Burma (HREIB), Burma
19. Indonesia for Humans
20. Islamic Renaissance Front (IRF)
21. Justice for Sisters
22. Knowledge and Rights with Young people through Safer Spaces (KRYSS)
23. Malaysian Civil Liberties Movement (MCLM)
24. MSMGF Trans Ref Group
25. Pacific Sexual Diversity Network (PSDN)
26. Persatuan Masyarakat Selangor dan Wilayah Persekutuan (PERMAS)
27. Pertubuhan Advokasi Masyarakat Terpinggir Kuala Lumpur dan Selangor (PAMT)
28. Pink Therapy
29. PT Foundation, Malaysia
30. Pusat Komunikasi Masyarakat (KOMAS)
31. Project X, Singapore
32. Rainbow Genders Society (RGS)
33. Seksualiti Merdeka
34. Solidarity and Action Against The HIV Infection in India (SAATHII)
35. Tenaganita, Malaysia
36. Te Tiare Association, Rarotonga, Cook Islands
37. Thai Transgender Alliance
38. Transgender community advisory board of Thailand
39. Transgender watch dog group of Thailand
40. Transmen of Malaysia
41. Women’s Aid Organisation (WAO)
42. Wonetha Uganda
43. Yayasan Lintas Nusa, Batam, Indonesia
44. Youth Lead Organisation

Appendix 1

APA Stands Up for Transgender, Gender-Variant Individuals
by Deborah Brauser, Medscape Medical News.

The American Psychiatric Association (APA) has issued official position statements of support for access to healthcare and a repeal of laws and policies that discriminate against individuals who are transgender and gender variant.

In a release, the APA said it will advocate for the removal of barriers to care for gender transition treatment and for the protection of civil rights. The organization has supported lesbian and gay rights since 1973, when it removed homosexuality from the second edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-II), and now it wants to publicly support the transgender community.

“Transgender and gender variant people are frequently denied medical, surgical, and psychiatric care related to gender transition,” notes the APA statement. The new position statements were created by the APA Caucus of Lesbian, Gay, and Bisexual Psychiatrists.

“The APA has officially put itself on record as being in support of these issues. Being transgender should not imply that a person is not a fully capable citizen,” Jack Drescher, MD, who is coauthor of the statements and who is a training and supervising analyst at the William Alanson White Institute of Psychiatry, Psychoanalysis and Psychology in New York City, told Medscape Medical News.

The 2 position statements join a recent report from an APA task force published earlier this year in the Archives of Sexual Behavior that lists treatment recommendations for individuals with gender identity disorder (GID).

This treads into thorny territory. Many people, including protestors at the 2009 APA Annual Meeting, have questioned whether GID should be considered a mental disorder and whether it should be included in the upcoming fifth edition of the DSM (DSM-5).

“The motivation for originally putting GID in the manual was to try to create access to care,” said Dr. Drescher, who was a consultant on the report.

“But you have sort of 2 conflicting interests: reduction of stigma by removing it from the manual vs access to care, because you can’t get medical treatment unless you have a diagnosis. It’s complicated.”

Discrimination Damaging

“Discrimination and lack of equal civil rights is damaging to the mental health of individuals,” writes the APA.

“For example, gender-based discrimination and victimization were found to be independently associated with attempted suicide in a population of transgender individuals, 32% of whom had histories of trying to kill themselves.”

Both the American Medical Association and the American Psychological Association have previously released strong policy statements of support for these individuals.

The APA’s new Access to Care position statement declares that the organization

  • recognizes that these individuals “can benefit greatly from medical and surgical gender transition treatments”;
  • supports public and private health insurance coverage for this treatment; and
  • is against the rejection of this coverage when it has been prescribed by a clinician.

The new discrimination position statement declares that the APA

  • supports all laws that protect the civil rights of these individuals;
  • urges the repeal of any discriminatory laws and policies;
  • opposes discrimination in the areas of healthcare, as well as in employment, housing, and education; and
  • “declares that no burden of proof of such judgment, capacity, or reliability shall be placed upon these individuals greater than that imposed on any other persons.”
  • “Speaking out firmly and professionally against discrimination and lack of equal civil rights is a critical advocacy role that the APA is uniquely positioned to take,” writes the organization.


Dr. Drescher noted that although the APA has long been an advocate for gay and lesbian civil rights, until now it has not officially released support for the rights of transgender people.

“It was completely silent on transgender issues. These are really the first public position statements that APA has supported. But they oppose stigma of any kind, and these statements are consistent with APA’s mission,” said Dr. Drescher, who was also chair of the APA’s Committee on Gay, Lesbian, and Bisexual Issues from 2000 to 2006.

He noted that he has also been advocating for a task force on treatment recommendations since leaving the committee 6 years ago.

“There are a lot of controversies in this area, not so much with adults but around treatment of children. The Task Force came together and put out a document that was approved by the APA that said that treatment of adults was important. And there’s enough literature to justify the development of treatment guidelines,” he said.

Dr. Drescher is also part of the Workgroup on Sexual and Gender Identity Disorders for the DSM-5.

“As part of my job there, I did a review of the history of homosexuality being taken out of the DSM, especially because a lot of people in the trans community have been demanding the removal of GID. And I was intrigued by the parallels,” he explained.

“On the one hand, I could see that by taking something out, you reduce stigma. But if you take homosexuality out of the manual, gay people don’t need anything else other than the diagnoses everyone else has. If you take out gender identity disorder, adults who require treatment don’t have any other diagnosis. So it’s not exactly the same.”

Jack Drescher, MD is the President of Group for the Advancement of Psychiatry. His position statements are available on the APA’s Web site. For more information on Transgender Issues in Psychology, please visit here.