KUALA LUMPUR, Dec 2 – The Galen Centre for Health and Social Policy today slammed the disparaging, discriminatory, and bigoted remarks made at a National World AIDS Day event organised by the Ministry of Health (MOH).
Prof Madya Mohd Izhar Ariff Mohd Kashim from the Faculty of Religious Studies at Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia (UKM), who spoke at the MOH event in Negeri Sembilan on World AIDS Day yesterday, allegedly used discriminatory and homophobic language in his remarks on people living with HIV; the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, and intersex (LGBTQI+) community; and other key populations.
“It is disgraceful and shocking that during this event, whose international theme this year is ‘Equalise’, a speaker who is supposed to be learned and representing a religious studies department of an institution of higher learning sought instead to demonise and disparage these communities, illustrating the very inequalities and attitudes faced in daily life which are blocking the end of the AIDS pandemic,” said Galen Centre chief executive officer Azrul Mohd Khalib in a statement.
“He might think it is harmless, but his words have real world consequences. These communities which include transgender persons and people living with HIV in Malaysia, encounter harrassment, discrimination and physical and emotional violence.
“In some extreme cases, transgender persons have become seriously injured or lost their lives. Perpetrators of abuse against them often act with impunity and escape unpunished.
“Dr Izhar sends a terrible signal, which may cause an escalation of harmful and discriminating actions, both institutional and vigilantism, against these communities. Where is his compassion and generosity of spirit?”
Mitch Yusmar Yusof, a senior fellow of the Galen Centre and executive director of SEED Foundation, said the communities highlighted by Izhar Ariff are an essential part of Malaysia’s diverse society.
“To degrade them is discrimination at its worse and is demonstrative of how much work we still have to do,” he said.
“Dr Izhar should have instead promoted a message of compassion, empathy and understanding towards these communities with the intention of helping and providing assistance.
“We are concerned that this message at an important health event will also create obstacles and barriers for people from these communities, including transgender persons, seeking health services. Fear and discrimination discourages them from seeking treatment and care; They may have trouble finding alternative health care services if they are turned away.”
The Malaysian AIDS Council (MAC) and the Malaysian AIDS Foundation (MAF) said in a joint statement yesterday that the MAC would write an official letter of complaint to MOH and the Negeri Sembilan state health department over the incident.
“Lessons from the HIV response show that stigma and blame directed at populations at risk of HIV can rapidly undermine the HIV response,” they said.
The Negeri Sembilan state health department, which organised the 2022 National World AIDS Day celebration in Seremban, said in response that it supported efforts towards curbing stigma and discrimination towards key populations.
“The Negeri Sembilan state health department is regretful and apologises if throughout this celebration, there were issues that touched on sensitivities,” it said in a brief statement titled “The issue of discriminatory language during the 2022 National World AIDS Day celebration”.