A top newspaper in Malaysia has printed a guide on how to identify gay and lesbian people, drawing disapproval from activists who say the checklist puts lives at risk.
The article, featured in the daily newspaper Sinar Harian, features bullets points highlighting qualities that are apparently common in gay and lesbian people.
It suggests that gay men can be spotted by their beard and love of the gym, not for exercise but to admire other men. The piece also picked out branded clothing as an indicator of homosexuality.
Gay men’s eyes light up when they see handsome men, the story claimed. And Lesbians, the newspaper said, tend to hug one another, hold hands and belittle men.
Homosexuality is illegal in Malaysia and carries a sentence of up to 20 years under colonial-era sodomy laws.
Activists and social media star Arwind Kumar lashed out at the article, arguing in a video that ‘there are much more important issues in this country which need to be addressed’.
‘If you really want to educate society then explain to them the traits of a paedophile, a molester, a murderer, a kidnapper, people who actually endanger the lives of others. How the hell does a gay person endanger your life?’
Kumar’s video, uploaded to YouTube, has been viewed by more than 100,000 people.
Kumar took the article’s writers to task, mocking the idea that facial hair was an indicator of sexual preference.
‘I know a lot of priests, I know a lot of [Islamic scholars], I know a lot of of really, really religious people who love keeping beards. Are you trying to say they are gay? That’s how stupid this is,’ he said.
The increasingly poor treatment of gay, lesbian and transgender people in Malaysia is being driven in part by the increasing influence of conservative Islam, other critics said.
The Sinar Harian article was printed in conjunction with an interview with Hanafiah Malik, a preacher who said that there was an urgent need to stop the rise of homosexuality in Malaysia.
Homophobic rhetoric has also become commonplace in the country’s government.
In March last year Walt Disney pulled the release of its film Beauty and Beast from Malaysia after film censors deemed it could only be approved if a gay scene was cut.
A Malaysian health ministry youth video competition also called for entries on the topic of the prevention and consequences of being gay, lesbian or transgender.
It comes after a spate of recent deaths of people thought to be gay, lesbian and transgender.
Just last year an 18-year-old student was beaten then burned to death by his classmates who labelled him a ‘pondon’ – an insulting term for a gay man.
A 27-year-old transgender woman called Sameera Krishnan was stabbed with a knife and shot three times while she worked at her florist shop a few months later.
Last year a Human Rights Watch report found discrimination against LGBT people was ‘pervasive’ in Malaysia.
‘If you ask someone not to be themselves that will have an adverse impact on the health and-well being of the person,’ said Thilaga Sulathireh, co-founder of transgender activist group Justice for Sisters.
There are no official figures on transgenders in Malaysia, though a health ministry document estimated that the country was home to about 24,000 transgender sex workers as of 2014.