Malaysian government funding bogus conversion therapy centres, report finds

LGBTQ+ people in Malaysia are being sent to government-sanctioned conversion therapy to “cure” or “rehabilitate” them, a new report has found.

A defiant fist is raised. (David McNew/Getty Images)



Government officials have actively created an anti-LGBTQ+ society that uses the criminal justice system and rehabilitation centres to undermine LGBTQ+ rights, according to a new report by Human Rights Watch and Justice for Sisters.

The report found the Malaysian government funds state-sanctioned conversion therapy retreats called mukhayyam that aim is to change participants’ sexual orientation. Since June 2021, 1,733 people have attended these programs, the report stated.

One interviewee, Farah, recounted her experience at a mukhyyam, stating in the report: “They talk about the beauty of nature, and they ask us to be grateful, and at the end of the program they use their psychology… to say that ‘so this is your nature, so you have to go back to nature’.”

Malaysia has been under fire for LGBTQ+ rights violations. (Mark Kerrison/In Pictures via Getty Images)


Thilaga Sulathireh, co-founder of Justice for Sisters said: “The programs, while framed as compassionate, internalise societal and structural discrimination and foment self-hatred among LGBTQ and gender diverse persons and hostility among the rest of the population.”

The report also found the retreats’ approach to discussions about HIV was disturbing.

Farah said leaders showed one group slideshows about people living with HIV, outing individuals with photographs. Farah said they were shocked at a session on repentance, saying it wasn’t made to educate, but was for fearmongering.

In another instance, a transgender woman described her experience at a conversion therapy centre and how a therapist had told her she needed to “reclaim her masculinity”, saying she “had an identity crisis due to her mixed-race lineage”.

The woman was advised by a mental health professional “to experience sex with a sex worker to deal with her gender identity”.

In March 2022, the Malaysian government developed an app that claimed to be able to help LGBTQ+ people “abandon homosexual behaviour” and “return to nature”. It was promptly taken down by Google.

One queer woman, named only as Amira, said in the report: “If the government just stops talking about LGBT people, that would be a huge thing already. They’re talking to a nation that already has its own phobia, and they reinforce their phobia.”

Longtime transgender activist Manis Chen said the government “pumps a lot of money to fight LGBT [rights]”, adding: “They impose their beliefs.”



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