The nation of 28 million people is 60% Muslim, and Malaysia's Muslims are subject to both criminal and Islamic laws.
One of the problems for our estimated 20,000 trans sisters living there is that ever since a 1983 anti-trans fatwa was issued there banning gender reassignment surgery and cross-dressing, there has been increasing hostility, discrimination and intolerance aimed at Malaysian Muslims living their transsexual lives.
The end result of that faith based intolerance is being trans in this country is an act of moral courage and intestinal fortitude. Interestingly enough the Malaysian federal constitution states that “no person shall be deprived of his life or personal liberty”, bars discrimination on the grounds “of religion, race, descent, place of birth or gender” and protects freedom of expression.
Tell that to Juzaili Khamis, 24, Shukor Jani, 25, Wan Fairol Wan Ismail, 27, and Adam Shazrul Yusoff, 25 who work as bridal make-up artists, identify and live their lives as women. According to their lawyer Aston Paiva, all have previously been arrested and continually harassed under Section 66 of the Sharia Criminal (Negeri Sembilan) Enactment, which bars Muslim men from dressing or posing as women. .
All four transwomen with the help of Paiva are challenging the Islamic law that bars men from dressing or behaving as women in Muslim-majority Malaysia on the grounds it is unconstitutional.
Juzaili and Shukor are currently facing charges in court for violating that law and if convicted are facing a maximum fine of RM1,000 ($320) and up to six months in jail.
The landmark case was heard Thursday at the Seremban high court, just south of Kuala Lumpur, where the four claimed the Sharia law of the state of Negeri Sembilan infringed on their rights enshrined in the federal constitution.
Paiva told AFP Friday the constitution protects “the right to live in dignity and not be punished for what you are born as, including race and gender," he said. “They have a medical condition known as Gender Identity Disorder. They are anatomically male but psychologically female and they cannot change this.”
Pointing out that only Parliament can restrict freedom of expression, he added that Section 66 is unconstitutional as it is enacted by the state legislature. The transwomen are also seeking a court order to prohibit their arrest and prosecution under the section.
Paiva said that Section 66 also violates:
*Article 5(1) of the Federal Constitution, which enshrines the right to personal liberty.
* Article 8(2), which states that “…there shall be no discrimination against citizens on the grounds only of religion, race, descent, place of birth or gender in any law…”
*Article 9(2), which enshrines the right of every citizen to move freely throughout Malaysia.
*Article 4(1), which declares void any law that is inconsistent with the Federal Constitution.
“Only men can be charged with this offence in this state – not women,” he said, adding that in other states, similar law involves immoral activities and not just dressing up as women.
He submitted that the challenge before the court is whether the state’s enactment is consistent with the Federal Constitution and not to rule on religion or religious precepts.
The next hearing in this case will take place October 11