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to Section One | to Arts & Entertainment
posted Friday, October 12, 2012 - Volume 40 Issue 41
Malaysian Trans women told to dress as men
Section One
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Malaysian Trans women told to dress as men

Court rules that as Muslims, they must obey religious law

by Mike Andrew - SGN Staff Writer

A Malaysian court has ruled against four Transgender women who challenged the law that forbids them from dressing in women's clothes.

Although unsuccessful, lawyers said it was the first known effort to overturn the law that prescribes jail terms and fines for convicted cross-dressers.

The legal decision was complicated by the fact the Malaysia recognizes two legal codes - a civil code that applies to all residents, and shariah law, which applies to the 61% of the population which is Muslim.

The ban on 'impersonating women' is based on shariah law, and since the four defendants in the case are Muslim, they must comply with the prohibition, the court ruled. The court also rejected the defendants' claim that the law is unconstitutional.

Malaysia's constitution prohibits discrimination based on gender, the defendants said, and also protects freedom of expression. They also said the law should not apply to them because they have been diagnosed with gender identity disorder.

Although the defendants take hormone therapy and go by feminine names, their official identification cards declare them to be male and carry their original male names.

ISLAMIC LAW SUPREME
The Negeri Sembilan High Court ruled that because the four defendants are Muslim, were born male, and are identified as male on their ID cards, they must adhere to the law and dress as males, said Aston Paiva, a lawyer representing the four.

'In my view, it sets a very dangerous precedent, because it's effectively saying that state-enacted Islamic law overrides fundamental liberties,' Paiva said. '[The judge] has basically said that even if it conflicts with freedom of expression, the Islamic laws override the Constitution.'

The defendants said they want to change their names and their officially recognized gender because Transgender people face discrimination in Malaysia. Same-sex sex acts are banned not only for Muslims but for the whole population, and are punishable by caning and up to 20 years' imprisonment.

MORE HARASSMENT FEARED
Paiva said his clients, who are in their 20s and work as makeup artists, were 'disappointed and distraught' after the verdict.

'I'm disappointed because it basically deprives me of my freedom and deprives me of the right for me to be myself,' one of the defendants said.

'Now that [the verdict is] out and the court decision is not in our favor, I'm concerned that more arrests, more harassment, will happen again and again,' added the 25-year-old, who has been fined on three separate occasions for dressing as a woman.

She said she planned to appeal the decision and that the other litigants were considering whether to do so.

Thilaga Sulathireh, a researcher and advocate for Transgender rights who attended the hearing, said that the verdict wiped out individual rights, at least for Muslim Malaysians.

'It basically tells everyone that Muslims have no rights. It's basically governing how one chooses to dress and how one chooses to express oneself. It's a very shocking judgment,' she said.

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