KUALA LUMPUR: Several lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) NGOs have criticised the Terengganu Education Department over the Besut boot camp for “sissies”, which is currently home to 66 schoolboys who have displayed “effeminate tendencies”.
Some have called this move as an abuse of human rights and that it goes against the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC) which Malaysia ratified in 1995.
Terengganu Education Department director Razali Daud was quoted as saying that the link between effeminate behaviour and transsexuality/homosexuality should not be ignored.
He said that although the department understands that “some people end up as Mak Nyah or homosexuals”, “we will do our best to limit the number”.
He said the move was prompted by the rising number of effeminate schoolboys in the state.
“The students must understand that there are choices in life and we want them to know all the options available to them,” he said.
The boys, between 13 and 17, reported on Monday for the camp, where they will undergo religious and motivational classes, and physical guidance.
The camp provoked public outcry from not just local gay rights activists, but also internationally after the story was reported in The Telegraph and on the BBC.
Yusmar Yusof, coordinator of MyNETRA, a Facebook group which provides support to members of the transgender community, said that the camp was a flagrant abuse of human rights.
“Every child has the right to life, to identity, to privacy. Who is monitoring the teachers at this camp?”
She also questioned the methods with which the children were chosen. “How does one quantify ‘sissy’? What are sissy boys? Transvestites? Transgender? Gay men? How were they identified and selected?”
She also expressed concern regarding the activities and programmes that would be held at the camp, asking who created the modules.
Calling the boot camp a “fly by night” programme, Yusmar urged the government to come up with a better solution.
Pang Khee Teik, co-founder of the annual sexuality rights festival Seksualiti Merdeka and also arts programme director of The Annexe Gallery, called the camp an “endorsement” for other students to bully and make fun of these so-called “sissies”.
“Our society certainly has a problem with people needing to appear macho, leading to a lot of socially problematic behaviour from delinquency to violence to wife-beating. This is often a result of insecurity and disempowerment. We could do better to address this issue instead.”
Scarred for life
Pang added that all the schoolboys would learn from the camp is to “pretend” to be better in order to meet society’s expectations.
The Joint Action Group for Gender Equality (JAG) was appalled by the introduction of the camp, saying that the education department’s policy to regulate the behaviour of students was against the CRC.
“The act of identifying and singling out boys who behave effeminately is highly discriminatory, bordering on the predatory. Article 2 of the CRC dictates that all children should be accorded equal rights and treatment without exception. The education department is clearly in violation of this.”
NGO Pink Triangle (PT) Foundation slammed the action of the education department, saying that forcing these schoolboys to change would be like telling them that they were not acceptable members of society.
“As far as I am aware, no religions force such doctrines on their followers. These teenagers may become scarred for life and it will take many years of counselling and psychotherapy to be able to accept themselves as they are,” said Raymond Tai, executive director and programme director at PT Foundation.
He also called the attempt to link mannerisms and traits to homosexuality a “myth that is not grounded on scientific research.
“There is no relation between male homosexuality and effeminate tendencies. With regard to transgenderism, science has still not conclusively proven whether it is nature or nurture.
“However, there is much evidence that most male to female transgenders already display feminine traits at a very young age, mostly during early childhood.”