Among the things the Malaysian newspaper Sinar Harian saw fit to print in the past week: a story about a pricey government plan to prevent coastal erosion, an article on a proposed soccer match between the Malaysian and Ukrainian national teams, and a handy, foldable guide to detecting the homosexuals in our midst.
Gay men, the newspaper’s bulleted list noted, “like to wear tight clothes to show off their six-pack abs,” according to a translation by the Guardian. They go to the gym to work on said abs, but also to ogle other men. They also apparently “adore beards, mustaches and [name-brand] clothes.”
Lesbians, on the other hand, “enjoy hugging one another and holding hands” and can be spotted by alert readers because they “hate men and enjoy belittling them.”
The newspaper’s news-you-can-use piece was widely mocked as it reverberated across the world on Monday, but it also sparked an outcry among LGBT advocates and set off another ripple of fear among Malaysians who don’t happen to be straight.
In Malaysia, a person can be sent to jail for up to 20 years for being gay thanks to a colonial-era law. And the country’s outsize heterosexual antipathy toward gay people has sparked reactions that run the gamut from hilarious to horrifying.
Movie chains in the country, for example, halted the release of “Beauty and the Beast” because of a “gay moment” in the film, the Associated Press reported. Government censors had already approved the movie after the moment involving Disney’s first openly gay character was cut.
The movie flap came years after Malaysian censors revised restrictions on religious and sexual content in movies, but, the Associated Press said, still promoted a negative view of LGBT people. The new rules “allowed depiction of gay characters, but only if they show repentance or are portrayed in a negative light.”
In June, the Malaysian Health Ministry sponsored a contest that offered up to $1,000 to youths who came up with videos about “preventing” homosexuality, the BBC reported.
Also last year, an 18-year-old student was beaten and burned to death by classmates who labeled him a “pondan,” or gay man, according to the Irish Times. A few months later, a 27-year-old transgender woman was stabbed and shot inside her florist shop.
In the wake of those violent incidents, some called for softening the anti-gay rhetoric in the country, the Guardian reported.
@sinarharianSH you serious? You’re allowing this kind of homophobic, baseless, senseless article on your paper? This generalisation is unbelievable! What rubbish is this?!
No wonder people mostly use Sinar Harian to bungkus nasi lemak! Because it’s not worth keeping! pic.twitter.com/wPwE9QqEEN
— Hubert Mr. Marvellous (@iHubertLee) February 9, 2018
But Sinar Harian’s article might pave the way for another wave of gay bashing in the conservative, Muslim-majority country, advocates worried.
Arwind Kumar, an activist who is one of the country’s biggest stars on social media, warned that the article might spark a witch hunt that could “take away lives.”
“There are much more important issues in this country which need to be addressed,” Kumar said. “If you really want to educate society, then explain to them the traits of a pedophile, a molester, a murderer, a kidnapper, people who actually endanger the lives of others. How the hell does a gay person endanger your life?”
The blanket stereotypes don’t make sense, either, he pointed out. Some of the country’s religious leaders often have bushy beards, he said, and if the checklist were anything to go by, Malaysia’s name-brand-clothes-wearing movie and music stars could be seen as exhibiting suspect tendencies.
“Stupid,” Kumar added.