Many countries in the Southeast Asian region are incrementally shifting on lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) peopleâ€™s rights:
Â·Â Â Â Â Â Â Vietnamâ€™sÂ Minster of JusticeÂ said publiclyÂ that rights of same-sex married couples should be recognized.
Â·Â Â Â Â Â Â The PhilippinesÂ Supreme Court hasÂ ruledÂ that an LGBT party had the right to participate in national elections.
Â·Â Â Â Â Â Â AÂ SingaporeÂ Appeals CourtÂ ruledÂ that the constitutionality of Section 377A of its Penal Code needs to be examined because it discriminates against gay men.
Â·Â Â Â Â Â Â ThailandÂ has long been known as the place to go for gender reassignment surgery.
Â·Â Â Â Â Â Â Indonesiaâ€™Â s Parliament willÂ soon decideÂ whether to appoint the first openly gay man as commissioner on its National Human Rights Commission.
The MalaysianÂ government however continues to stubbornly reject the rights of LGBT people. This position reverberates throughout state institutions, encouraging hostility, discrimination, and abuse by state and religious authorities.
In October, Judge Siti Mariah Ahmad, of the high court of Seremban in Negeri Sembilan, one of Malaysiaâ€™s thirteen states, struck down a first-ever constitutional challenge brought by four Malay transwomen who sought the courtâ€™s protection for being unfairly targeted by Article 66 of the Negeri Sembilan sharia law.
Mohammad Juzaili Mohammad Khamis (24), Shukor Jani (25), Wan Fairol Wan Ismail (27), and Adam Shazrul Mohammad Yusoff (25) work as bridal makeup artists, and identify and dress as women. In August 2012, they applied for judicial review of Article 66, which criminalizes men â€œwho dress in womenâ€™s clothes and behave like women in public.â€ They claimed that it violated their rights under theÂ Malaysian federal constitution, which guarantees personal liberty, nondiscrimination, freedom of movement, freedom to express oneâ€™s identity, and supersedes any local state law that challenges the federal constitution.
Their lawyer argued that Article 66 was unconstitutional because it penalized individuals forÂ â€œan attribute of their nature that they did not choose and cannot change.â€
Judge Siti Mariah, who heard the arguments in the judicial review, disagreed. In her decision, she said, â€œThe undisputed facts are that the applicants are born as males, they are male to female transsexuals, and the evidence of the psychiatrist is that they haveÂ jiwa wanitaÂ (soul of a woman)â€¦ Section 66 is part of the teaching of Islam and the applicants are Muslims. They cannot be exempted from it.â€
PT Foundation, an HIV/AIDS organization in Malaysia,Â reportsÂ there are 10,000Â mak nyahsÂ (the local term for male transsexuals), in the country. Seventy to eighty percent ofÂ mak nyahsÂ are Malay and Muslim while the remaining twenty percent are minority ethnicities. MostÂ mak nyahsÂ do not have gender reassignment surgery because itâ€™s too costly and requires travel outside the country. They fear too that their families will not carry out the Muslim burial rites if they are not viewed as a man or a woman.
Malaysian rights advocate,Â Thilaga, working in theÂ Justice for SistersÂ campaign for the rights ofÂ mak nyah, says, â€œTransgender people donâ€™t report violations by police or religious officers because they donâ€™t expect justice. Often, they donâ€™t know their rights and lack resources to go to court to fight charges.â€ The four applicants in the Negeri Sembilan case attest to this. Mohammad Juzaili was detained four times in 2010, charged three times, convicted twice and fined 1700 Malaysian ringgit ($550 US); Adam Shazrul was arrested twice, convicted once, and fined 800 ringgit ($260 US); Shukor Jaini and Wan Fairol were each detained twice.
MuslimÂ mak nyahsÂ can face up to six months in prison from Malaysian sharia courts.Â Â They are sometimes forced to attend Islamic religious classes where they are pressured toÂ reformÂ and give verbal assurances that they will stop being trans.Â They are particularly vulnerable toÂ routine arrest and penalized by police and Islamic religious officers who verbally humiliate, physically and sexually abuse them while in custody.
Non-MuslimÂ mak nyahs, while not subject to sharia laws, can be arrested and convicted for â€œdisorderly or indecent behavior,â€ with penalties ranging from 25 to 100 ringgit ($10- $30 US) and two weeks to three months in prison.
During the August hearing, Judge Siti Mariah, disturbed by reports of custodial abuse of the applicants, chided the Attorney Generalâ€™s office: â€œThis is not right, this is not how people should be treated.â€ She questioned the definition of public space, saying, â€œthe moment they step out of their house, itâ€™s public space,â€ suggesting that religious officers were using sharia law to target theÂ mak nyahÂ community. She questioned if Article 66 applied to the applicants â€œbecause they are not men and they are not impersonating men.â€
In her decision last week,Â Judge Siti Mariah remarked, â€œThe Islamic Religious Department needs to be â€˜lebih berhematâ€™ (more professional),â€ instructing the Department to work with PT Foundation â€œto give counseling to transsexuals.â€
If we are to better protect the human rights of LGBT people in Malaysia, a far more explicit warning must come from the courts. The Negeri Sembilan Islamic Religious Department should be charged to investigate, prosecute and convict its own religious officers for acts of verbal, physical, mental and sexual abuse against those in their custody, for supposedly breaking morality laws.
Sharia judges across Malaysia must hold accountable Islamic religious officers (and police officers subject to sharia courts) who misuse their authority, take advantage of peopleâ€™s vulnerabilities, humiliate them, and mistreat with impunity those they are hired to protectâ€”including lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people.
For more onÂ mak nyahÂ experiences, see Nisha Ayubâ€™s presentation (pdf) at the International Gay and Lesbian Human rights Commission panel at the 2012 Creating Change conference.
Image via IGLHRC
Guest AuthorÂ Grace Poore is the Regional Program Coordinator for Asia and the Pacific Islands, at the International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission (IGLHRC).
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‘Bioweapons? FFS’: House Oversight Chairman Mocked for Pushing Unfounded Balloon Conspiracy Theories
House Oversight Committee Chairman James Comer is pushing baseless conspiracy theories about the Chinese high-altitude surveillance balloon floating over the United States – currently, over Montana – that the Pentagon is tracking, and he’s being widely mocked for his unfounded fear-mongering.
Fox News host Harris Faulkner set the stage perfectly for the far-right Republican from Kentucky, declaring the balloon is “the size of three buses” and that “China says was taken by wind – wind that we can’t substantiate.”
The Kentucky congressman who has falsely described President Biden as “compromised,” and stated he is going to target and investigate him, told Faulkner, “I have concern this is going to be another example of the Biden administration’s weakness on the national scale.”
Comer, 50, a former agriculture commissioner, lamented about Biden’s handling of the withdrawal from Afghanistan, claiming it hurt the reputation of America’s military and Commander in Chief.
The balloon, he said, should “never have been allowed” to cross over into the United States.
“My concern is that the federal government doesn’t know what’s in that balloon. Is that bioweapons in that balloon? Did that balloon take off from Wuhan?” he asked, pushing unfounded theories while echoing the far-right’s false claims the COVID-19 virus was developed as a bioweapon and escaped the lab in Wuhan, China.
After suggesting it might have bioweapons, he then said it was “very concerning” the balloon was not shot down before reaching the U.S. – which could have spread the alleged bioweapon.
Faulkner, seen by some as a propagandist, then jumped in to exhibit her surprise that “people on Capitol Hill were not briefed” about the balloon.
“Calling for the president to ‘shoot down’ the craft,” The Daily Beast’s Justin Baragona adds, “some in the GOP called the president ‘Beijing Biden’ while claiming this is further proof that ‘Communist China’ doesn’t ‘fear or respect’ Biden.”
House Oversight Committee Chair James Comer to Fox News: “My concern is that the federal government doesn’t know what’s in that balloon. Is that bioweapons in that balloon? Did that balloon take off from Wuhan?” pic.twitter.com/0r9JmBl4zo
— Justin Baragona (@justinbaragona) February 3, 2023
“Honestly,” communications strategist Doug Gordon noted, “just surprised he didn’t find a way to include Hunter’s laptop into that conspiracy theory.”
“Actually, he did later on,” Baragona replied.
National security expert Denver Riggleman, the Republican former U.S. Congressman from Virginia who assisted the Select Committee on the January 6 Attack, tweeted: “Bioweapons? FFS”
Referring to Comer’s unfounded bioweapons claim, one Twitter user observed, “Isn’t that more reason not to shoot at it? I’m not saying I know what to do, but logic would dictate ‘don’t shoot at balloons full of bioweapons.’ Right?”
Another noted that the Oversight Chairman should have been listening to the Pentagon’s briefing “taking place now instead of running to get on Fox to talk about something he has no expertise in.”
Another, mocking Comer, noted: “If they were sending a bio weapon, why would they park it over sparsely populated Montana? *rolls eyes*”
Watch the video above or at this link.
Trump Spent 2020 Attacking Ballot Drop Boxes – but Now He’s Demanding They Be Deployed in Churches
Donald Trump laid the groundwork early in the 2020 election for his possible defeat by attacking voting by mail and ballot drop boxes, insisting they should be illegal while making clear if he lost the White House those proven safe and effective means of voting would be to blame.
But now, with a flailing 2024 campaign the failed ex-president who is under multiple investigations is demanding ballot drop boxes be deployed – but only in churches.
“Some states use ‘drop boxes’ for the collection of Universal Mail-In Ballots,” Trump tweeted in August of 2020. “So who is going to ‘collect’ the Ballots, and what might be done to them prior to tabulation? A Rigged Election? So bad for our Country. Only Absentee Ballots acceptable!”
That was just one of his many attacks on drop boxes.
“So now the Democrats are using Mail Drop Boxes, which are a voter security disaster,” Trump tweeted just days later. “Among other things, they make it possible for a person to vote multiple times. Also, who controls them, are they placed in Republican or Democrat areas? They are not Covid sanitized. A big fraud!”
The tweet was so false Twitter appended a warning label to it that reads: “This Tweet violated the Twitter Rules about civic and election integrity.”
Fast forward to now.
On his social media platform Trump reposted a “truth” (the word Truth Social uses instead of “tweet”) from far-right activist, conspiracy theorist, and provocateur Jack Posobiec. Posobiec was “one of the most prominent promoters of the Pizzagate conspiracy theory, that held that the Washington D.C. pizzeria Comet Ping Pong was really a front for a child sex dungeon run by Hillary Clinton. He even went to the restaurant to find out ‘what’s really going on’ there,” according to The Daily Beast.
“In 2017, BuzzFeed reported text messages suggesting that Posobiec held a ‘Rape Melania’ sign during an anti-Trump protest in an apparent attempt to discredit the protesters as insidious and deranged.”
Thursday, on Trump’s Truth Social platform, Posobiec wrote: “I don’t know who needs to hear this but Republicans should put ballot drop boxes in the back of churches in every state where it’s legal.”
Hours later Trump was all over the idea, demanding the Republican National Committee implement it.
“Best idea I’ve heard in a long time,” Trump wrote in all-caps, “put them all over the place. RNC, every Republican, get to work on this now!!!”
Democratic voting rights attorney Marc Elias’ Democracy Docket platform just last week reported that in 2020, “Trump first attacked mail-in voting itself, then tried to undermine the postal service’s ability to handle the volume of ballots. Soon after, he began to target drop boxes as well.”
As Trump learned, making it more difficult to vote is not a winning strategy, unless you’re highly unpopular and can block a significant number of your opponents’ votes while retaining your own, which he did not.
But the GOP sure tried.
“Republicans in many states soon followed Trump’s lead and began restricting the deployment of drop boxes even if the state had previously used them without controversy. [Ohio] Secretary of State Frank LaRose (R) limited each county to a single drop box no matter how populous. Similarly, the Texas Supreme Court upheld Gov. Greg Abbott’s (R) order limiting every county to a single ballot drop-off location — from Loving County (population of 64 people) to Harris County (population of 4.7 million people). In other states, Republicans moved to ban drop boxes entirely, and Missouri officials decided against deploying 80 boxes the state had already purchased,” Democrat Docket adds.
Meanwhile, Trump’s – or rather, Posobiec’s – strategy is clear: “Republicans should put ballot drop boxes in the back of churches,” because Trump thinks he still owns the Christian vote, despite attacking “disloyal” evangelical leaders just weeks ago.
But drop boxes are largely the purview of state election officials, and there would be a strong case to make again putting drop boxes only in churches. What about other houses of worship? And why just houses of worship – are they more secure than other areas?
Some might think it’s difficult to flip-flop on such a basic idea as drop boxes, especially if you went to court to void voters’ ballots that were deposited in them.
“In Pennsylvania, the Trump campaign sued to invalidate the use of drop boxes in the primary election and prevent their use in the general election,” Democracy Docket adds. “Then after the election, Republicans pointed to drop boxes as a reason to question the results in a lawsuit filed in Michigan.”
Now that Trump has succeeded in ensuring Ronna McDaniel remains head of the RNC, this will be a test of his strength, or lack thereof.
‘Breathtaking’: Economists Stunned by Job Growth ‘Boom’ as Unemployment Drops to Level Not Seen Since 1969
The year was 1969: Congress certified the results of the election, officially declaring Richard Nixon would be the 37th President of the United States, Joe Namath led the New York Jets to win Super Bowl III, The Beatles released the soundtrack from their hit film “Yellow Submarine,” and unemployment was 3.4%.
It’s been 54 years since unemployment was at 3.4%, but the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics released January’s report Friday morning, stunning economists who expected unemployment to go up, not down.
Economists projected 187,000 new jobs would be added to the U.S. economy in January. Instead, the number came in at 517,000, Forbes reported. Prior months were also adjusted to be better than first reported.
“This is a breathtaking number. That spike in stories about layoffs? It was about a small unrepresentative slice of the economy. Real America is still getting back to work,” crowed Professor Justin Wolfers, the popular University of Michigan School of Economics professor, a senior fellow at Brookings.
“Average job growth over the past 3 months is a cracking +356k. A boom!” Wolfers cheered.
“We haven’t seen unemployment this low since before Woodstock, baby,” he added. “Groovy.”
Wolfers wasn’t done. He blasted those who continue to talk about recession: “This is a final nail in the coffin of all the 2022 recessionistas. When average job growth is this high we call it a BOOM.”
For those who just want the bottom line, Wolfers offered this take on the jobs report: “It’s all good news.”
“January marked the 25th straight month of solid job growth,” The Washington Post reports, observing that the “labor market shattered expectations.” The Post adds: “the labor market remains formidable, inflation is beginning to normalize and there are signs that the global economy may be on stronger footing than originally feared.”
Image: President Joe Biden delivers remarks on the economy, Thursday, January 26, 2023, at Steamfitters Local 602 United Association Mechanical Trades School in Springfield, Virginia. Official White House Photo by Erin Scott via Flickr
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