Open Letter: Education Institutions Must Be Safe Spaces For All Students



YBhg. Dato’ Sri Alias Bin Haji Ahmad – Secretary-General, Ministry of Education Malaysia

YBhg. Dato’ Suriani bt Dato’ Ahmad – Secretary-General, Ministry of Women, Family and Community Development

Tan Sri Razali Ismail –  Chairperson, SUHAKAM

Datuk Paul Low – Minister in the Prime Minister’s Department

We, the undersigned, strongly object the ‘Back to the Fitrah: Menyantuni LGBT Kembali ke Jalan Allah’ forum slated to take place on 24th March 2018 in University of Science Malaysia (USM) featuring two panelists, and the overall trend of increasing anti-LGBT programmes in educational institutions. In March earlier this year, USM also released a poster and short video competition inviting submissions on ‘menyantuni golongan LGBT’ (evangelizing with the intention to change one’s sexual orientation and gender identity) open to students of USM and the general public .

We are extremely concerned by the overall harmful impact of such programmes, which aim to change one’s sexual orientation and gender identity using a dakwah (missionary) approach. Despite claims of ‘menyantuni’ or ‘politely approaching’ LGBT persons, many documented cases have shown that such attempts resulted in an invasion of privacy, increase of lack of personal security and safety, increase of targeting and harassment of persons based on gender expression and actual or perceived sexual orientation and gender identity, increase of isolation, all of which can have severe long term impact on the students academic performance, health and well-being.

Conversion, reparative or rehabilitation and efforts to change sexual orientation and gender identity have been rejected by all major national mental health organizations due to the lack of evidence that support the efficacy of these efforts or therapies, and its harmful impact. There are many forms of rehabilitation, reparative or conversion therapy, including medical and religious methods, all of which are harmful. In fact, a few countries, including Malta and parts of Canada have introduced laws to ban conversion therapy given the harm it has caused not only on LGBTIQ persons, but also the people around them.

The United Nations Special Rapporteur on the right to health,  Dainius Pūras, during his country visit to Malaysia between November and December 2014 expressed concerns over the “so-called “corrective therapies” practiced by state agencies.

“Such therapies are not only unacceptable from a human rights perspective, but they are also against scientific evidence, and have a serious negative impact on the mental health and well-being of adolescents. State-led programs to identify, “expose”, and punish LGBT children have contributed to a detrimental educational environment where the inherent dignity of the child is not respected, and discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity is encouraged.”

It is therefore extremely disconcerting to witness the University’s continued endorsement of these programmes given the glaring harm on LGBTI persons. USM also organised a similar panel in March 2016. On both occasions, panelists comprised  individuals that promote the very harmful view that LGBT persons can be ‘cured’ through rehabilitation, reparative and conversion therapy. Such biased programmes are part of a rising trend in educational institutions, where anti-LGBT campaigns, harmful information that reinforce the ‘balik ke pangkal jalan’ or ‘return to the right path’ rhetoric, and rehabilitation, reparative and conversion therapy for LGBT persons are disseminated and promoted.

Such programmes create a toxic and unsafe environment for all students and staff, LGBTI and gender diverse persons in particular, and run counter to the aim of such institutions that are supposed to provide an open learning environment for all. We believe programmes like this will perpetuate toxic masculinity which enables, justifies and perpetuates the mistreatment, bullying and discrimination of LGBTI persons with impunity.

Research and recent cases reported in the media show educational institutions are unfortunately a site of violence for many students, especially for LGBTI and gender diverse persons. On the record: violence against LBT persons in Malaysia and I am scared to be a Woman, two reports on the violence and situation of LBT persons document cases of expulsion; drop out due to bullying; lack of interest to attend school because of a lack of freedom to express and be themselves compounded by non inclusive and discriminatory school policies and practices; sexual harassment and violence; physical, verbal and emotional violence; isolation among others.

“I quit school at age 11 because people around me were always bullying me. I was stressed. I felt like I was going to explode.”

– Azlene, a trans woman in Kuantan recalls her experiences in school in the mid 90s, I am scared to be a woman

“We met in May 2000 … we were talking on the phone everyday. My friends from my school knew about it because when they attend events, they could see it, right. And then they started asking, ‘What’s going on? Are you going out with this girl? Are you dating this girl? What’s going on?’ … ‘Like, you do know that it is wrong, right? It is against the religion.’ And these were not just Muslim people telling me, because I have a fair bit of friends of different religions and races and beliefs, and they all said the same thing. ‘Stacy, it is wrong. What the hell is wrong with you?”

– Stacy, a bisexual woman recalls an intervention by her school friends based on an assumption that she is in a ‘lesbian relationship’. Stacy also experienced isolation as a result. On the record: violence against LBT persons

The brutal assault and torture that led to the death of a 19 year old young person in Penang by schoolmates who used to bully him in school based his gender expression and perceived sexual orientation and gender identity is an alarm bell that rings loud and clear, and serious efforts must be taken to create a diverse and inclusive society and end bullying based on gender.

Just two weeks ago, the CEDAW committee in its Concluding Observations to Malaysia recalled General Recommendation No. 36 (2017) on the right of girls and women to education and recommended that Malaysia:

36. (e) Adopts anti-bullying policies based on alternative strategies to address bullying, such as counselling services and positive discipline, and undertake awareness-raising measures to foster equal rights for LBTI students.

Many good practices on actual inclusion of LGBTI and gender diverse persons in all levels of education are available. The From Insults to Inclusion report by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) offers many tools, good practices and recommendations to create an inclusive environment in educational institutions. The report makes 6 recommendations:

  1. Analyse the situation
  2. Develop a policy framework that supports inclusion
  3. Mainstream diversity and inclusion in curricula and learning materials
  4. Support teachers to deliver inclusive education and effective responses to bullying, violence and discrimination
  5. Promote safe and inclusive school cultures and environments. This includes fostering a culture of diversity, inclusion and respect; identifying hotspots for bullying; links to counselling, health, or other support services are made available in ways that respect students’ right to privacy and confidentiality.
  6. Build a stronger evidence base on what works

We believe in the right to self-determination and bodily autonomy, and people should be free to express themselves and be who they are, without it affecting their access, opportunities and right to an education. We call on and strongly urge the Ministry of Education, the Ministry of Women, Family and Community Development and SUHAKAM to assess the harm and impact of these programmes; promote diversity, inclusion and respect; and immediately end all anti-LGBT activities and rhetoric.


Endorsed by


  1. Justice for Sisters
  2. PELANGI — Campaign for Equality and Human Rights Initiative
  3. Transmen of Malaysia
  4. Queer Academics, Students and Supporters Alliance (QUASSA)
  5. Sisters in Islam
  6. Women’s Aid Organization (WAO)
  7. Diversity
  8. Persatuan Kesedaran Komuniti Selangor (Empower)
  9. Celebrating Identities
  10. Persatuan Sahabat Wanita


  1. Suri Kempe, feminist activist
  2. Manis Chen, trans woman, activist
  3. Vizla Kumaresan, Clinical Psychologist and feminist activist
  4. Teoh Han Hui, feminist and digital activist
  5. Timothy Philipp Gan, academic and social activist
  6. Dorian Wilde, feminist activist
  7. thilaga, feminist researcher and activist
  8. Dr Subatra Jayaraj, Sexual & Reproductive Health and feminist activist
  9. Mohani Niza,  editor
  10. Siti Kasim, human rights lawyer and activist
  11. Jac sm Kee, feminist activist
  12. Dr Joseph N. Goh, academic
  13. Jeremy Kwan, social activist

This letter was published on Justice for Sisters website