Last edited: September 06, 2004

Malaysia Won’t Welcome Gay Officials

The Advocate, November 2, 2001

Malaysian prime minister Mahathir Mohamad said Thursday that if a gay British cabinet minister visited Malaysia with his boyfriend, both would be expelled. Mahathir, Asia’s longest-serving leader, made the remarks in an interview with the British Broadcasting Corp., explaining that he had planned to step down from power a few years ago but could not after he discovered that his deputy was gay. Malaysia, a predominantly Muslim country in Southeast Asia, would not accept a gay leader, Mahathir said. “It’s a difference of values,” Mahathir said. “British people accept homosexual ministers, but if they ever come here, bringing their boyfriend along, we’ll throw them out.”

British prime minister Tony Blair appointed the United Kingdom’s first openly gay cabinet minister after the Labor Party took power in 1997, making Chris Smith his culture secretary. Blair also backed agriculture secretary Nick Brown, who acknowledged that he is gay when his ex-lover threatened to sell his story to a tabloid newspaper.

In 1998 Mahathir fired his popular heir apparent, deputy prime minister Anwar Ibrahim, because Anwar allegedly had engaged in homosexual acts. At the time, Malaysia was mired in the Asian economic crisis, and the two men held different views over how to resolve it. Anwar was also widely thought to be attempting to try to maneuver Mahathir out of power. The sacking brought tens of thousands of protesters into the streets demanding political reform, but the movement ran out of steam. Mahathir’s coalition won elections in 1999, and he celebrated 20 years in power in June. Anwar was convicted of corruption and sodomy and sentenced to 15 years in prison. He claims he was framed to prevent his challenging Mahathir for power. The government denies it; Anwar’s wife, Azizah Ismail, however, heads the opposition National Justice Party. In announcing the prohibition, Mahathir appeared to be speaking hypothetically; there is no indication that either Smith or Brown is planning a visit to Malaysia.

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