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Prominent
Malaysian transgender woman sees progress in societal
acceptance

Prominent
Malaysian transgender woman sees progress in societal
acceptance

Transgender people are gaining more acceptance in mostly Muslim Malaysia, a well-known transgender woman said Tuesday in Kuala Lumpur, a little more than a year after she held a high-profile but controversial wedding with an accountant. Jessie Chung, an ethnic Chinese Malaysian who had sex-reassignment surgery in 2003, said her country's transgender people are "luckier than those in some other places" because antidiscrimination campaigns by nongovernmental groups have helped to change the way in which many people view them. "I know this because when I walk down the street, strangers who recognize me often approach me with encouraging words," Chung told reporters. "Our society is becoming more open-minded." Chung, a Christian in her 30s who was born male, made national headlines by becoming the first transgender person to have a public wedding, on November 12, 2005. She married accountant Joshua Beh in front of 800 guests in a ceremony conducted by independent church pastors. However, the government has ruled the marriage invalid because it is considered a same-sex union. Chung's identification documents state she is a man, since Malaysians cannot legally update their gender status even after sex-reassignment surgery. Sex-reassignment surgery is legal in Malaysia, but activists have long said transgender people in the country face widespread prejudice and often cannot find employment, forcing some into illegal sex work. Outreach groups estimate there are at least 50,000 transgender people in Malaysia. Chung's wedding sparked public debate about transgender issues, such as Islamic laws that put Muslims who cross-dress at risk of being jailed and fined. Some 60% of Malaysia's 26 million people are ethnic Malay Muslims, but there are large ethnic Chinese and Indian minorities, mostly Buddhists, Christians, and Hindus, who are not subject to Islamic laws. Chung, a semiprofessional singer formerly named Jeffrey, marked her wedding anniversary by launching an album of mainly Mandarin-language ballads that convey her experiences. Producers hope to market it at home and in Singapore, Taiwan, and other Chinese-speaking areas. (Sean Yoong, AP)

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