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Malaysian Official Says LGBTQ People Have 'Organic Disorder'

Lee Boon Chye
Lee Boon Chye

The deputy health minister's comment is informed by homophobia, not science.

LGBTQ people are not mentally ill but have an "organic disorder," says Malaysia's deputy health minister, Dr. Lee Boon Chye.

"If you look at magnetic resonance imaging scans of the human brain, you can see certain physical differences in the brain that causes them to behave as such," Lee said today in an appearance at the Dewan Rakyat, the Malaysian Parliament's lower house, the Malay Mail reports.

His statement came in response to a question from Ahmad Amzad Mohamed, a member of Parliament who asked Lee if he considered LGBTQ identity to be a mental illness.

However, Ahmad Amzad also asked about an anti-LGBTQ Facebook post written by a Malaysian doctor, and Lee did not address that subject. Nur Ilyani Mohamed Nawawi, who said she is a physician, wrote the post last week as an open letter to Malaysian activist Datin Paduka Marina, and in it she implied that blood from LGBTQ donors is unsafe.

"Although she said she did not mistreat her LGBT patients, Nur Ilyani wrote that others also wanted the right to live in peace and free of an abnormal lifestyle and the diseases it carried," the Malay Mail reports.

Facebook has deleted the post for violation of community guidelines, so it's unclear what diseases she was referring to and in any case, there are not specific diseases carried by all LGBTQ people - and the deputy health minister's statement likewise lacks a scientific basis. While some studies have found differences in the brains of gay and straight people, there are many other factors involved in the development of sexual orientaion and gender identity, and at any rate, being LGBTQ is not a disorder, mental or othewise.

As for Nur Ilyani, if she was referring to HIV, which disproportionately affects gay and bisexual men and transgender women, it should be noted that blood supplies are generally screened for this and other blood-borne infections. But some countries, including the U.S., still have restrictions on blood donations by men who have sex with men.

The Malaysian Medical Association has reprimanded Nur Ilyani, saying all patients must be treated equally, according to the Malay Mail. It's unknown yet if the Health Ministry will take action against her.

Gay sex is illegal in Malaysia, and discrimination against LGBTQ people is widespread. Recently two women were arrested and sentenced to caning for having sex with each other, the U.K.'s Pink News reports. Also, a government minister has ordered an arts festival to remove portraits of LGBTQ activists.

Earlier this year a newspaper in the nation published a checklist that purported to offer tips on how to spot an LGBTQ person. Last year the Malaysian government imposed a travel ban in response to a purported gay event that turned out not to exist. Also in 2017, the government sponsored a contest for the best "gay prevention" video.

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