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We spoke exclusively to the queer and ally YBs of Parlimen Digital!

By Peter E. and Ray

This article has been edited by our editors from Queer Lapis for length and flow.

‘Home’ has a rather distinct evocative feel to it—it is not always permanent, never bound to one particular geographical location; it is the places that welcome, nurture, shelter and the places that suggest safety, sympathy and belonging. For the fortunate ones, these are a given, but for some, they come through years of trying and searching, through rejection, tenacity, self-discovery and empowerment.

Over the course of the weekend, Queer Lapis had the opportunity to interview 5 allies and queer representatives from Parlimen Digital, an online initiative to gather 222 outspoken, bright youths in discussing our nation’s laws and policies.

The selection criteria accounted not only for merit, but also for age and, importantly, minority representation. Malaysia might be our home from a geographical and cultural context, but often, we question if we actually belong due to the ongoing stigmas against our marginalised communities. Minorities are excluded from engaging in political discourse, now more than ever, we need representation, to seen and heard, and to voice concerns over issues that affect our communities’ welfare. 

Here are the interviews!

1. Why did you feel that it was important to participate in Parlimen Digital?

Their reasons ranged from simply learning more about politics to promoting a particular economic agenda. Though their answers varied, their intentions were invariably patriotic. 

Alya: “I’ve always been very removed from Malaysian politics. Parlimen Digital to me means youth representation and the ability to innovate during a pandemic.”

Archana: “As a young Malaysian, my perspective of current national issues matter and I should be the one that stands up to fight for it.”

“[Parlimen Digital] proved to be a much-needed step for Malaysians to lead and be led righteously.”

Kedah Parliamentarian: “I felt that democracy was being played like a game of football. I applied to join Parlimen Digital because I believe that every youth has to play a role in changing our country for the better.”

Siro: “Extended moratoriums and targeted basic income are all good policies but if people still don’t have the means to put food on the table, how are the people going to pay back their loans?”

Parlimen Digital was conducted through two four-hour sessions that spanned across two days. There were two motions raised in the sittings, namely the need for an economic stimulus plan tailored towards youth and the need for a national education system Covid-19 readiness plan.

2. Which of the policy outcomes did you resonate with the most?

Alya: “That not every kid has lunch or dinner to look forward to at home. YB Selayang also talked about creating a more inclusive education system for all the people who don’t fit under the umbrella of normalcy.”

Archana: “Education must be easily accessible and holistic to ensure it meets the needs of Malaysians from all walks of life.”

“Our education system has many loopholes and urgent action is needed to overcome these problems.”

Kedah Parliamentarian: “We do not want to talk about racial issues and the LGBTQ community [in education]. I believe that we should promote a more inclusive educational system.”

“We should acknowledge that everyone is different and that no one has the right to tell you what you can or cannot be.”

Siro: “I raised hemp-related ideas and policies, mainly democratising the industry to allow the population to start their own hemp farms which would help open opportunities for people to work regardless of which side of the industry they are in.”

“Women can open up women-run farms, as for other marginalised groups where they are facilities on-site that could help address their specific needs and problems.

“And remember, hemp can’t be smoked so even #satuloripenuh also cannot smoke to get high.”

True to democratic principles, the youths had to cast votes to decide upon the topics to be debated. Economy, education and internet were the three leading categories, with the fourth being basic human rights, losing by a fairly wide margin.

3. Why did human rights still take a backseat despite Parlimen Digital’s diverse youth representation? 

It is not a huge surprise that human rights is still a topic that isn’t preferred to be discussed among a majority of Malaysians, regardless of their cultural identities. There’s still so many layers that need to be peeled and analysed as to why we, as a nation, do not realise that the top two chosen topics — the economy and education—fall under the discussion of human rights: The exploitation of labour workers, the lack of support for worker’s rights, educational inequality which historically, has affected marginalised communities the most.

Alya: “Some of the reps questioned if they were that important during this pandemic … Perhaps if we weren’t in the midst of a pandemic, human rights would have been a bigger priority.”

Kedah Parliamentarian: “The youths do not see it as a pressing issue. They believe that that should be someone else’s job.”

We had the privilege to interview another rep, YB Syarifah Nur Anisah from Selayang who identifies as an ally to LGBTQ people and we asked her what allies should do to make marginalised communities feel safer and protected. 

Syarifah Nur Anisah, YB Selayang: “I’m not going to speak for the community as an ally, I will be Can we grab I defending the community and amplifying their voices. Listen to the communities when they have issues instead of devaluing their feelings. The first step in being a good ally is to listen.”

Listening is the core to being an ally. From a queer community’s perspective, it is important for allies to be aware of their privileges and the internal biases they may have towards the community that they pledge allyship to.

Syarifah Nur Anisah, YB Selayang: “…why can’t we give the same privileges that we have to a community simply because [their identities] don’t fit our values?”

Unlearning plays just as an important role as learning, and in the context of activism – we may be unaware of the privileges that we have, no matter how little we have in the first place. It is our responsibility to constantly check ourselves for any hidden biases, stereotypes or prejudices that we may hold onto regardless of how socially conscious or aware we think we are of ethical issues.

Syarifah Nur Anisah, YB Selayang: “It was in college that I started learning and unlearning, and the latter proves to be more useful after having had conversations with these [marginalised groups].”

Though the digital parliament was a success, we still have a long way to go in the fight against the forces that seek to hinder the progress of our nation. Laws that target LGBTQ individuals still remain in our nation as relics of colonial rule and certain politicians actively seek to erase our existence through sheer denial of facts. However, we here at Queer Lapis celebrate diversity and welcome the multi-faceted aspects of true Malaysian culture. 

4. What do you, as allies and queer youths representing us in Parlimen Digital, see in your vision of an ideal Malaysia?

Alya: “I want a country that is more inclusive. I want to see more gender options. I want same-sex couples of all races to walk hand-in-hand in public without fear.”

Archana: “A country filled with diverse citizens that are well-informed, active in politics and do their part in the nation-building process… where everyone is loved and respected.”

Kedah Parliamentarian: “The separation between religion and politics. Malaysia should sign the 1951 United Nations Refugee Convention. We need more young people who are willing to commit political suicide.”

Siro: “I believe Malaysia always had the potential with our own homegrown experts and professionals. The potential is there, we just have to live up to it and help each other. At the end of the day, it all boils down to Malaysian hospitality and I don’t want us to lose that but at the same time I want us to improve our standings.”

5. Finally, what is your message for the LGBTQ youths of the nation? 

Alya: “You’re not broken, no matter what the current society says about you.”

Archana: “I want you to know that I see you. You are recognised and understood in my eyes. You are the pride of Malaysia and in time to come, Malaysia will be a safe space for you.”

Kedah Parliamentarian: “Don’t lose hope, don’t stop fighting. It won’t be easy, but we have to make sacrifices for the future generations of our nation.”

Siro: “Please don’t leave the country! If we do, then we will give way to people who actively deny our existence in this country. We have to stay and emphasize the fact that we are here, we take up space and we are not afraid to take up space. Instead of putting so much emphasis on the individual self, I — we should also take it upon ourselves to guide and educate with compassion…

Seeing all the bright, young minds from all walks of life discussing how to create a better Malaysia for everyone should aptly remind us of the homes that we all long to be in. Homes that are safe, homes that are protective and homes that are loving; it is an inalienable right for all – regardless of race, regardless of religion, regardless of gender, sexuality; regardless of anything. 

Peter is an avid storyteller; in between writing, he would either be watering his plants or daydreaming during sunsets.

Ray is a proud Malaysian youth who is eager to see the changes his generation makes in the coming years to create a more diverse and progressive nation.