Activists in Malaysia criticized on Thursday a government decision to ban three books for allegedly promoting “LGBTQ lifestyles,” saying it would further erode gay and transgender rights.
“Jacob’s Room to Choose,” a children’s book about gender expression and identity, was banned in January, the home ministry said in a statement on Tuesday.
In the book, a teacher educates children on gender identity at a school after a student wearing a dress feels unwelcome in the boys’ toilet.
Another children’s book, “The Tale of Steven,” as well as Malay-language title “Aku,” were also banned.
The ministry said its objective was to “prevent the spread of elements that are harmful to morality in the community.”
Homosexuality is forbidden in Malaysia and laws criminalizing sodomy can result in imprisonment, corporal punishment and fines.
Siti Kasim, a prominent Malaysian human rights lawyer, described the ban as an attempt “to chisel away” at LGBTQ rights.
“This group has always been marginalized and oppressed,” she said.
Thilaga Sulathireh from transgender rights group Justice for Sisters said the move was part of “a broader trend of censorship that we are seeing in the last couple of years.”
“The ban of the books further shrinks spaces for LGBTQ people to express and be themselves,” she told AFP, urging the government to “stop discrimination against LGBTQ people.”
“In the last couple of years we have seen the ban of at least six LGBTQ-related books,” she added.
In 2017, Walt Disney shelved the release of its movie “Beauty and the Beast” after refusing to cut a “gay moment” to mollify film censors.
And last year Marvel film “Thor: Love and Thunder” was also banned over purported LGBTQ elements.
Malaysia has experienced growing religious fundamentalism in recent years, sparking friction between conservative forces and those campaigning for greater rights.
The Muslim-majority nation routinely bans publications deemed to be pornographic, insulting to Islam or harmful to morality.
Last year, Islamic religious officers broke up a large Halloween party attended by the LGBTQ community and arrested 20 people, accusing them of cross-dressing and encouraging vice.