"If a bullet should go through my head let that bullet go through every closet door."Harvey Milk
He was the first openly gay man to be elected to public office in California.
He died with two bullets in his head.
Today, one of my consultants asked me conversationally if I celebrate Christmas. I said no, and immediately dreaded his next question. He asked what religion I subscribe to.
"I'm an atheist," I said and I saw that brief 'excusez-moi?' expression flashed across his face in response. Happens every time like clockwork. It's not that I am ashamed of my lack of faith - I merely dislike the social stigma of being godless. Sometimes, I feel that my mere existence is at best an enigma to religious people and at worst, an automatic affront to their beliefs.
"So um, is it because of your parents?" He tried not to miss a beat.
I would have liked to point out that his question seemed bizarre to me and that atheists are usually atheists in spite of their parents, but all I said was, "I make my own decisions about these things."
The subject was immediately dropped after that, natch.
If admitting that one is an atheist can be awkward to a hardcore atheist like me, imagine outing oneself as a homosexual. Now, imagine a guy from a culturally Malay Muslim background recording a YouTube confession that he's gay,
The title "Saya Gay, Saya Okay" means "I'm Gay, I'm Okay" in Malay, for my non-Malaysian readers.
This is Azwan Ismail's submission to the It Gets Better Project, an amazing worldwide campaign started in response to the recent slew of suicides of gay teens who were drove to the edge from bullying - to reach out to homosexual teens and tell them that the torment, ostracism and heartbreak they face now will someday go away. He came out, at great personal cost to his reputation and risk to his life, to give a singular testimonial on being a homosexual in a culturally homophobic and predominantly Islamic country - all to share his experience with teenagers who are in his exact same situation. He gave a face to all the faceless young people who hid away because our society hates they way they love. He gave a voice to the mute gay Malay men and women in our country who are too afraid to speak, and too intimidated to ask to be treated like the human beings they are.
He is my hero. One day, he might be everyone's.
And I'm not making it up when I said he risked his life by recording his three-minute video. He had since received many death threats by Malay Muslims outraged by his confession of the difficulties he faced coming to terms with his own sexuality. That's what too many religious people do, you see - threaten to murder what they don't like. Wait, let me emphasise that: they want to KILL HIM. Yes, gays are depraved animals for falling in love with someone they shouldn't. Atheists are immoral for standing up for equal rights for gay people. But yet hateful religious thugs are apparently the righteous ones beloved by God for clamouring to shed the blood of someone who happens to be different. What the fuck, one wonders, is wrong with our country?
Then, there are the sanctimonious cunts who claim that Azwan is "insulting" Islam by being born a homosexual and having the stones to come out of the closet. The degree of self-entitlement of these self-important jackasses is frankly, quite astounding. If Allah has beef with Azwan, I'm sure the He is more than capable of dealing with him when the time comes - if it ever comes. And did they even ask Azwan if he personally believe in the teachings of Islam? I'm sure they didn't, and in Malaysia where apostasy is both criminalised and demonised, he couldn't renounce his affiliation with the incredible Religion of Peace™ even if he wanted to anyway. If he claims to be an apostate, they can easily take that as an "insult" to Islam too (we know there were precedents for this). From the get go, he was given no freedom of religion and no freedom of sexuality. He's between a rock and a hard place, both promising potential repercussions from our primitive laws. Speaking of our legal system, I'm kind of at risk right now too for violating some stupid blasphemy laws. Welcome, ladies and gents, to Malaysia.
Sure, it's an incredible display of his lack of self-preservation but he what he did were also done out of incredible personal courage. What I fear is that he might be martyred for it. As a member of the medical fraternity, I find that it is my duty to speak out against discrimination of any stripe. No one person's dignity and right to life should be compromised by his ethnicity, creed, social status or sexuality and I urge everyone to help spread word of Azwan's message and of his plight. Tell a friend. Write something.
He had hurt no one by being who he is, and if his only crime is to love, then it's a crime that's not happening as much as the world needs it to. I hope you're right Azwan, for your sake, that it really does get better in Malaysia.
Addendum: it seems that the video had been removed from YouTube. I wonder if the decision was voluntary, indirectly influenced by the backlash of the Muslims or directly insisted upon by the governmental officials.
Some other great blog posts on this:
From a fellow Malaysian atheist: Azwan Ismail is Gay. And He is (Probably Not Going to be) Okay.
From a moderate Malay Muslim's perspective who made a good case that the people are really more outraged by his outing rather than his sexual orientation: Who is Azwan Ismail and why are some people saying terrible things about him?
From an atheist attorney: If Religious Bigots Threaten You Because You’re Gay, You Might Be Eligible For Asylum.
On the side of human rights,
k0k s3n w4i