A posed portrait of 31 year old Mimi (not her real name) who came to Kuala Lumpur from Selangor, outside the city. “I came to Kuala Lumpur, just like everyone else, to get a job, and what I thought would be an easy life. At first it was just that - I worked with a fashion designer for four years. I was happy. I was renting an apartment dressing as myself (as a woman). At night time I’d go out, have fun… I had a boyfriend, he was my first love, but I found out he was seeing another trans woman, so after two years we broke up. I was very depressed. I wasn’t getting any support, I was feeling vengeance towards men so I started hanging around with my trans friends, many of them were sex workers, but they could understand everything. I got involved in nightlife – sex work and drugs. It helped me to forget about my boyfriend and the pressures I felt from society. My performance at my job went down dramatically. Before I knew it, I was addicted to drugs. I stopped my job. I moved closer to the other trans. I didn’t realize how low I was getting until I was taken to prison. I was arrested for selling drugs. No matter how much money I found from sex work, it was never enough, it always went on drugs. Now when the police see me they say – “oh you again.” I’ve been arrested many times. Sometimes for drugs, sometimes for sex work, but the most often it is the Jawi (the religious department, under the Sharia Law) for cross-dressing.” There is very little support for transgender drug users. There is only one place that provides support but only to males and females. “It is hard for us to go to het health services. When we go there they call us by our male names”,  “Society looks down on us transgender. There is a real prejudice. People call us names, they look at transgender as a sex object, nothing else, we are not seen as normal people like men and women are. People persecute rather than getting to know or help us.” “Now I’m sleeping on the street, on a cardboard. If I’m lucky I get a client and I can stay a night in a hotel with them.” “I want to stop drugs but I must take them to survive, just to be normal. I’m getting older now, I have nothing, and I’m the eldest in the family. I feel bad because I am a very bad example to my younger siblings.” Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. January 2015.  While many countries around the world are legally recognizing same-sex relationships, individuals in nearly 80 countries face criminal sanctions for private consensual relations with another adult of the same sex. Violence and discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender expression is even more widespread. Africa is becoming the worst continent for Lesbian, Gay, Bi-sexual, Transgender, Queer, Inter-sex (LGBTQI) individuals. More than two thirds of African countries have laws criminalizing consensual same-sex acts. In some, homosexuality is punishable by death. In Nigeria new homophobic laws introduced in 2013 led to dramatic increase in attacks. Under Sharia Law, homosexuality is punishable by death, up to 50 lashes and six months in prison for woman; for men elsewhere, up to 14 years in prison. Same sex acts are illegal in Uganda. A discriminatory law was passed then struck down and homophobic attacks rose tenfold after the passage of the Anti-Homosexuality Act. In Cameroon it is also illegal. More cases against suspected homosexuals are brought here than any other African country. In stark contrast with the rest of the continent, same sex relationships are legal in South Africa. The country has the most liberal laws toward gays and lesbians on the continent, with a constitution guaranteeing LBGTQI rights. Because of this, LGBTQI Africans from all over the continent fleeing persecution have come to South Africa. Despite these laws, many lesbians have been victims of ‘corrective rape’ and homosexuals have been murdered for their sexuality. Homophobia is by no means just an African problem. In Russia, politicians spread intolerance. In June 2013 the country passed a law making “propaganda” about “non-traditional sexual relationships” a crime. Attacks against gays rose. Videos of gay men being tortured have been posted online. In predominantly Muslim Malaysia, law currently provides for whipping and up to a 20-year prison sentence for homosexual acts involving either men or women. Increased extreme Islamification in the Middle East is making life more dangerous for gay men there, as evidenced by ISIS’s recent murders of homosexual men. While homophobic discrimination is widespread in Lebanon, life is much safer there than Iran, Iraq, and Syria from which refugees are fleeing due to homophobic persecution. Photo Robin Hammond/Panos for Witness Change

Mimi /

“Assalamualaikom, and good day to fellow readers. My name is Mimi and i’m a Mak Nyah (transwoman).

I’m from Kuala Lumpur. When i was early 20s i started to mix around with other Mak Nyah (transwomen) and always socialize with others especially at night.
I started to involve as a sex worker initially just for fun, then i get serious and working full time. At first everything is fascinating, i get so many customers and my life was quite luxurious.

I always go shopping and fulfill my every needs. At that time life is so perfect but ‘the sky is not always bright’. After 6 months working in the streets i was caught by the religious authority (JAWI) in KL. But i didn’t give up easily and still keep on working doing sex work on the streets. Now after 10 years, i’m still doing sex work, a lot of sweet & bitter moments that i’ve been through and also living in Malaysia, Mak Nyah (transwomen) community were always look down and judged by the society and also associated with many negative things.

I hope one day i can come out from this vices and change. Eventhough i’m a Mak Nyah (transwoman), i just want a decent life like others in the society. My hope and wish is that the Mak Nyah (transwomen) community in Malaysia will be respected and look upon by all groups in the society and are not sidelined.”

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