This has got to be the most ridiculous denial in 2019 so far.
On Tuesday, ahead of the world's biggest tourism fair held in Berlin, reporters asked Malaysia's Tourism Minister Datuk Mohammaddin bin Ketapi if the country is a safe destination for gay and Jewish visitors. He told them, "I don't think we have anything like that in our country."
When pressed for clarification, according to Coconut, an aide to the minister said he was probably just repeating Malaysia's policy to not officially recognize members of the LGBTQ community.
While it's safe to assume that nobody in the room believed him, the minister's comment goes to prove that many things stay the same even when many say that after electing a new government last year, the country is becoming a "New Malaysia."
Just last month, VICE sent a reporter down to Kuala Lumpur's most popular drag bar, where drag queens continue to slay every night despite a raid a few months ago by the police and religious authorities a few months ago, after which twenty men had to attend counseling sessions by the Federal Territory Islamic Religious Department (JAWI). And queer artists like the members of the band Shh... Diam! are still fighting anti-LGBTQ narratives in the country every day. So actually, Ketapi, we definitely have something "like that" in the country.
The minister's denial of the existence of Malaysia's LGBTQ community juxtaposes the horrible treatment that the community faces on a daily basis. Last September, two women accused of engaging in lesbian sex were caned in Malaysia's conservative Terengganu State. A month later, Ahmad Zahid Hamidi, the ousted deputy prime minister of Malaysia, said that the tsunami that struck South Sulawesi, Indonesia in September was a punishment for Indonesia's LGBTQ community. He went on to call on authorities to conduct outreach to Malaysia's LGBTQ community so "we can avoid similar punishment from God." The newly elected Prime Minister, Mahathir Mohamad, said last year that the country can't accept LGBTQ rights like same-sex marriage because that constitutes "western values" that Malaysia can't condone.
According to Deutsche Welle, Malaysia has a target of welcoming 30 million tourists this year. The country's record of anti-LGBTQ laws and sentiments could potentially affect its target. According to a 2018 report by Peter Tatchell Foundation, a UK-based non-profit that focuses on human rights, countries that criminalize homosexuality are losing out on economic advantages enjoyed by countries that don't. Foreign aid, investments, and billions of tourism revenue are some of the cost of homophobia, the report finds.
Remember people, it costs you nothing to be a decent person! And you may even get billions of revenue while you're at it!
This article originally appeared on VICE ASIA.