19-year old Gabrielle Chong won the first prize at the recently concluded Bar Council Public Speaking Competition held from 9 to 12 December 2008. She spoke passionately about the continuing marginalisation and discrimination of LGBTs, and moved the judges with her simple message delivering the essence of what it means to be human. Do also take some time off to visit: http://tiltedworld.org/.
Good evening everyone.
In this country, I’m the minority of minorities.
Firstly, I’m a female. Secondly, I’m a Chinese and thirdly, I’m an agnostic.
I’m glad to let you know that, throughout the 19 years of my life thus far that I have spent in Malaysia, I’ve never encountered serious oppression because of my sex, race of religious belief, because thank God, in Malaysia, we acknowledge and have satisfactory protection of women’s rights, as well as the rights of racial and religious minorities.
But I also belong to another minority that has been discriminated and persecuted until this very day.
Ladies and gentlemen,
I stand before you today as a gay Malaysian to appeal for the protection of gay rights in Malaysia.
What does it mean to be gay person?
A gay person is someone who is attracted to persons of the same sex.
But that’s it. The definition ends there.
Far beyond our differences, I share many similarities with all of you in this hall.
For example, I’m here today because like you, I’m concerned about human rights and I enjoy debates.
Like you, I’ve a family that I love and cherish.
Like you, I too, long for the right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.
And most of all, like you, I am capable of love.
What does it mean to be a gay person in Malaysia?
For one, I know that I probably will never be able to marry the person that I love in this lifetime.
Until today, there’s no formal organization that I can rely on to speak up and stand up for my rights.
Sometimes, I’m even subjected to state-sanctioned homophobia such as that propagated by the National Fatwa Council’s recent decision to outlaw tomboys and lesbianism.
In the last three days of this tournament, I’ve made quite a number of friends, who are in this hall right now.
And I’m thankful for your priceless friendship.
But there are many occasions in life when, in the course of making friends, I wonder… I wonder if their friendship is subjected to the assumption that I’m a heterosexual.
I hate to doubt anybody’s sincerity and capacity for acceptance and friendship, but as a homosexual Malaysian living in a homophobic Malaysian society, I’ve no choice but to grapple with such fears and suspicions on a daily basis.
And what about gay rights? What are gay rights?
Gay rights are simply the rights of gay persons to live in peace and dignity, and to be accorded the same recognition and opportunities as other human beings.
Ladies and gentlemen,
We have gathered here today at this human rights debate tournament because we share a common ideal: that all men and women are created free and equal, but I would also like to introduce another concept to you today: that not only do we deserve equal human rights, but that all human rights are equal.
That means, gay rights are no less important and impacting to the preservation of human dignity than women’s rights, the rights of racial and religious rights as well as other rights.
For far too long in Malaysia, the issue of gay rights has been at best occasionally brought up by human rights organizations and at worst, totally swept under the carpet.
And this has to stop, because discrimination towards gays is no less demeaning and dehumanizing as discrimination towards women, blacks, Jews, Tutsis and other minorities.
At the same time, I realize that some of you here will hold views contrary to mine, and I realize that I probably won’t be able to change those views with a single speech, but I would still like to encourage you to reconsider some of the common arguments against gay rights.
If you fear that the granting of gay rights will bring about the end of procreation and the human race, let me assure you that the granting of gay rights will eliminate heterosexuals no more than the granting of heterosexuals rights will eliminate gays.
If you believe that homosexuals are perverted and abnormal, then remember that there’re many things which we approve of today, such as hand phones and cars, and the concepts of democracy and gender equality, which are unnatural outside the realm of civilization, but are still worthy of preservation anyway.
At the same time, there’re many things which come naturally to us, such as hatred, fear and bigotry, which I believe aren’t worthy of preservation.
If you’re one of those who object to gay rights on religious grounds, and believe that we’re the untouchables, then remember that the untouchables too, are the children of God.
I stand before you today as a gay Malaysian to appeal for the protection of gay rights in Malaysia, but I do not speak for myself.
I do not speak for the person I love.
Neither do I speak on behalf of the estimated 350,000 gays and lesbians in Malaysia.
Rather, I speak on behalf of humanity as a whole, because our fate is intertwined.
When one man is not free, all are bound.
And when the gay community triumphs, our triumph too, shall be your triumph.
Martin Luther King had his dreams, on which my fellow speaker Marcus Wee will elaborate after me.
I too, have my own dreams.
I hope to pursue a life of happiness and companionship with the person I love, freely and without fear or fervor.
I hope that someday, if I ever win a public competition with a speech on gay rights, I can go home and proudly tell my parents of my achievement without fear of repercussions.
I also hope that you will join me in the cause to uphold gay rights. But if that is too much to ask of you, then I appeal for tolerance.
But most of all, I dream that someday, speeches like this one will no longer be necessary.
Lastly, I end my speech with a quote by Boethius:
Who can put a law unto love? Love is unto itself the highest law.