Malaysia’s tourism minister has faced fierce backlash after seeming to deny the existence of homosexual people in Malaysia.
When asked if the Southeast Asian country would welcome gay tourists at the ITB Berlin travel fair, Mohamaddin Ketapi told German reporters he wasn’t aware of “anything like that” in the Muslim-majority country.
“I don’t think we have anything like that in our country,” Mohamaddin said, according to German broadcaster Deutsche Welle.
He then reportedly dodged questions about whether gay people and Jewish people are safe in Malaysia, sparking widespread condemnation from the country’s LGBTQ community and gay rights activists.
Thilaga Sulathireh, a gay rights activist, told CNN that Mohamaddin’s remarks were “outlandish” and “ignorant,” but expected.
Homosexual intercourse is illegal in Malaysia and gay marriage is not recognized. An unidentified aide told local news outlet Malaysiakini that Mohamaddin’s statement reflected his own personal views, but were also in line with the country’s stance on homosexuality.
But the deputy president of the opposition Malaysian Chinese Association (MCA), Mah Hang Soon, also condemned the ignorance of Mohamaddin’s comments.
“He was asked by a reporter if Malaysia is safe for homosexuals,” he told local news outlet Star Online. “All he needed to say was that Malaysia is a safe country and every tourist is safe here.”
Following the backlash, the ministry released a statement clarifying the minister’s comments, explaining that Mohamaddin’s response was referring to the lack of LGBTQ-focused tourism campaigns in the country.
“As a main tourism destination in Asia, Malaysia has never and will not do anything to stop our guests based on their sexual orientation, religion and cultural belief,” it said, according to the Straits Times.
However, it added there was no plan to hold such a campaign in the future and that the country has its own stance on various global issues, including LGBTQ issues, and that its laws must be respected.
“These laws must be respected and followed, not just by foreign tourists but Malaysians as well,” the ministry said.
The tourism industry in Malaysia is one of the country’s biggest economic drivers.
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