|Rev. Oyoung Wen Feng and his partner Phineas Newborn III|
The wedding of controversial gay author and pastor Rev. Oyoung Wen Feng and his partner Phineas Newborn III in New York on August 31 – Malaysia's Merdeka (independence) Day – has led to headlines for LGBT issues in Malaysia.
Oyoung is a highly contentious figure who faced outrage and threats when he opened in 2007 the first gay-friendly church in conservative Malaysia, where homosexuality is punishable by 20 years in jail.
Explaining his decision to pick August 31, he told Fridae in a interview published last month:
"(The date) is to honour my country, I am proud to be a Malaysian, even though the government sucks!“Day by day we see various attempts to destroy our value system and Pastor Ou is doing it in the open,” columnist Melissa Chi wrote of the marriage in Utusan Malaysia, a conservative daily newspaper. Ouyang’s “attempt to break this value system to marry the same gender in this country has to be opposed. In fact the government has to act to block him,” she wrote.
"But I believe things will get better, if all people will come out to fight for a better future, I am not talking about come out in terms of sexuality, but come out from fear, regardless what kind of fear it is, whether it is the fear of choosing ones career, or fear of coming out from a bad relationship, or fear of coming our from dictatorship and oppression."
Islamic Affairs minister, Datuk Seri Jamil Khir Baharom, said that “social problems” would arise if such “extreme human rights” were permitted. “I think it [the marriage] will encourage liberalism in Malaysia and this understanding is worrisome,” he told reporters.
Malaysian authorities periodically raid gay-friendly bars or massage parlours, leaving some with a constant fear of persecution, while a prominent religious body in 2008 issued a fatwa, or Islamic religious ruling, against lesbian sex.
A Malaysian man who came out in a YouTube video in December was forced to take down the video, “Saya gay, saya okay,” after he received violent threats. Seksualiti Merdeka, a Malaysian gay advocacy group that helped post the video, explained the decision to remove the video and lamented that “so far nobody in authority has denounced the threats of violence.”
Last month the passing of transgender woman Aleesha Farhana, whose application to officially change her name and gender was rejected by the High Court despite having undergone a sex reassignment surgery in Thailand two years ago, sparked petitions and protests and led to what many saw as a positive sign of change in the government's attitude.
In May comments by Malaysian opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim that "we should not unduly harass or discriminate others" sparked fierce debate.
Ouyang says gay men and women should speak out to "break the vicious cycle" and help fight misunderstandings about the gay community.
"When society discriminates against gay people, you only push gay people into the closet," he told AFP in an interview on a visit to Hong Kong to launch a new book on homosexuality and Christianity.Ouyang's own "coming out" took place in 2006 when he published the story of his decision to make public his sexual orientation, after a nine-year marriage to his now ex-wife, whom he described as an "angel".
"When gay people stay in the closet, people don't know what is gay or homosexuality and because of ignorance they keep discriminating and that will perpetuate prejudice."
"Gay people cannot just blame straight people for not understanding us." Ouyang called on gay Malaysians to show their "true faces and tell them who we are".
"Gay people should keep coming out and straight people who are okay with homosexuals should also come out to say publicly that being gay is okay - 'I'm okay with my gay friends'," he said.
"She encouraged me to come out. She asked for a divorce, and this is the biggest gift she could ever give me, she literally set me free. I owe her big time."Ouyang now lives in the United States, where he is pursuing his doctoral degree in theology, while teaching sociology at a college and works as a staff pastor.
But he regularly returns to Malaysia and other parts of Asia to promote awareness of homosexuality. Also a prolific writer, he has published 23 books, about half delving into gay-related themes.
In 2009 the civil partnership ceremony of Kenyan gay couple Charles Ngengi to his longtime partner Daniel Chege Gichia caused uproar after being extensively covered in Kenyan media.