The words "gay" and "lesbian," basically. When the Academy Awards were broadcast in Malaysia, the national satellite provider, Astro, bleeped those words from the acceptance speechs by "Milk" star Sean Penn and writer Dustin Lance Black. Because, you know, homosexuality only happens in America. The following public letter was forwarded to me by a friend who has lived in the country in the past and still has many connections there. It's written by Pang Kee Thaik, the curator of an arts center in Kuala Lumpur called The Annexe. Just a reminder that it's not free speech if the government and the media don't recognize the words exist.
I want to thank Astro for screening this year's Oscars, which gave us the very heartwarming wins by the screenwriter and the lead actor of the movie "Milk". Congratulations too to the movie "Milk", about the first openly gay man elected to public office in California who was then assassinated, for winning Best Original Screenplay and Best Actor. The acceptance speeches by screenwriter Justin Lance Black and actor Sean Penn were both moving, bold and timely. They spoke up about the need for equal rights, to love, to share this land, and to be heard. This year, the Oscars celebrated the kind of diversity that the arts is able to champion; it's the kind of diversity that desperately needs championing in a world so overwhelmed by racism, war, and hatred.
This is part of Justin's speech:
"When I was 13 years old, my beautiful mother and my father moved me from a conservative Mormon home in San Antonio, Texas to California, and I heard the story of Harvey Milk. And it gave me hope. It gave me the hope to live my life. It gave me the hope one day I could live my life openly as who I am and then maybe even I could even fall in love and one day get married. I wanna I wanna thank my mom, who has always loved me for who I am even when there was pressure not to. But most of all, if Harvey had not been taken from us 30 years ago, I think he'd want me to say to all of the gay and lesbian kids out there tonight who have been told that they are less than by their churches, by the government or by their families, that you are beautiful, wonderful creatures of value and that no matter what anyone tells you, God does love you and that very soon, I promise you, you will have equal rights federally, across this great nation of ours. Thank you. Thank you. And thank you, God, for giving us Harvey Milk."
And this is Sean's:
"For those who saw the signs of hatred as our cars drove in tonight, I think that it is a good time for those who voted for the ban against gay marriage to sit and reflect, and anticipate their great shame, and the shame in their grandchildren's eyes if they continue that way of support. We've got to have equal rights for everyone," said Penn.
However, if you caught the Oscars on Astro, you would have noticed something so bizarre almost to be ironic. The words "gay" and "lesbian" have been censored from both these speeches. For me, this act of censorship defeated the very victory won by these two men. The two moments of silence rang out like the gun shots that killed Harvey Milk.
We live in a time when understanding is needed, when artists need to be bold in addressing the manifold injustices of the world. Hence, such a movie had to be made, such acceptance speeches to be uttered. But by its act of censorship, Astro has sent a message to all Malaysians that gays and lesbians are still shameful things to be censored from the public's ears. As a gay man, I am truly offended. After all these years of contributing to the country through my work, of helping people regardless of their orientation, being proud of who I am and helping others be proud of who they are, I can assure you that the only thing wrong is how much hate gays have to endure simply for the way we love.
What is Astro trying to achieve with the censoring of the words "gay" and "lesbian"? Do they think these words will promote homosexuality? Let me assure you that homosexuality cannot be promoted, it just happens. Just as a person's sexuality becomes apparent to him or her when the hormones kick in in the teen years; you don't need sex promoted to you by the TV, your body does its own promotion.
Meanwhile, words like "terrorist", "rapist" and "murderer" gets passed and nobody gets their panties knotted over how these words might promote terrorism, rapes and murders. On the other hand, words like "gays" and "lesbians" that describe people among us who happen love the same sex get treated like it is a crime to even mention in public. Is Astro promoting hate over love? Just what kind of society does Astro want to be creating? One where people can talk about terrorism but not love?
You want to know what breeds social ills? It is the kind of insecurity and low self esteem that results from such continual shaming through the media, that then leads to machismo, violence, bullying, and other superficial ways with which men employ to compensate for their insecurity.
Does Astro not know that many of its own staff are gay? I won't name them, but trust me, I know many of them (and I congratulate Astro for smartly tapping into such a pool of talents). But is Astro now ashamed of its many talented gay and lesbian staff?
And does Astro not know too that a huge number of its viewers are gay and lesbian? Otherwise, why bother to screen "Brothers & Sisters", "Queer Eye for the Straight Guy", "Six Feet Under" and other popular TV series that show how gays and lesbians are not only part of society but play vital roles in shaping that society for the better? Is Astro ashamed of its gay and lesbian viewers? And if this is some national guideline, then Astro needs to question it if it hopes to be fair to its viewers.
Stop censoring the words that describe who I am. I am a Malaysian. I work hard for the right to be here, and I work hard for the right to love, just like everyone else. Thank you.
Pang Khee Teik