The recent ban of the Seksualiti Merdeka festival is a political one, says Pang Khee Teik, co-founder of the festival. "Elections are coming up... I suspect it [the ban] is because of the NGOs involved in our festival, who had in the past, criticised the government for lack of adherence to human rights. This is an opportunity for certain quarters to attack NGOs for the role they played," he says, adding that the ban may also be an attempt to distract the public from the recent Auditor-General Report on government spending.
The Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender (LGBT) community has been and remains an easy target to made use of by the government, he says. "We're like pawns to be sacrificed in this game. What we're doing here [organising the festival] and the controversy that has resulted over the past few days is a clear sign that Malaysia disregards the rights of not just LGBT but all minorities - we're all fair game for them, be it refugees, Orang Asli, LGBT, the State just doesn't care," he said in a recent interview with BFM.
Pang says that the purpose of the festival, which has been organised annually since 2008, was not to change the minds of the public to embrace the values of the LGBT community, but to consolidate the LGBT community, and empower Malaysians to recognise their rights. "A lot of Malaysians are not aware of their human rights -- that the only qualification they need to have rights, is to be human. We have to recognise our rights first before getting others to recognise it as well," he says.
On November 7, Pang, together with former Bar Council chairman and BERSIH2.0 chairman Datuk Ambiga Sreevanasan, Tenaganita chairman Irene Fernandez and Bersih 2.0 committee member Maria Chin Abdullah were called into questioning by the police about the movement.
Asked whether the decision to invite Ambiga -- who is synonymous with Bersih -- to officiate Seksualiti Merdeka this year was inviting trouble, Pang says the organisers had done so to show that even the LGBT community have a vested stake in the building of the country.
"We're not telling them [the public] to agree with us. I will stand for your right to believe that I am wrong, and at the same time I have the right to believe that I am not wrong. If we both give our space to each other to believe what we believe and exercise those beliefs responsibly, this country would be a better, much more peaceful place. There is a way for us to out aside our differences and work together in building this country," he says.
In the following interview, Pang also talks about how the police treated him when he recorded his statement, the discrimination that the LGBT community faces as well as how the ban, though unwanted, turned out to be a blessing in disguise.