A secondary school in Sabah, Malaysia has apologised for promoting an alleged “conversion therapy” programme for gay students in a yearbook, after a social media backlash.
Photos of boys undergoing the program were printed in the school’s 2017 yearbook, alongside the term “kunyit”, a derogatory Malaysian term used to refer to gay people. According to the yearbook, the “kunyit” programme involved group and individual counselling efforts with the students to “set them straight”.
The yearbook photos were then widely circulated online, leading to the school to apologise for their publication, local news site FMT reported.
Education Director Mistirine Radi told FMT the school’s principal had said the photos were not meant to published and to her knowledge the school did not run the program anymore.
“Based on the preliminary report provided by the school principal, she realised her school’s mistake in including the programme in the school magazine and has apologised,” Mistirine said.
Copies of the yearbook have been recalled for reprinting, FMT reported.
The programme was reportedly part of the school guidance counsellor’s approach to help the students “find a way to tackle the issue of gender awareness.”
But MP and gender equality advocate Maria Chin Abdullah urged the country’s education authorities to remove all “conversion therapy” activities from schools.
“Disguising itself as a gender awareness programme, it is clear that this is a ‘gay conversion therapy’ programme which seeks to reinforce intolerant, inaccurate and outdated assumptions about gender and sexual orientation,” Abdullah said.
“The fact that the programme refers to itself as ‘kunyit’ and calls [homosexuality] a ‘weakness’, already shows the objective of this programme is to shame students into changing their behaviour.”
Transmen of Malaysia founder Dorian Wilde said that “conversion therapy” programs should be considered torture because they are ineffective and only harm participants.
“I think it’s worrying that certain schools seem to think that policing and altering students’ gender expressions is an important part in a child’s development,” Wilde told FMT.