Out in the World: Malaysian LGBTQs not entertained by The 1975 frontman Healy's onstage kiss, rant

  • by Heather Cassell, BAR Contributor
  • Thursday July 27, 2023
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The 1975 frontman Matty Healy, left, kissed bassist Ross MacDonald on stage at the Good Vibes Festival in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia July 21. Photo: Courtesy Sky News
The 1975 frontman Matty Healy, left, kissed bassist Ross MacDonald on stage at the Good Vibes Festival in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia July 21. Photo: Courtesy Sky News

Malaysian LGBTQ activists were not entertained by The 1975 frontman Matty Healy's criticism of the country's anti-LGBTQ laws and on-stage same-sex kiss at the recent Good Vibes Festival in capital city Kuala Lumpur.

The kiss and his comments on July 21 immediately went viral on social media, drawing criticism from Malaysian government officials and the local LGBTQ community.

Some accused Healy, who does not identify as gay, of "performative activism" with his "white savior" stunt.

Malaysian LGBTQ advocates expressed concern that the kiss and negative comments against the government created a backlash, with increased discrimination and stigma against queer Malaysians, while others criticized the government's response to the incident.

Malaysia's LGBTQ community has recently seen a tightening of restrictions on their rights leading up to state elections next month.

The kiss and criticism come as conservative political forces are gaining strength in the country.

Malaysia is currently headed by Prime Minister Anwar Ibrahim. He served two stints in prison on sodomy charges that he denies and has accused right-wing political opponents of trumping up. His government's response to the incident was swift to fend off opponents using it as a campaign tool, observers said.

Thilaga Sulathireh, a founder of the LGBTQ+ group Justice for Sisters, told the Washington Post Healy's actions could lead to backlash against the local LGBTQ+ community in the lead-up to elections.

"One can appreciate the meaning of Healy's protest, but I think the timing of it may not necessarily benefit folks," they said. "Political parties are currently campaigning, and we know LGBT issues are often scapegoated."

Dhia Rezki Rohaizad, the deputy president of Jejaka, a social support group for gay, bisexual, and queer men in Malaysia, was more critical of the government's response. Rohaizad stood up for Healy's right to freedom of expression, but questioned the singer's use of the large platform the festival offered.

"Doing it at this scale, with a lot of people who are not aware of the discussions going around with regards to queer activism, that is what is harmful," he told The Guardian.

Malaysian drag queen Carmen Rose, who is not able to advertise her performances in Kuala Lumpur, told The Guardian, "Any foreign artist who comes here and who wants to advocate for us, they need to understand how to go about it. What works in the West may not work here. They may actually do more harm than good."

Artist Jerome Kugan, who recently organized an exhibition in Kuala Lumpur allowing local LGBT artists to showcase their works, agreed.

"I understand and commend him for wanting to express his opinions about the regressive laws against LGBTQ+ folks in Malaysia and other parts of the world," he told the BBC. But I think he could've chosen a more conducive platform to do it."

The same-sex kiss

The 1975, a British pop band, was performing at the music festival when Healy went off in an angry profanity-laden speech criticizing Malaysia's government for its treatment of LGBTQ people. He called booking the concert a "mistake" and that he hadn't looked into the country's laws.

Healy told the audience that he did not understand the purpose "of inviting The 1975 to a country and then telling us whom we can have sex with," before turning and kissing bassist Ross MacDonald. Concertgoers captured the incident on video.

The BBC reported Healy had already been drinking on stage and destroyed a drone belonging to concert organizers. Attendees reported him spitting on fans.

According to Human Dignity Trust consensual same-sex relationships and gender identity and expression are illegal in Malaysia. People caught in a same-sex relationship - male or female - face up to 20 years in prison with whipping. In 2021, Ahmad Marzuk Shaary, the deputy minister in the prime minister's Department (Religious Affairs), advised strengthening anti-LGBTQ laws. Transgender people face fines and possible imprisonment.

The band continued performing their set for a few more songs and then abruptly left the stage, with Healy telling the crowd: "All right, we've got to go. We just got banned from Kuala Lumpur, I'll see you later."

Fahmi Fadzil, minister of communications and digital, immediately met with Good Vibes Festival organizer Future Sound Asia after the incident. Fadzil wrote on X (formerly Twitter) on July 21, "There will be no compromise against any party that challenges, disparages and violates Malaysian laws."

Future Sound Asia canceled the weekend-long festival after the first day due to the "controversial conduct and remarks," made by Healy, reported the New York Times.

Wan Alman, entertainment director at Future Sound Asia, told the BBC that The 1975's kiss came as "a complete surprise."

"Prior to their performance, we were reassured by management that they would adhere to all local performance guidelines as do all international artists that perform in the country," he told the media outlet. "So, we were completely surprised that the performance took such a turn."

Malaysia's government committee that oversees filming and performances by foreigners banned The 1975 from future performances in Malaysia.

Thilaga said they hoped The 1975 would support the festival organizers, who are now facing a police investigation over the kiss.

"That would show they're not just this White band that came in and have this White savior complex and have just left with people having to deal with all these consequences," they told the Post.

The 1975 canceled performances scheduled for Indonesia (July 23) and Taiwan (July 25).

"Unfortunately, due to current circumstances, it is impossible to proceed with the scheduled shows," the band said in a July 23 statement, reported Reuters .

The incident in Malaysia wasn't the first time Healy spoke out advocating for LGBTQ rights. In 2019, he invited a male fan on stage and kissed him in the United Arab Emirates, where same-sex relationships are illegal and can get those caught sentenced to 10 years in prison.

Got international LGBTQ news tips? Call or send them to Heather Cassell at WhatsApp/Signal: 415-517-7239, or [email protected]

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