Jessica Goodfellow
Dec 15, 2020

A Malaysia perspective: Culture and working life as an LGBTQIA+ person in the industry

In the third iteration of our LGBTQIA+ interview series, we turn our attention to Malaysia, where one individual—despite living under repressive laws—has found acceptance and is optimistic about the future of the country's community.

A Malaysia perspective: Culture and working life as an LGBTQIA+ person in the industry

Ganesh Nair is a marketing manager at software company Everise DX, where he's worked for just over a year. Nair has spent most of his life in his home country of Malaysia, besides a seven-year stint studying and working in Australia. Nair identifies as a cis-gender gay man.

On the face of it, Malaysia is a repressive environment for those in the LGBTQIA+ community. Same-sex relations and expression of transgender identities are criminalised, informed by the country's official state religion of Islam. But in some major cities, a more progressive attitude pervades. According to Nair's experience, he has felt accepted and safe enough to express himself where he lives and works. But not everyone in Malaysia is so fortunate, he acknowledges.

As is the case in several countries across Asia-Pacific, religion and politics in Malaysia are steeped in tradition, including archaic views of gender, sexuality and identity. But progress is happening—albeit at a "slow rate", according to Nair. He's hopeful that with education, a more progressive generation will be taught "not to focus on our differences but on what we share in common".

This interview forms part of an ongoing series focused on the experiences of individuals within the LGBTQIA+ community from different markets in Asia-Pacific. Catch our previous interviews with a Japan-based individual, and two Thailand-based individuals. We hope by focusing on a different market each time that the series will, over time, paint a picture of what it is like to live and work as an LGBTQIA+ individual in Asia-Pacific. Because LGBTQIA+ rights in some Asia-Pacific markets are still informed by deeply ingrained cultural beliefs, we expect the responses to be quite different. If you or someone you know would be happy to share their perspective, please get in touch, we'd love to hear from you.

Campaign: What is your experience as an LGBTQIA+ person in the technology/business sector, have your colleagues/company ever made you feel uncomfortable being a LGBTQIA+ in the workplace?

My experience is that of anyone who would work at Everise, I am not treated any more or less than any of my other colleagues. What I am given is a place where I feel safe to be myself and not feel the need to hide my sexuality. I feel that the technology sector coupled with the right organisational culture creates a safe space for anyone, it allows them to be their true selves.

Do you believe the tech/business sector to be more or less inclusive than other sectors? Why?

I feel tech is more inclusive than most other sectors because tech is a space where disruption and innovation happens and part of that is acknowledging that as humans we come from many different places with our own set of experiences. Bringing that kind of diversity into the technology being created ensures that as an organisation, you think of every single person and the potential experience they might have when they use the technology.

Is there enough of a focus on LGBTQIA+ in existing diversity frameworks in Asia? We seem to be making progress on gender, but that is only one element of diversity.

I feel some countries are making progress, but when it comes to inclusivity, most have a long path ahead of them. I think organisations play a key role—they must promote diversity programmes and especially locally-founded organisations. That is where change will come from. In Asia we are very rooted in our traditions and as we evolve as a society, our culture and inclusivity will evolve as well.

Have your colleagues/company ever made you feel uncomfortable being a LGBTQIA+ in the workplace?

They have never made me feel uncomfortable. My colleagues don’t go out of their way to treat me any different and I appreciate that. It’s nice not to hide my personal life from my colleagues.

Do you try to find out more about a company’s LGBTQIA+ stance before accepting a job offer?

Yes, that is important to me. If I have to hide who I am at my workplace then I am not going to be effective at my job. It’s also about trust—I know that the people I work with are going stand up for me if it comes down to it, because they make me feel safe enough to be my true self.

What is your experience as an LGBTQIA+ person in Malaysia, and how, to your knowledge, do you think this compares to other markets in Asia-Pacific, such as very progressive markets like Taiwan, for example?

I am very fortunate because I have experienced kindness and acceptance. In Malaysia if you live in the more progressive cities, there is a sort-of unspoken acceptance—but that only goes so far. We have members of the LGBTQIA+ community who are punished for who they love in other parts of the country and though change is happening, it is happening at slow rate.

Do you believe there are certain countries in APAC that are more accepting of the LGBTQIA+ community than others? If so, why? What do you think needs to happen in your own country to reach the same standards?

As with many countries in the region, religion is a major influence on our social structure and how accepting we are. I feel for us to fully embrace diversity we have to educate people from a young age not to focus on our differences but on what we share in common.

Do you believe your race has played a part in your experience as an LGBTQIA+ person in Malaysia?

I think it definitely has in some way but overall I feel race had less of a role to play.

When it comes to LGBTQIA+ acceptance more broadly, what progress have you seen being made (for example, more LGBTQIA+ representation in media), and where is there still progress to be made?

I think media has definitely become more diverse: Netflix for example is a great place for telling different stories that gives LGBTQIA+ communities all over the world hope. Being able to find stories that you can identify with or relate to who you are makes you feel more accepted in the world.

A place where it could improve is politics of course. I understand that it takes time for this to happen and maybe someday we will have inspirational politicians who come from the LGBTQIA+ community in Asia.

What advice would you give businesses looking to create more inclusive environments for people across the LGBTQIA+ community?

Develop a 'Cultural Sensitivity Programme' to educate and help people become more familiar with LGBTQIA+ and other cultures. Often people do not have exposure to different communities: through education we can help each other understand that we are all the same and that we should not fear or misjudge others.

Do you think the government or corporations play a bigger role in improving LGBTQIA+ equality in your market and in workplaces?

I feel that organisations have more power than they think. By having diversity programmes put in place, they can indicate to potential LGBTQIA+ candidates that this is a safe space that welcomes all the colours of the rainbow. This is also a signal to other open-minded people that the community they are joining is an inclusive one and often the inclusive communities are the ones that are incubating the greatest amount of change.

We understand LGBTQIA+ individuals may have different experiences to those described above. We would love to hear from you, wherever you are based. We understand the sensitivities of talking about being LGBTQIA+ in certain markets, so we are happy to run anonymous commentary. Please reach out to the editorial team or share feedback on the website.


Campaign Asia

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