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The portraits, part of an exhibition called Strokes and Stripes by photographer Mooreyameen Mohamad, were of LGBT activists Nisha Ayub and Pang Khee Teik.Photo courtesy of Klang MP Charles Santiago FB

KUALA LUMPUR: Social media was abuzz today after news broke that two portraits part of an exhibition at the George Town Festival in Penang were ordered to be taken down.

The portraits, part of an exhibition called Strokes and Stripes by photographer Mooreyameen Mohamad, were of LGBT activists Nisha Ayub and Pang Khee Teik.

The Strokes and Stripes exhibit features Malaysian public figures holding the Malaysian flag, in conjunction with the nation celebrating its independence day this month.

Minister in the Prime Minister's Department Datuk Mujahid Yusof Rawa confirmed that he had ordered for the two portraits to be taken down.

Speaking to reporters at the Parliament lobby, here, today, Mujahid said the portraits appeared to promote the LGBT lifestyle which was against the policy of the Pakatan Harapan-led government.

"We have contacted the organisers and asked them to use other icons that do not promote the LGBT lifestyle.

"Do we need such icons? If it is true they are not promoting it (LGBT lifestyle), then why can't they change it to another icon?" he questioned.

Stating that while they respect the LGBT community, Mujahid said they do not agree if the lifestyle was promoted.

"We have repeated so many times, we will not interfere with the LGBT community, and (it should also be the same) the other way around.

"However, we have to take action if their actions go against the law or hurt other people's feelings," he added.

While the entire Strokes and Stripes exhibition is not about promoting LGBT lifestyle, the captions accompanying the two portraits identified Nisha and Pang as 'LGBT activists'.

Pang, who was seated in front of the Jalur Gemilang while holding a rainbow flag in his hand in the portrait, was also described as 'the gay icon of Malaysia' in the accompanying description.

"Put LGBTQ on the agenda. Deserves more recognition for his courageous voice," the description further read.

As for Nisha, the description accompanying the portrait of the transgender holding the Jalur Gemilang, read: "Soft-spoken, strong, tenacious, among her many achievements, she is the first transgender woman to be awarded with the prestigious International Women of Courage Award in 2016."

Taking to Facebook, Nisha lamented about what happened, but remarked that it was expected.

"I was not at all angry nor worried when they removed the pictures but it's the message that is being spread to the public and to all marginalised community in Malaysia that saddens me.

"They talk about rights as a citizen of Malaysia but yet they are denying people like me to even express our love to our own country. What is happening to our New Malaysia? Is that what we the marginalised community voted for? They talk about sensitivity of certain group of people but what about sensitivity of others? Aren't we a part of the system?" Nisha asked.

"As a Malaysian, I want to know where do people like me fit in this New Malaysia that most of us voted for?"

Meanwhile, Pang in reacting to what Mujahid had said, wrote on Facebook, asking which LGBT activities were being promoted in the exhibition.

"Why does Mujahid have the power to decide where LGBT Malaysians' photos can be hung? He keeps saying he wants to help us but he actually doesn't talk to us," Pang said.

"Where is the non-discrimination that you promised to LGBT Malaysians? Isn't it strange that only you get to talk about our rights but when we do it ourselves we are silenced and erased?

"Perhaps if you talk to us you will understand that the LGBT activity we're promoting here is simply to love our country in spite of the hate. You may choose to be blind to us but our love will render us visible to those who see with their hearts," he added.

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