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This being Merdeka week, we would of course love to wax lyrical over how far we have come together as a country.

We have a new government after all, elected against all odds and through hard work, dedication and the co-operation of all races. Our cities are thriving hubs of art, culture and amazing food. There is an energy and zest in the air that as a country, we will soon realize our dreams to be a true Asian power.

We have hopefully made our founding fathers proud. But recent events have had us wondering: Are we truly independent?

Independence means freedom and autonomy. As a nation we may indeed be independent; we certainly don’t have to answer to another country. But are we as people truly free in thought? Have we truly achieved a new Malaysia where everyone is free to live, with all the rights that sentient beings should enjoy?

To be perfectly honest, we have a long way to go.

Recently, portraits of LGBT activitists Pang Khee Teik and Nisha Ayub were removed from the “Stripes and Strokes” exhibition which was part of the George Town Festival. The controversial decision made by a Minister in the Prime Minister’s office sparked a revival in the ongoing debate on the rights of LGBT individuals in our community.

In Malaysia, LGBTs are not just marginalized, but assaulted and left for dead. When a group of people are frequently targets for physical and sexual violence, it’s clear that they are seen as less than human.

That’s why visual representation (on screens or in exhibitions or in advertising) is vital and important, both for individuals and society at large.

What we see on the screen forms a part of our reality. It’s why Black Panther and Crazy Rich Asians are considered important cultural events. When you don’t see yourself represented in any form of media, it perpetuates the idea that what you are is not normal. That you do not fit the status quo. That you somehow deserve less.

When people do see themselves represented in popular culture, it gives them permission to dream bigger. It shows them their experiences are relevant and that their voices should be heard. It makes them feel seen and acknowledged.

It also allows others to see them and consider them as people in their own rights. Not simply stereotypes or fetishes or something to be mocked, bullied, hated, abused or even murdered.

That’s why this Independence Day, we would like for you to consider this advertisement from Thailand, which recently won the Bronze Lion for the Film category at this year’s Cannes film festival.

Sunsilk could have chosen to go with any one of Thailand’s gorgeous young models or celebrities. To choose Rock Kwanlada, a young trans woman and beauty queen, they made a level headed decision to highlight a minority, to give her the visual representation that any cis-gendered person may take for granted. To acknowledge that her existence is in fact, normal and as worthy of praise and admiration as anyone else.

We believe that by loving our country, we should surely want for it to progress and flourish in every way. We should have the courage to do what is right. It’s been 61 years. Let us promise each other to make 62 our best year yet.

Selamat Hari Merdeka.


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