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MALAYSIANSKINI | Growing up attending local convent schools and later an international school in Hong Kong made Nicole Fong keenly aware that it’s very easy for us to live in bubbles, near to each other but rarely interacting.
Her interest in the points of intersection between different groups of people, coupled with a keen sense of justice, has made her life choices rewarding – as reflected in the three-year spell she enjoyed with Teach For Malaysia – an NGO that places aspiring changemakers in high-need schools, giving them grassroots contacts and experiences.
Last August, however, Fong saw a very different side of the system when the Islamic Development Department (Jakim) lodged a police report against her after she tweeted an infographic of the state-funded Mukhayyam programme, criticising it as an attempt to change gender identity and sexual orientation.
The build-up to the incident stemmed from an announcement in July by Religious Affairs Minister Zulkifli Mohamad Al-Bakri who gave the Federal Territories Islamic Religious Department (Jawi) a “full licence” to arrest or provide religious education against the transgender community.
After reading that announcement, Fong began compiling facts from news portals and research articles. She turned them into infographics, posted them on her social media and initiated discussions on the issue.
“We must stand in solidarity with our trans community as these laws, policies and narratives affect our access to basic rights such as employment, healthcare, education, legal gender recognition and access to fair justice, regardless of whether you are Muslim or non-Muslim, trans or cis,” she tweeted.
Unexpectedly, the tweets drew the ire of Jakim who filed a report against her.
"No one expected that Jakim would report me because other LGBT activists had talked about the same thing. I'm not saying anything new,” Fong told Malaysiakini in a recent interview.
Living in a country where racial and religious differences are deemed as "sensitive", Fong was left wondering if her straightforward criticism was because of her own gender and religion.
“I feel that it's because I'm a woman and a non-Muslim speaking about these issues,” she said.
Connecting the dots
Sporting thick black eyeliner, short curly hair and a flower tattoo on her right arm - Fong is a lively young woman who speaks earnestly and sharply.
Her incisive views are not limited to the rights of sexual minorities by any means.
From gender, climate change and racial discrimination to social class and education issues, she is passionate about a number of causes.
"I would categorise myself as a researcher, activist, content creator... I won't say I'm an expert in anything.
"No matter what I'm advocating for, whether it's for LGBT rights or the climate, the environment or even education, I believe all these issues are interconnected.