Reverend Ouyang Wen Feng, a journalist-turned-pastor is a highly controversial figure in Malaysia for opening the first gay-friendly church in 2007 following which he faced outrage and threats. He has said that gay men and women should speak out to “break the vicious cycle” and help fight misunderstandings about the gay community.
Ouyang’s own “coming out” took place in 2006 when he published the story of his decision to make public his sexual orientation, after a nine-year marriage to his now ex-wife, whom he described as an “angel”. “She encouraged me to come out. She asked for a divorce, and this is the biggest gift she could ever give me, she literally set me free. I owe her big time,” said the pastor, who grew up in a conservative Christian family.
He now lives in the United States, but he regularly returns to Malaysia and other parts of Asia to promote awareness of homosexuality. He said the church he co-founded, which has been operating quietly in suburban Kuala Lumpur, is “growing and developing” and continues to draw gay Christians for Sunday services and bible studies.
“I am not promoting gay culture. I am promoting honesty, love and justice,” he said, in response to the government’s stance that it would not allow the church to run officially and religious leaders’ claims it would encourage homosexuality. He has previously said the church – which also embraces bisexual, transsexual and heterosexual people – would help the gay community know they are “not alone in fighting the battle”.
Influential Malaysian religious figures remain vehemently opposed to the growing prominence of the country’s gay community, with a vocal Islamic cleric last year saying homosexuality was “going to destroy the world”.
Authorities periodically raid gay-friendly bars or massage parlours, leaving some with a constant fear of persecution, while a prominent religious body in 2008 issued a fatwa, or Islamic religious ruling, against lesbian sex.
Malaysia’s opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim is currently on trial accused of sodomising a former aide, which he has repeatedly dismissed as trumped-up charges designed to prevent him from taking power.
Homosexuality is a crime punishable by 20 years in jail under Malaysian laws banning sodomy and remains taboo across the racial and religious spectrum in Malaysia, which is home to large ethnic Chinese and Indian minorities.