“Have an open mind, support MSM and transgender people to take control of their health and wellbeing without judgment” and to the community “Be brave, become knowledgeable and understanding of your sexuality and/or gender identity so that you are comfortable with who you are, and feel able to get the support you need and deserve”.
Elly Hazri Mustaffa, a transgender woman from Malaysia, is one of the country’s dedicated advocates working towards equal treatment of MSM and transgender woman and equal access to sexual health services. With the completion of secondary school, she joined the private sector for 10 years starting out in the manufacturing industry and moving on to the hotel industry, customer service in banking and Telco Company as well as sales.
Elly joined CERiA (Centre of Excellence of Research in AIDS) at the University of Malaya as a Research Assistant. At this research field, she provided assistance on the Female and Transgender Sex Worker in Klang Valley Area Study and the Neurocognitive Impairment for MSM living with HIV in Klang Valley Study. Elly had also previously worked as a volunteer in NGO PKSP (Pertubuhan Kebajikan Sinar Pelangi), which is a transgender and MSM CBO, working on HIV education, welfare and rights. This experience as a volunteer and Research Assistant ignited her inspiration to serve in the transgender and MSM community on HIV, rights and empowerment.
She joined myISEAN (Malaysian MSM and Transgender Women National Network) in 2014 as a board member representing the transgender community. Her becoming a full time staff member of myISEAN in March 2015, paved way for a more focused advocacy and community work.
Being aware of useful information on sexual health, Elly ensures that she has access to sexual health services in the country. She multiplied this passion by supporting and empowering the MSM and transgender community and inform them about sexual health and HIV information. Elly has knowledge about prevention and treatment, as well as understand the diversity of sexuality and gender expression that makes her wish to share this benefit with others through advocacy at conferences or meetings she attended. In addition, she advocates these issues with the MSM and transgender women community in Malaysia.
However, as a transgender woman, Elly had difficulty in securing herself an employment due to stigma, discrimination and limited acceptance of gender diversity. She experienced this situation while working in a company, which made a policy that all staff had to dress as the gender on their identity card. This was so uncomfortable that Elly felt she had no choice but to quit. This experience caused feelings of frustration and helplessness until she eventually found work with another company.
Some who wish to work in higher level careers are forced to dress according to their biological gender, which understandably leads to discomfort and distress, without to mention the utter disregard towards the person’s sexual orientation and gender identity. Transgender people experiencing such barriers in Malaysia sometimes enter sex work in order to survive financially, which can increase their risk for HIV and other legal and health problems. Elly firmly believes this situation needs to change and that broader acceptance of diversity, which allows individuals to freely express their true selves is worth fighting for.
Elly spoke of the importance of sexual health and HIV services being available to most at risk populations in Malaysia, such as transgender people and MSM. She herself has had difficulty accessing services due to a lack of understanding and sensitivity of service providers. Elly has received a lot of similar feedback from community members. Therefore, she is dedicated to empowering transgender people and MSM to feel confident to reduce self-stigma in advocating for their needs. Her work also covers sensitizing sexual health service providers and engaging various government stakeholder to put forward the issues faced by these communities.