Matty Healy and his band, The 1975, began playing a gig in Malaysia on 21 July 2023, a country where homosexuality is still illegal. He called out the government and the country's anti-LGBTQ+ laws before kissing one of his fellow bandmates - another man - on the stage, prompting their set to be cut short. This, along with a similar act of so-called allyship in Dubai in 2019 where Matty Healy asked permission and then kissed a male fan, has generated a discussion and debate on whether Matty Healy is using his platform for effective protest and to spark social change, or whether his actions are misguided and even perpetuating the marginalisation and criminalisation that many LGBTQ+ identifying people face.
Some have argued that using the band's status and popularity to challenge the oppression of the queer community was admirable and it was a means of creating discussion and highlighting the discrimination that many face. Long have the LGBTQ+ community called for allyship and using his privileged position as a straight white man to amplify the struggles queer people in Malaysia face, at first glance, could be interpreted to have been effective. However, as much as allyship is valued, when it is done in a reckless and even egotistical way that undermines the fight for equality and even has negative effects on these already marginalised communities, it is simply misguided and performative. One of the key components of being an effective ally is to recognise your privilege and listen in a meaningful and respectful way to communities facing oppression. This is something that Matty Healy failed to do. Even though he and the rest of The 1975 might have been well-intentioned, they were shortsighted and misguided in their approach.
It's no surprise that the publicity generated from this has increased awareness of homophobia in Malaysia and started conversations. To what positive pragmatic effect this will have is still unknown and it is highly doubtful that this will fuel a sudden change to the country becoming more accepting of differing sexualities and gender identities. After all, there was little difference in Dubai in 2019. I can’t help wondering whether the greater attention drawn to homophobia in Malaysia will polarise the population further and lead to an increase in hate crime and discrimination against gay and trans communities, actually perpetuating suffering as opposed to alleviating it. Without talking to communities directly, it is hard to assess whether the act of solidarity caused more marginalisation, though scrolling through twitter and reading tweets from queer Malaysians suggests that Matty Healy's statement has actually been detrimental to the LGBTQ+ community and was not an effective means of change. Malaysian Drag Queen Carmen Rose writes: “if he [Healy] wanted to advocate for queer rights here, he wouldn’t just fly off and leave the mess behind. I don’t think he’s doing it for the community, he’s just doing it for himself … it was a publicity stunt.”
Healy’s actions could have massively undermined the work that activists have been doing for years to educate and empower as Joe Lee also expressed: “If anything, what Matt Healy and The 1975 have done is discount and disrupted YEARS of work by local activists who have been pushing for change and understanding AND endangering our vulnerable minority communities”.
Matty Healy’s actions have most likely exacerbated the marginalisation of LGBTQ+ Malaysians as Healy is fortunate enough to be able to leave and suffer no, or at least very few, consequences for his actions on stage. Whereas citizens and activists can’t escape the hostile environment as much as they may need too. Activists speaking out against oppression don’t have the same privilege as The 1975 and instead have to continue to endure the hostile environment and focus on surviving and fighting for long-term systemic change through grassroots activism, educating communities and promoting legal acceptance.
Matty Healys' “statement” is not one that will likely incite progression and acceptance of those in the LGBTQ+ community and not one that does anything to actively remove oppression for the queer community. What it has done is propel The 1975 into the headlines and risk the progress grassroots Malaysian activists are fighting so hard for. It has also taught people important lessons of allyship; to actively listen to the communities concerned, recognise the true extent of the oppression faced, and don’t assume that you, as an ‘ally’, know best.
Published Online: 02/10/2023