March 31, 2016 at 6:00 am EST | by Michael K. Lavers
State Department honors Malaysian transgender activist

Nisha Ayub, gay news, Washington Blade

Nisha Ayub, left, receives the International Women of Courage Award from Secretary of State John Kerry at the State Department on March 29, 2016. (Photo courtesy of the State Department)

A transgender activist from Malaysia is among the 14 women who the State Department honored in D.C. on Tuesday.

Nisha Ayub and others from Bangladesh, Belize, China, France, Guatemala, Iraq, Mauritania, Russia, Slovakia, Sudan, Tanzania, Thailand and Yemen received the State Department’s International Women of Courage Award.

Ayub co-founded two Malaysian trans advocacy groups: The Seed Foundation and Justice for Sisters.

The Seed Foundation advocates on behalf of trans Malaysians, people with HIV and other marginalized groups. Justice for Sisters provides legal aid to trans Malaysians and promotes awareness of anti-LGBT discrimination in the country.

Secretary of State John Kerry noted during Tuesday’s ceremony that Ayub endured “sexual abuse and humiliation” while serving a three month prison sentence for dressing as a woman. The State Department on its website indicates that she “has been beaten and imprisoned simply for who she is.”

“Despite the obstacles Nisha has dedicated her life to protecting the transgender community,” said Kerry.

Ayub told the Washington Blade in an email on Wednesday that the award is “an award for all transwomen in the world.”

“It shows the recognition and acceptance of a transwoman being awarded a women’s award,” said Ayub. “This award is also a platform to express to the world the violence and hostile situations that transwomen face for just being who we are.”

Landmark trans rights ruling overturned in 2015

Malaysia is among the more than 70 countries in which consensual same-sex relations remain criminalized.

The Malaysian Federal Court last year upheld former Deputy Malaysian Prime Minister Anwar Ibrahim’s conviction under the country’s anti-sodomy law. Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak last summer said his government will not defend LGBT rights and other issues outside the “context of Islam.”

Three trans women in 2011 challenged a law in the state of Negeri Sembilan that bans Muslim men from wearing women’s clothes in public.

The Putrajaya Court of Appeals in 2014 found the statute — known as Section 66 — unconstitutional in a landmark ruling. Malaysia’s highest court last October overturned the decision.

Justice for Sisters is among the organizations that criticized the ruling.

Michael K. Lavers is the international news editor of the Washington Blade. Follow Michael

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