Malaysian activists have been criticizing Matty Healy since 1975 for a same-sex kiss

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A same-sex kiss between members of a British pop band in 1975 at a music festival in Malaysia drew the ire of social conservatives – and some members of the Southeast Asian country’s LGBTQ community and their friends.

Lead singer Matty Healy, no stranger to controversy, shared a long kiss with the band’s bassist after criticizing Malaysia’s anti-LGBTQ+ laws at the Good Vibes Festival on Friday, prompting the government to cancel the event after the first of three planned days.

The band has since canceled upcoming concerts in Indonesia, the world’s largest Muslim-majority country, and Taiwan, their government was the first in Asia to legalize same-sex marriage.

Healy’s kiss attracted mixed reactions among local activists, with critical posts shared thousands of times on social media over the weekend. some said he took into account the context of the LGBTQ community in Muslim-majority Malaysia, where same-sex acts can be met with up to 20 years in prison and corporal punishment. The kiss also took place weeks before highly contested state elections and the recent rise of conservative political forces.

Thilaga Sulathireh, founder of the LGBTQ group Justice for Sisters who uses their real names, said Healy’s actions could lead to backlash against the local LGBTQ community before the election.

“One can appreciate the significance of Healy’s protest, but I think it may not be the right time for people,” they said. “Political parties are campaigning right now, and we know that LGBT issues are often diffused.”

James Chin, an expert on Malaysia at the University of Tasmania, suggested that Healy may have understood the context in which his kiss would be seen.

“Among the Muslim communities of Southeast Asia, they see LGBT rights as part of this Western agenda to impose cultural values ​​on other countries, especially Muslim countries,” he said.

“One of the problems with trying to promote this kind of thing around the world, without the local context, is that you tend to get it wrong,” he said.

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Said Syed Saddiq, a former sports minister who is popular among young liberals on Twitter that he did not support Healy’s actions. “He disrespected the fans, the organizers and most importantly, fellow Malaysians,” he said.

A representative for 1975 did not immediately return a request for comment Sunday.

At the festival, Healy said he made a mistake by coming to Malaysia to perform because of the country’s anti-LGBTQ+ laws.

“I don’t see the point in inviting 1975 to a country and then telling us who we can have sex with,” he said on stage to boos and cheers, according to video footage.

“I’m sorry if that offends you, and you’re religious,” he continued, before using racism to describe the Malaysian government. He also told the audience that they were “young people, and I’m sure many of you are gay, progressive, and cool.

The directive to cancel the music festival was issued by the Minister of Communications Fahmi Fadzil. Its leader, Prime Minister Anwar Ibrahim – who served two terms in prison on sodomy charges he trumpeted – has been accused by right-wing political opponents of trying to make Malaysia more North-Western.

The political backdrop ensured that Anwar – who heads an uneasy coalition government of liberals and nationalists – would close the festival, Chin said. His government faces stiff competition from rivals such as the ultraconservative Islamic Party of Malaysia, which did surprisingly well in last year’s national election.

“If the minister had not canceled the entire festival, the opposition… would have used this as a major political issue,” he said.

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Healy hit the headlines earlier this year when it was reported that he was apparently dating pop star Taylor Swift. Friday’s kiss was a repeat of sorts: In 2019, he kissed a male audience member while 1975 was playing in Dubai, where homosexuality is illegal.

Activist Thilaga said they hoped the 1975 would support the festival’s organizers, who are now facing a police investigation into the kiss.

“That would show that it’s not just this White band that came in and has this White healing building and just walked away with people dealing with all these consequences,” they said.

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