Out and Proud: Fearless Malaysian defies hate with fabulous images of the LGBT community

 

By Celestine Foo

To his family, 24-year-old Daniel Adams is just “someone with a camera.” To those who know his work, he is an artist who creates awareness on issues affecting the local LGBT community.

Drawing people in with stunning visual elements, cleverly planned concepts, and heartwarming stories, his pictures are more than just images – they speak to your soul. 

“A lot of what people think of the LGBT community is from a lack of education on gender and identity, and it’s important to be able to put out information that is not only beautiful, but also educational in order to teach and educate people about this community and allow them to understand who these people actually are,” he told Coconuts KL in a recent interview. 

“I find it ridiculous that you can judge someone’s sexual preferences just because they’re different from yours when it doesn’t affect you at all.”

The KL-born photographer draws inspiration from various sources for his work, including Instagram, music videos, movies, music, and discussions with creative individuals, which helps him stimulate his thoughts.

While he may not be the only photographer addressing controversial topics through photography, Adams appears to be among the rare few in Malaysia zooming in on stories revolving the queer community. 

Daniel Adams (in yellow) photographing his subjects. Photo: Daniel Adams
Daniel Adams (in yellow) photographing his subjects. Photo: Daniel Adams

When asked why he chose to work with Malaysia’s LGBT community, Adams explained that he was always surrounded by them, including his time at the United Kingdom’s Falmouth University, where he studied alongside a diverse group of people who had different sexual orientations and were all full of love. 

“How can people so loving, so kind, and so beautiful be discriminated against for their sexual preferences?” he asked. 

Growing alongside them, Adams became inspired to fight against the stigma they faced, turning that into the motivation for his passion project. Today, he still believes that the community deserves to be respected for who they are.

Keeping the discourse on LGBT alive

A portrait photo from one of Daniel Adams’ projects, ‘Trans men of Malaysia.’ Photo: Daniel Adams
A portrait photo from one of Daniel Adams’ projects, ‘Trans men of Malaysia.’ Photo: Daniel Adams

Adams also questioned the morals practiced in Malaysia, given that pedophilia and child marriage are rampant and easily overlooked while an individual’s sexual preference is such a big deal. 

Questioning those ideas, Adams decided to take it upon himself to educate people. He said that documentaries, while educational, are also usually draggy and dull. Using photography as a medium, he aims to create aesthetically pleasing bodies of work that would not only draw viewers but also educate them about the marginalized community. 

Adams said he hopes to get the ball rolling so that discussions can happen. Even when the attention and comments received can be negative, he believes that it was still important to allow people to respond and keep the conversations going so we can all learn why people think and speak the way they do. 

“I understand that everyone has their own opinion. But having their opinions being put out there and having it being argued against or agreed with, you can see where different people are coming from and how their backgrounds have shaped the way that they think and that’s just a discussion,” Adams said. 

“If the discussion wasn’t happening, there wouldn’t be this level of awareness.”

Daniel Adams lying on the ground to photograph his subjects. Photo: Daniel Adams
Daniel Adams lying on the ground to photograph his subjects. Photo: Daniel Adams

Negative feedback used to deter Adams from speaking up, but he has since learned to grow a thick skin and use the negative comments as motivation to tell even more stories. Being told not to do something simply makes him want to do it more, he said. Support from his own friends also goes a long way.

“If I didn’t have support, it would be very hard for me to push it forward,” he said. 

He later added: “I would probably follow a different route – instead of social media I’d probably go to another platform or contact another artist to collaborate with to create a platform. But then again, I can’t completely say how much different it would be.”

It is incredibly common for netizens to express hatred to those who show support towards marginalized communities, Adams said. Fortunately, his Instagram followers share similar moral values and beliefs. Negative reactions usually take place on Twitter, where his work reaches users who are more conservative. 

LGBT hate in Malaysia 

Malaysia’s Department of Islamic Development estimated 310,000 citizens in the LGBT community. That’s a fragment of the country’s population of more than 30 million.

While discrimination might not seem prevalent in Malaysia, it’s a different story on social media, where hate speech targeting Malaysia’s queers are rampant. Despite the onslaught of negativity, the LGBT community continues to react with love and positivity, Adams said. 

“The more you put out there, the more you speak about it, the more discussions you have, the more people you get telling you their opinions and the more you understand how skewed people’s opinions of the LGBT community are and that just makes it more eye-opening,” he shared. 

Models locked in an embrace. Photo: Daniel Adams
Models locked in an embrace. Photo: Daniel Adams

It’s not easy for a queer person to open up, Adams said. There needs to be a level of trust between him and his subjects, who are mostly his friends. Beyond images, Adams said that he is also capturing their vulnerability, and he understands when some people are simply not ready to come forward. 

“They are not scared, they are just not ready to tell so many people their story, which is completely understandable,” Adams said. 

“But a lot of the people I surround myself with are extroverts and very willing to advocate for these things so there wasn’t much persuading needed,” he added. 

For his most recent project on transgender men, for example, Adams conceptualized it only after he was contacted by a former schoolmate, who had reached out to him with the idea while he was in mid-transition. The opportunity allowed Adams to connect with the local transgender community.

Adams believes that he will never stop creating content for the LGBT community, a topic he said is close to his heart. 

“There is always something new to talk and educate people about,” he said, the passion in his eyes shining through.

Other stories to check out:

Man opens up on struggle with religion, homosexuality, and coming out in Mecca

Malaysia has not held a proper parliamentary sitting in months. Youths show how to do it virtually.

Malaysian doodle artist reimagines Disney characters in traditional attire

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CITY: KLCATEGORY: FEATURESSUB-CATEGORIES: INTERVIEWS

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