Hazim Ismail

Hazim Ismail, right, speaks to a group of junior high students at a learning session on refugees in January. The event was hosted by Gray Academy of Jewish Education. (Kim Kaschor/CBC)

A news headline in Winnipeg is taking on a life of its own in the Malaysian press, and the backlash has Hazim Ismail seeking refugee status in Canada.

Last month, a GoFundMe campaign was started for Ismail to pay for the rest of his semester at the University of Winnipeg. The international student from Malaysia says he was disowned by his family when they learned he was gay and had turned away from his Muslim faith.

"I had reached out to the media with my friends," said Ismail. "They thought it would help my GoFundMe when my family cut off financial support." 

The GoFundMe campaign raised $5,630 in two months.

GoFundMe campaign

A GoFundMe campaign was started for Ismail to pay for the rest of his semester at the University of Winnipeg. (Lyza Sale/CBC)

"It was surprising," said Ismail of the support he has received from the community.

"Maybe I have a poor sense of self, but it was really touching, and some of the messages were so nice and encouraging and gave me power to keep going and trying."

Online poll published about him

However, Ismail's story was picked up by the Malysian press, and at that point the responses to his story took on a different tone.

"I had one reporter from Malaysia, he asked me to reveal the names of the people in Malaysia who came out to me in private," he said. "That is just wrong on so many levels.

"People have just been, 'You have to repent, you will not be safe.' There was a poll about me: 'What is going to happen to Hazim?' And one of the options was, 'You can run but you can't hide.'"

Hazim Ismail is appealing for financial help to stay in Canada.

Hazim Ismail, seen in a CBC Radio interview on Dec. 2, says he is getting ready for a refugee status hearing in April. (CBC)

The online poll published by Says, a Malaysian social news network, asked readers if they thought Hazim would become a spokesman for the LGBT community; be ostracized; "run but not hide;" or be given a second chance. Nearly 5,000 people voted in that poll.

The comment sections are rife with homophobia, and Ismail said he is receiving private messages as well.

"I got a few messages saying, 'Don't come back and taint our children.' Some of them think Canada turned me gay when I arrived," Ismail said. "Hey, I was kissing boys long before I touched down in Winnipeg."

Homosexuality is punishable by law in Malaysia, where 60 per cent of the population is Muslim.

Ismail recently retained the services of a human rights lawyer and is getting ready for his refugee status hearing in April.