Hostility to Indonesia’s LGBT Community on the Rise

Zahara Tiba
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160229-ID-protestors-620 Anti-LGBT demonstrators protest in Yogyakarta, Indonesia, Feb. 23, 2016.

Hartoyo, secretary of the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) organization OurVoice, cut off the conversation.

He had hung up the phone but was back on the line a few minutes later, explaining that he had he panicked.

“Someone knocked on my door when I was on the phone. I’m so scared,” he told BenarNews in an interview.

“I rushed to the door to lock it. I was worried somebody might have been eavesdropping, because I put [the phone] on loud speaker and I spoke quite loud.”

Hartoyo’s fear conveys a sense of dread commonly expressed by members of Indonesia’s LGBT community.

Alhough homosexuality is not outlawed in Indonesia – except in Aceh province, where Sharia law is enforced – and the nation largely practices a moderate brand of Islam, gays, lesbians, bisexuals and transgender people say they are facing growing discrimination because of their sexuality.

Resistance to the LGBT community is on the rise and even coming from governmental officials.

Muhammad Nasir, the minister of Technology, Research and Higher Education, recently rejected a plan by a study group at the University of Indonesia to host a discussion about LGBT-related issues. He went so far as to suggest that gay people should be banned from campuses, according to reports.

“There are standards of values and morals to uphold. A university is a moral safeguard,” reports quoted him as saying in late January.

Since then, the LGBT community has seen itself increasingly marginalized as public opposition to same-sex issues grows.

An Islamic boarding school for transgender students in Yogyakarta was forced to close and the nation’s highest Muslim clerical body, the Indonesian Ulemas Council (MUI), issued a fatwa stating that it is a crime for people to engage in same-sex, bisexual or transgender activities. Last year, the council issued another fatwa saying that people who engaged in “vile” or “deviant” acts should face the death penalty.

Defense Minister Ryamizard Ryacudu added fuel to the latest controversy by suggesting that the LGBT people were a “proxy” threat to national security.

“[LGBT] is dangerous, our enemies are invisible,” Tempo magazine quoted Ryamizard as saying on Feb. 23. “They are brainwashed without realizing it, then demanding independence. It’s dangerous.”

Meanwhile, an anti-gay undercurrent pervades Indonesia, according to a study published by the Pew Research Center in June 2013.

Ninety-three percent of Indonesians who were surveyed by Pew said society should not accept homosexuality, compared with only 3 percent who accepted it.

‘It’s private’: Vice president

Yet activists are fighting back in defense of rights for LGBT people.

Once anti-LGBT sentiment is turned into a prohibition against people, it can be categorized as discrimination, according to Haris Azhar, coordinator of the Commission for Missing Persons and Victims of Violence (KontraS).

“We urge President Joko Widodo to order his ministers to provide human rights protection and security guarantees to the LGBT community in Indonesia,” Azhar said, according to

Widodo has not commented, but Vice President Jusuf Kalla said earlier this month that a person’s sexual preference was a private matter that should not be publicized.

“It’s a common issue, because it’s private. It becomes wrong when it turns out to be a movement to influence others, moreover to legalize same-sex marriage,” Kalla said.

Merlyn Sopjan, a transgender activist from Kediri, East Java, said the ongoing campaign aimed to gain recognition for the LGBT community.

Merlyn also expressed hope that discrimination would end and the community would be protected against any possible violence.

“The goal of our activities is not to persuade others to be like us. Our campaign is to introduce the core issues, such as human rights, community empowerment, and raising awareness on the danger of HIV-AIDS. But we are accused of spreading the LGBT propaganda,” Merlyn said.

Students ‘more progressive than their lecturers’

Since its establishment in 2009, OurVoice’s focus has been to educate the LGBT community and the wider public, including university students, through social media and discussions, Hartoyo said.

“We never persuade them to be gay. If they marry a different-sex partner, it’s their right. It’s their decision, as long as the decision is taken without pressure,” he said.

The response among students to OurVoice-organized seminars has been positive, he added.

“Students are more progressive than their lecturers. The generation gap likely tells all. They have learned about the issue from the Internet and they want to learn more. It’s unique, so their enthusiasm remains high,” he added.

Elsewhere, Susanna Magiyuani, the human resources manager of LGBT organization SuaraKita, said it had been inviting experts and religious leaders to join public talks on the issue.

“I’m straight. I have three children. Every day I interact with my LGBT colleagues in the organization. I know exactly how their life is. If people said LGBT is contagious, a lifestyle or mental disorder, I’ll say they have to learn more about LGBT,” she told BenarNews.

Ismira Lutfia Tisnadibrata in Jakarta contributes in this story.


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