Gay Indonesia News & Reports 2004-08

Also see:
Islam and Homosexuality
More information about Islam & Homosexuality can be found at:
Other articles of interest can be found at:
Queer Muslim magazine: Huriyah

Gay Islam discussion groups:

Gay Bali Rainbow Travel Agency

1 Indonesian movie breaks sexual taboos 1/04

2 Gay Screen Kiss Makes History in Indonesia 1/04

3 Indonesia "must accept gays" to halt HIV spread 8/04

4 Jakarta gay film festival stuns and evokes threats 12/04

5 Bali–The Morning of the World (gay travel story) 1/05

5a Walter Spies: The Gay Gauguin of Bali 1/05 (notable report)

6 Homosexual rights book earns national prize 5/05

7 Militants create row over Indonesia transvestite show 6/05

8 Bali Bombings Kill at Least 25 in Tourist Spots (popular with gays) 10/05

9 Muslim ‘Autonomous’ Communities Thwart Indonesian Protections For Gays 10/06

10 Arus Pelangi launches a national campaign 10/06

11 HIV/AIDS prevention tough in a secret gay city 4/07

12 Slovak, Yes; Indonesians, No 5/07

13 Indonesia to boost HIV/AIDS spending 7/07

14 Brazilian football’s gay rumours land judge in trouble 8/07

15 Q! Film Festival: Gender and sexuality on film 8/07

16 Indonesia film festival takes gay issues out of closet 8/07

17 Dede Oetomo 3/08

18 Asian gay, transgender groups fight for their rights 6/08

19 Queer film festival to be held Jakarta, Bali & Surabaya 7/08

20 Book review: How solutions lie in The Wisdom of Whores 7/08

21 Former prisoner gets legal backing for Sukarno story 8/08

22 U.S. grants asylum in Indonesian transgender case 9/08

23 Increased Testing To Curb HIV Among Male Sex Workers 10/08

24 Indonesia’s Papua plans to tag AIDS sufferers 11/08

25 Underground and at risk: Men who have sex with men in urban Papua 12/08


January 1, 2004 =en_IN&storyID=4062723

Indonesian movie breaks sexual taboos

by Tomi Soetjipto
Jakarta –
A candid home-grown tale featuring gay kissing has become an unlikely box office hit in Indonesia, the world’s most populous Muslim country, challenging and wowing audiences in equal measure. Playing to packed cinemas in Jakarta, "Arisan!" is a satirical comedy mocking the life of the rich in the nation’s capital and tackling the taboo subject of homosexuality. To the surprise of many in the Indonesian film industry, state censors passed the movie with almost no cuts. Scenes left untouched include an aerial shot of oral sex in a public toilet and a gay kiss. "It is a breakthrough," said Dede Oetomo, a sociologist and one of Indonesia’s few openly gay activists.

But not everyone enjoyed the kiss. During one recent screening, some audience members jeered and shouted in disapproval when the main gay character planted a passionate kiss on the lips of his new-found lover. "I heard about the gay thing, but I wasn’t prepared for the kiss. It’s kind of sickening, don’t you think?" said Melisa Soeparman, a 28-year-old housewife emerging from a screening. The movie follows the lives of the few, but very powerful, super-rich in Jakarta, drawn together in a traditional Indonesian-style social-support group known as arisan. "A true reflection" "It is a true reflection of life in Jakarta," said director Nia Dinata, puffing on a menthol cigarette. "I am trying to capture the life and the habits of the rich who always put on masks as if everything was perfect," said the 33-year-old mother of two.

Arisan is a common term for a monthly social gathering between friends and relatives who chip in money to be won in turns through a lucky draw. From villagers in far-flung areas to urban professionals in big cities, arisan – initially born as a type of support network for ethnic Chinese merchants – is hugely popular among Indonesia’s 210 million people, especially housewives. "It has become a uniquely Indonesian thing," says the U.S.-educated Oetomo. But some arisan in Jakarta have grown into an exhibit of wealth featuring a who’s who of high society. The prize draws range from millions of rupiah worth of goodies to a date with a high-class prostitute.

The movie’s three main characters are struggling to maintain a facade in front of the other arisan members although in truth their lives are less than perfect. Meimei is a successful interior designer battling with infertility and married to an unfaithful husband, while Andien, a bed-hopping wife is also married to an unfaithful husband. Leading male character Sakt is their faithful gay friend who is struggling to "cure" his homosexuality. Audience reactions may be mixed, but everyone has an opinion. Perhaps more importantly, the critics love it. The respected weekly magazine, Tempo – home to the most influential Indonesian art critics – called the film "the freshest movie of the year with an almost perfect script".

The daily Jakarta Post said: "Achingly funny, an honest work from the heart." The movie is low-budget by Hollywood standards. But into its third week in Jakarta alone it has drawn more than 100,000 viewers, a huge success in the small and competitive local market, according to an official at Indonesia’s biggest theatre chain, Twenty One. Shot in just 32 days on a budget of two billion rupiah ($230,000), "Arisan!" is among a crop of new movies seen as signalling the revival of the Indonesian film industry after a decade in the doldrums. But it stands out among the other offerings, which are confined to the staple fare of teen romance and horror.

Fear Of Backlash

Unlike in many Muslim countries, Indonesian society is relatively tolerant of homosexuality, but the topic does not usually get a public airing. There is no mention of homosexuality in Indonesian law and the relatively liberal mass media rarely discusses the issue, despite the presence of a number of gay public figures. Scriptwriter Joko Anwar said there were initial fears of a possible backlash by zealous religious groups, but they have yet to materialise. Such worries are understandable in a country where the newly democratic government is battling an alarming rise of Islamic militancy. But, says Oetomo, the lack of outrage does not indicate a new acceptance of gays in Indonesia. "It’s more like I know you exist, but please don’t bother me’. That’s why we have everything here, from fanatic groups to gay rights groups. After all, this is democracy."

Associated Press,

January 1, 2004

Gay Screen Kiss Makes History in Indonesia

Jakarta – Their lips locked for less than a second, but it was enough to make history. Until the release this month of "Arisan," cinema audiences in Indonesia, the world’s most populous Muslim nation, had yet to see two local men kissing on screen. "I and my friends wanted to break new ground," said the film’s young director, Nia di Nata. "I was a bit nervous but was elated when the censor boards (passed the scene)." The film, also called "Gathering," has been showing to enthusiastic audiences. The kiss scene has triggered nervous giggles and shouts by cinema-goers, but it hasn’t provoked outrage in Indonesia, where most people tolerate – if not wholly accept – homosexuality.

Gays and transvestites are noticeable on the streets of major cities and on TV entertainment shows. Now, they are publicly proclaiming their sexuality in greater numbers than ever before. Still, homosexuality remains a sensitive topic, and the release of "Arisan" is the latest indication that Indonesia’s art scene is slowly throwing off the shackles that were imposed on it during the U.S.-backed Suharto dictatorship. The film’s plot centers on an architect’s eventual coming out as a gay man. It has not been billed as a gay film but rather as an examination of a group of 30-something professionals in the Indonesian capital, Jakarta. Some viewers said it changed their opinions on homosexuality. "I look at gays differently now," said Wendy Lastwati, a 16-year-old girl wearing a Muslim headscarf as she left a Jakarta cinema. "I can imagine … having a gay friend."

Unlike in neighboring Malaysia, homosexuality is not illegal in Indonesia. Nightclubs in major cities have long established gay nights, and transsexual entertainers are regulars on television screens. But life for most gay men and women is still difficult, and often lonely. Few tell their families or employers about their sexual orientation, and the social pressure to get married in Indonesia is such that many are forced to take a spouse and lead a double life. Although verbal and physical abuse of gays is rare, there are signs that Muslim militants are beginning to target homosexuals.

In the towns of Solo and Yogyakarta on Indonesia’s main island of Java, gays have been forced to stop frequenting their normal hangouts because of threats. In Solo in 2000, hundreds of masked men trashed chairs and disrupted an HIV/AIDS awareness campaign held in a public square in the city. Dede Utomo, a gay activist who is standing for office in parliamentary elections next year, said most Indonesians are tolerant of gays, lesbians, transsexuals and transvestites "as long they are not family or friends." "The urban young are now willing to accept gays," he said. "There is a sense of freedom to talk about it now." This new openness is part of a larger shift in Indonesian society that has gradually picked up pace since the 1998 ouster of Suharto, who suppressed freedom of expression and academic inquiry. Now, new fiction by female writers on sex and other once taboo topics competes for space at Jakarta bookstores with once-banned tomes on communism and atheism.

Academics who were locked up or lived in exile under Suharto now appear on TV and radio talk shows debating the issues of the day. Before "Arisan," gays were typically portrayed in an unsympathetic light in Indonesian cinema. In the 1987 flick "Istana Kecantikan" (Beauty Palace) a gay man, Niko, marries a woman to please his family. After years of frustration, he gets divorced and opens a beauty salon, where he falls in love with his male assistant. However, his wife becomes pregnant by the assistant. Niko kills the man and ends up in prison. "Kuldesak" (Cul-de-sac), released in 1998, portrayed gays in a more positive light, but censors blurred the screen when a pair kissed. In it, the men are ostracized by the community, and one is beaten by neighbors.

In contrast, "Arisan" features two women and two gay men – all of whom are smart professionals who pepper their talk with English and live in upmarket homes. Moving through posh cafes, wine bars and restaurants, the four could almost be in any metropolitan city in the world.

Agence France Press UK (

August 27, 2004

Indonesia "must accept gays" to halt HIV spread

by Ben Townley
Religious leaders and government officials in Indonesia must modernise their attitudes towards gay people if they are to halt the spread of HIV in the country, according to health workers. Speaking to the AFP news agency, the country’s National Committee on AIDS Control said that religious intolerance of homosexuality was a stumbling block in the strategy to stop the spread of HIV. "We will also try to address the openness absent in the government and also in religious groups in this matter," committee member Suharto told the agency, adding that a meeting next month would be held to address the problem.

Indonesia is a mainly Muslim country in which lesbian and gay people are often discounted or thought not to exist. However, along with China and Eastern Europe, it is being picked out by UN officials as a hot spot of HIV increases. But it is not the only country in Asia that is being accused of outdated attitudes towards gay people and the fight against HIV. Nepal is also the focus of condemnation from international human rights groups, after the government arrested members of a gay rights group that also works in HIV advocacy. Nearly 40 members of the Blue Diamond Society were arrested earlier this month, and were released on bail last week.

Since then, they have accused the police of being violent and discriminating against them whilst they were in custody. Additionally, the country’s Supreme Court is currently considering a call for the group to be shut down, after complaints it was "advocating homosexuality". According to the UNAIDS organisation, the Asia Pacific region is home to around 19% of the world’s HIV positive population. New infections in the region sent the total of HIV positive people in the region to 7.4 million people. Indonesia saw a sharp increase last year, UNAIDS says, particularly in men who sleep with men without protection, drug users and sex workers.


December 9, 2004

Jakarta gay film festival stuns and evokes threats

by Rob Taylor
For John Badalu, bringing gay cinema to Indonesia is a dangerous obsession. The 33-year-old director of Jakarta’s Q Fest Gay and Lesbian Film Festival has received threats of violence and even death from religious conservatives in the world’s most populous Muslim nation. And so as his brainchild enters its third and biggest year, Badalu – a film critic who helped judge the gay section of the internationally renowned Berlin Film Festival during a study year in Europe last year – is keeping a low-profile back home to avoid the worst of the vilification.

" When they telephone I just try to react very calmly," he said. " I tell them that if they kill me, it’s not going to stop the festival. And I tell them that we have many foreign embassies and people overseas supporting us, so it would create an international incident."

The Q Fest, which opens today, aims to show all Jakartans – gay or heterosexual – a selection of "art cinema" films they would not see anywhere else. And Badalu says they come free of both ticket prices and the censor’s knife courtesy of the small, non-commercial screen venues – mostly art galleries and embassy cultural offices. With the cooperation of other film festivals around the world, the 10-day Q Fest this year will show 88 short films, 27 features and 16 documentaries. Some are home-grown, including the ground-breaking Arisan, which took Indonesian cinemas by storm earlier this year and which features two gay men kissing, and a woman and a man having oral sex in a public toilet.

The gay scene in particular shocked audiences, drawing gasps and catcalls from stunned cinema goers more attuned to American action blockbusters. But Badalu says Arisan’s success does not signal a more tolerant Indonesia emerging after a difficult six-year democratic transition.

" If anything I think it’s getting worse. It’s really going backwards," he says. " Under Suharto we were more of a unified community, but now there’s no tolerance at all." The gay community is left alone only while it remains relatively underground, he says. But the social stigma against homosexuality is so strong that only around 100,000 people have summoned the courage to come out, while hundreds of thousands more "stay firmly in the closet", Badalu says. Q Fest is part of a long-term quest to bring Indonesia’s gays in from the cold.
" There are lot of negative images every day in the media, on television," Badalu says.

" We try to bring out the positives of the gay community through the films and show that we are just like everyone else." The festival this year draws films from Germany, Canada, France, South Africa, Thailand, and even mainly-Muslim Turkey and Malaysia. But Badalu says he was disappointed Australia, with its rich cinema history, was not able to contribute. "The embassy here was very nice, but they were a bit concerned about helping to put Q Fest on in a Muslim country," he says.

The Out Traveler magazine (LPI. Inc)

January/February 2005

Bali–The Morning of the World (gay travel story)

Story by Gretchen Kelly; photography by Moses Berkson
(Copied without permission.)

You could choose worse places to contemplate the nature of the universe than from a plunge pool at the Four Seasons in Bali. Incense perfumes the late afternoon air. Heart of Darkness foliage is alive with candy-colored birds and butterflies. From beyond the river you can hear the deep clong of a gamelan orchestra–a sound compared by poets to rain falling through golden sunlight. It’s the nearby temple’s full moon celebration.

And there you are, rising naked from the tranquil waters and wrapping yourself, like the Balinese, in your new sarong. You’re invited to the temple tonight to watch the dancing–a re-creation of the eternal struggle between good and evil–and even though it’s deliciously foreign, you feel oddly at ease here in one of the last great outposts for the hippie soul. Where else are incense and scented oil as important as bread and water? Where else can grown men and women walk around in sarongs, Birkenstocks, and T-shirts and not feel ridiculous?

Gay travelers will find themselves immediately at home in Bali, where everyone–gay or straight–is treated with an equally warm welcome and allowed to participate, albeit peripherally, in the daily drama of Balinese Hindu ritual life. The island is also a magnet for foreigners who are drawn to Bali’s easy attitude of acceptance because they are "different." The expatriate community is full of rogues, rascals, and renegades–a cast of characters that would have warmed the queer cockles of Somerset Maugham’s heart.

Bali’s benign tolerance of foreigners at its rites and rituals may stem from the fact that the island itself is a minority Hindu culture in predominantly Muslim Indonesia. Although the U.S. State Department classifies Bali as "Indonesia" and issues warnings accordingly, travelers should think of it as part of, but distinct from, the rest of the country. Culturally, Bali is not Indonesia. Bali is Bali. The 2002 bombing of the Kuta-area Sari Club was carried out not by indigenous Balinese, but by Indonesians from other islands. Since then, the peaceful island has worked hard to restore its largely tourist-based economy to pre-2002 levels.

Hidden Homo Hindis and Androgynous Demons

The Hindu culture that developed on this Aladdin’s lamp-shaped island in the Indonesian archipelago traces its roots back to India, but it includes a strong dose of indigenous animism. Everything in the Balinese world is alive: rocks, trees, rice fields. Every aspect of existence has spirit. Rituals exist to maintain the balance of those spirits. Fertility and family are the center of Balinese life. Hence, the strong emphasis on marriage and the near invisibility of public gay life.

" Being gay in Bali is still a very private affair," says Four Seasons public relations director Putu Indrawati. Homosexuality is not illegal, but it is not part of the social fabric of tradition. While many gay Balinese are pressured to marry, they often pursue same-sex relationships. A strong gay expat community has also evolved in Denpasar and around Kuta, although long-term open gay relationships between Balinese and non-Balinese are still rare.

Rio Maryono, the owner of Gaya Bali Tours, says the island’s gay scene is primarily tourist-driven. "Gay-owned villas, restaurants, and bars are all available, and since the past five years, things have become more and more open," he says. "People are more accepting and tolerant. But for locals, it is still difficult to be gay because of the Balinese culture. Most are closeted. The openly gay Balinese stay in the tourist areas (around Kuta and Seminyak) but not in their own hometown villages."

Although indigenous gay culture is hard to penetrate, such gentle tolerance and a cool live-and-let-live vibe along with a vibrant culture whose gods and demons exhibit an intriguingly androgynous sexuality make Bali a natural choice for gay and lesbian travelers willing to journey beyond their own cultural boundaries and learn anew. Bali truly deserves its rebirthing Hindu name: "The Morning of the World."

Indonesia’s Art Heart
A few days outside the touristy areas of Kuta and Legian will immerse you in a distinctly Balinese world. You may encounter a beachside cremation ceremony one day and a village trance dance the next. And in between cultural immersion sessions you can enjoy the many pleasures that make Bali a hedonist’s feast–like the island’s cloud-peaked sacred volcanoes, perfect beaches, white-water rafting, and mountain trails.

Some of the world’s most sumptuous resorts are here, like the Four Seasons Sayan, whose Balinese-style villas blend seamlessly with the rain forest around them, and the new Uma Ubud resort, surrounded by the serenity of local rice paddies. Shoppers will find whole villages devoted to crafts like jewelry-making, wooden sculpture, and weaving. "In Bali," say locals, "everyone is an artist."

Start your journey into Bali’s sacred heart with a day or two in and around the ancient arts and culture capital of Ubud, near the center of the island. Ubud is presided over by the elephant-headed god Ganesha, who sits benignly in the marketplace watching the local rough trade ride by on their motor scooters, clove cigarettes hanging from their lips. Ganesha is the "remover of obstacles," but you won’t find many obstacles in Ubud, except perhaps the mounds of fruit and flower offerings to the spirits that line the narrow streets in front of temples, rice fields, and losmans, or local inns.

Ubud has been getting more and more westernized in the last 10 years and some of its rural charm has been rubbed off, but it is still loaded with cultural gold–there are temples on almost every street where public dance performances are held almost every night of the week. Some of the craft shops on Monkey Forest Road still sell colorfully painted carved masks and wooden statues of Garuda, the bird-beaked angel-accomplice of the god Vishnu, along with other deities and demons. Push past the bad replicas of Disney characters (all too common now, since Balinese artists kept being asked by tourists, "Can’t you make something from The Lion King?") and you’ll find treasures.

On the way back to the sanctuary of your resort, watch for views of traditional Balinese village life. You may encounter village processions where locals parade through rural roads in masks and other regalia, beneath the swaying tails of the sacred lion–huge pendant flowers that hang over all of Bali’s sacred rites.

Outside Ubud and the rural villages are Kuta, Seminyak and Legian, the beachside homes of Bali’s largely expat gay scene. This is where you’ll find gay-owned villas, restaurants, massage studios (for real massages, not sex), and clubs like the Hulu, famous for its drag shows. Seminyak and Legian are more upscale, while Kuta incorporates the dark side of Bali’s gay life. "More than 90% of the guys in the bars are rent boys," says Gaya Bali Tours’s Maryono.

Although the tacky side of tourism has lodged here, Kuta is worth a visit if clubbing and beach boys are your passion. The infamous "Kuta cowboys" ply their trade here. Balinese muscle boys, Kuta cowboys are available mostly for lonely Aussie and German ladies who are looking for local "boyfriends" in exchange for gifts and possible marriages of comfort and convenience.

Wash the grit off with a last day visit to the nearby seaside temple of Tanah Lot. Go just before sunset and make sure to wear your sarong (mandatory for temple visits for both men and women). Sip a sundowner on the veranda restaurant, then head with the locals to the water’s edge to purify yourself before the journey home. Legend has it that a sacred snake still lives in the under-cliff cave. If you thrust your hand in the hollow where he lives, you will get your wish. Be sure to ask for a return ticket.

Kelly has written about Bali for Arthur Frommer’s Budget Travel and MetroSource

(Dial 011-62 before all phone numbers)
Most hotels in Bali are gay-friendly, and the Four Seasons hotels were among the first international resorts to reach out and market themselves to gay American travelers. Most of Bali’s gay-owned private villas and bungalows are in the Kuta-Legian area, which is highly touristy and not recommended for optimum cultural immersion, but it is close to the bar-beach scene.

Inexpensive- Moderate: Laki Uma Villa, "House of Male" (Umalas, Krobokan, Kuta, no phone; $40- $80) is a private villa with a swimming pool and Jacuzzi-steam room, exclusively for men and clothing-optional. Bali au Naturel (Jalan Pantai, Buleleng; 811-388681; $90-$100) is a gay-owned, clothing-optional resort on the beach in northern Bali. Rooms have open-air walls and are grouped around a lake full of fish and turtles.

Expensive: South East Asian luxury doesn’t get any better than at the Four Seasons Resort Bali at Jimbaran Bay, (Jimbaran, Denpasar; 361-701010; $475-$1,500) and the Four Seasons Resort Bali at Sayan (Ubud, Gianyar; 361-977577; $320-$850). Both are perfect if you’d enjoy floating naked in your own private plunge pool beside a palatial, but indigenously correct, villa. The Jimbaran Bay property overlooks the ocean and the sacred Balinese mountain, Gunung Agung. The Sayan is by the Ayung River (you can hear its waters at night). Both are styled after Balinese villages and include temple complexes. The hotels offer excursions like visiting a village chief or enjoying a gourmet lunch at the edge of a sacred volcano.

Popular with upscale gay and lesbian travelers, Villa Semana (Br. Semana, Desa Singakerta, Ubud Gianyar; 361-246288, $250-$440) is a gay-owned property with 10 luxurious private pool villas, and its spa boasts outdoor massages and its own lotus pond.

Inexpensive-Moderate: La Luciola (Jln. Kayu Aya Beach, Oberoi; 361-261047 or 361-730838; $20-$50) is a beachside open-air restaurant owned and operated by a gay couple from Sydney. The gay beach at Petitenget is a hundred meters to the right. Expensive: Ku de Ta (9 Jalan Laksman Oberoi, Seminyak; 361-736969; dinner for two, $70) is the expat-owned restaurant du jour where a well-heeled gay crowd is making this the place to go to smoke Cuban cigars and wear sockless loafers. The Ayung Terrace at the Four Seasons Sayan (Ubud, Gianyar; 361-977577; $20-$75) is a perfect place to have an early dinner and watch the sun set as classical gamelan musicians and dancers perform.

Q Bar & Cafe (Abimanyu Arcade, 1-2 Jln. Dhyana Pura, Seminyak; 361-730927) is a cruisy gay bar with outdoor patio, stage, and a dance floor where dancers perform five nights a week. Hulu Cafe (23-A Jln. Sahadewa, Legian; 361-736443) is one of Bali’s oldest gay venues, in the middle of the dense shopping stretch of Kuta, with drag shows and an amateur drag contest on Saturday nights.

The Symon Gallery (Jln. Raya Campuhan, Ubud; 361-974721) is an art studio run by a gay man named Symon who lets prospective buyers look at his work as well as his nude models, who are often lounging nearby. The "gay beach" of Bali is called Petitenget and is a 20- to 30-minute drive north of Kuta. Gay Bali Tours (Jln. Griya Anyar 76A, Br. Kajeng-Suwung, Kuta; 361-722483) is a gay-owned Bali-based operator that can book entire trips for singles or couples, which include visits to authentic spa houses or day trips like hiking and white-water rafting.

Getting There
Flying to Bali is a time-consuming affair. Make the best of it by traveling on a carrier like gay-friendly Singapore Airlines (800-742-3333), which has that fabulous Space Bed in business class, and direct flights (via Singapore) from Los Angeles; San Francisco; New York; Newark, N.J.; and Vancouver, Canada.

The Out Traveler magazine (LPI. Inc)

January/February 2005

Walter Spies: The Gay Gauguin of Bali
(See website:

Walter Spies had it all. He was young, handsome, and courted by one of the Weimar Republic’s most brilliant men–the film director F.W. Murnau (of Nosferatu fame). He was also a talented painter and musician whose wanderlust took him from the clutches of the overly infatuated Murnau to the islands of Indonesia, where he settled in Bali in 1927.

Spies quickly became the gay Gauguin of Bali, painting the sensuality of young men in loincloths among green foliage and otherworldly architecture. When the ruling Dutch government persecuted Spies as a homosexual, the anthropologist Margaret Mead and her husband, Gregory Bateson, testified that Spies’s "transgressions" were a manifestation of Balinese culture.

Spies was deported in 1942 for holding a German passport. The ship was bombed, and the prisoners, including Spies, perished in their locked cells while their captors looked on. Today, Spies’s images are reproduced in books and galleries all over Bali. His influence on Balinese dance, music, and art remains indelible.


Further information about Walter Spies:

The Legacy of Walter Spies: Bali

by Barrie

Cockfight by Walter Spies

When it comes to Balinese art and fine art at that, then Walter Spies ranks high up on the list. He undoubtedly had an influential affect on Balinese artists. He arrived in Bali in 1924 and struck up a rapport with Tjokorda Agung Sukawati and together they eventually founded the Pita Maha Arts Society. But Spies is not only famous for his beautiful art works. He was and accomplished photographer and movie-maker as well as a musician.

Last week I wrote about an exhibition titles Walter Spies 111 years at ARMA, Agung Rau Museum of Art in Ubud. Kadek Krishna Adidharma wrote an excellent article on Spies and his life, his influence upon the Balinese and his works. Walter Spies: The legacy of a banished demon Kadek Krishna Adidharma, Ubud

In creating the image of Balinese idyll, the influence of German painter, photographer and musician Walter Spies (1895-1942) who was banished by the Dutch from his adopted home, is still visible and tangible today. June 9 saw the Agung Rai Museum of Art in Ubud celebrate its 10th anniversary with a gala celebration that included the opening of Walter Spies 111, a two month long exhibition of photos from the private collection of the Spies family celebrating what would have been his 111th birthday.

As a young man Walter Spies moved in high society; the avant garde culture of pre-war Moscow, then in Berlin and Dresden, Germany, to where he moved in 1918. However by 1923 he no longer felt at home with all the decadence of Europe. In his journal he wrote: "I then decided to just go somewhere, anywhere, to a faraway land. And after going on a challenging and formidable journey as a sailor in a cargo vessel I arrived in Java where I decided to jump ship!" Arriving in Bali to live permanently in 1927 after a stint as court conductor for the Sultan of Yogyakarta’s European orchestra, this Russian born son of a German businessman-diplomat settled in Ubud as a painter where with Tjokorda Agung Sukawati he eventually founded the Pita Maha Arts Society, the catalyst of modern art in Bali.

A pavilion of his home is preserved as part of Hotel Campuhan, and at the ARMA, you will find two large buildings – named "Walter Spies" and "Pita Maha" – housing an impressive collection of original works of art, reproductions of important work from private collections as well as a reproduction of a priceless Spies paintings that has been "missing" since 1942.

The gala anniversary event also featured the screening of Baron von Plessen’s thriller Island of Demons. Saluted as an exceptional film event of 1932 Germany Island of Demons is perhaps the only feature film of the 20th century to really showcase the details of daily Balinese life hence providing the West with a glimpse of Bali packaged as a dramatic thriller. Filmmakers Baron von Plessen and Friedrich Dahlseim came to the island with no script, only a brief list of what to feature: agriculture, harvest, religion, cockfighting, the Rangda and Barong. Balinese amateur actors were chosen from the village of Bedaulu and the script developed in-situ. As art director of the film Spies explored the darker side of Bali through a reinterpretation of Calon Arang, the widow-witch and her beautiful daughter.

Some scholars blame Spies for the simplification of the Rangda as Calon Arang. Of over 30 versions of her story many of which were lessons of dharma, or of charity and redemption, he elected one that denied her humanity. For the European audience perhaps, the witch had to become an embodiment of evil that must be defeated. For Island of Demons Spies also supervised the choreography of what would become the modern ketjak dance popular to tourists with its now familiar syncopated chanting.

Though he credits this combination of classic dance forms to a local dancer it was Spies who made the form famous by requesting the performance of the dance for the likes of comedian Charlie Chaplin, Woolworth heiress Barbara Hutton as well as anthropologists and writers such as Margaret Mead, Gregory Bateson and Vicki Baum. Variations of the dance are still performed for tourists today.

It was around this man that the image of Bali became crystallized during the golden age of Bali tourism, the late 1920s to 1930s. Hosting the European and American glitterati, scholars and even Indian poet Rabindranath Tagore at his Campuhan home, Spies presented his version of "real Bali" as a rich culture based on an authentic folk tradition. In terms of the world’s perception of Bali, Spies’ greatest influence can be seen through his Mexican visitor, writer and painter Miguel Covarrubias, whose book Island of Bali has outlasted all other travel books to become the key descriptive work on Bali.

Spies also researched the arts in great depth. With Beryl de Zoete of Britain he co-authored Dance and Drama in Bali while he shared his musical interests with Canadian musician and composer Colin McPhee, author of Music in Bali. Spies’s stay in Bali ended in 1939 when he was taken to court and jailed for homosexuality during a morality-driven witch hunt by the Dutch government. While imprisoned in Surabaya he painted his best work hailed as magical realism depicting changes in feelings and subconscious attitudes: The Landscape and its Children. The work shows the painter’s longing for Bali and the tricks the mind plays as a place once called home fades into distant memory. In 2002 this painting sold for over US$1 million through Christie’s Singapore.

His Scherzo for Brass Instruments, reputedly painted in a half-trance state contains many incarnations of the artist as he explores an inner landscape from various points of view. In a letter to Carl Gotsch, Spies describes the process of painting Scherzo as a spiritual and sacred purification of the soul akin to rebirth: "The funny thing is I really feel as if this is my very first painting. I really feel as if I am beginning a new life." Dedicated to Leopold Stokowski, then the conductor of Chicago’s Philharmonic Orchestra, Scherzo was shipped from Surabaya to America but never reached its destination. Today’s reproductions are from photographs taken by Spies in prison.

In his fatherland this German artist is probably better known as the art advisor to several movies such as Friedrich Murnau’s version of the Dracula story, Nosferatu. Yet despite living only a fraction of his life in Germany Spies’ citizenship twice caused him to be interned during war. Born in Moscow and raised mostly in Russia he was interned in the Ural Mountains during the first World War. He was also interned by the Dutch in Ngawi, East Java and Kotatjane, Sumatra during the second World War.

Along with other prisoners of war Spies drowned in 1942 when the ship Van Imhof was bombed en route to Sri Lanka by the Japanese and was sunk close to the coast of Nias, off West Sumatra.While his body has gone to a watery grave, Spies’ legacy lives on: His paintings, photographs and writing continue to be published, the ketjak has evolved into many incarnations and modern art is flourishing in Bali fast attaining international acclaim. His life and times in Bali continue to be celebrated at the ARMA and at the Rautenstrauch-Joest Museum in Cologne, home to the Spies Archive of the Walter Spies Society Germany.

From: "Baden Offord" <>

12 May 2005

Media release posted by Southern Cross University: Homosexual rights book earns national prize

Southern Cross University senior lecturer and Director of the Centre for Law, Politics and Culture Dr Baden Offord has been awarded the annual George Duncan Memorial Award for his book Homosexual Rights as Human Rights. The book (published in 2003), on homosexual rights as human rights in Indonesia, Singapore and Australia, was described as "groundbreaking" and "an important contribution to the struggle for equal rights worldwide" by the George Duncan Memorial committee.

The national George Duncan Memorial Award commemorates the murder, with no subsequent conviction for the crime, of law lecturer Dr George Duncan near the University of Adelaide in 1972. South Australia later became the first state to decriminalise homosexual acts in 1975. Dr Offord said receiving the award was an honour. He said he was 14 when Dr Duncan was murdered and remembered the news at that time. " Australia has come some was way in the past 30 years, but it would be incorrect to think that enough has been accomplished to end overt and covert discrimination in our society and families," he said.

" Sexuality, that dimension of being human which makes us most vulnerable, is still caught up in social and cultural apartheids."
In the foreword to Homosexual Rights as Human Rights, the Hon. Justice Michael Kirby compared the work to the pioneering studies of Alfred Kinsey and said Dr Offord pushed the boundaries of understanding, knowledge and acceptance.

The award, in its second year, is presented for an outstanding piece of work contributing to legal reform and the betterment of the Australian lesbian, gay, queer, bisexual, transgender or intersex community. The George Duncan Memorial Award 2005 was announced at a ceremony in Adelaide on Tuesday, May 10.

Media contact: Brigid Veale, SCU Media Liaison, 66593006 or m. 0439 680 748.


June 27, 2005

Row over Indonesia transvestite show–
The show was nearly over when the militants arrived

A transvestite beauty pageant in Indonesia was the scene of an unusual clash on Sunday when it was interrupted by a hardline Islamic group. Members of the Islamic Defenders’ Front (FPI) barged into a club where the Miss Waria 2005 contest was taking place. FPI leader Soleh Mahmud said: "Before Allah punishes us with a second tsunami here in Jakarta, let us ask the police to disperse this event."

After a delay the contest continued, and was won by PR worker Olivia. He won $250 and a return air ticket to Thailand, where he will compete in an international transvestite contest next year. Contest organiser Megi Megawati said contestants were traumatised by the raid, after about 10 FPI members dressed in white tunics and prayer caps entered the nightclub towards the end of the contest.

Transvestites make regular appearances on Indonesian TV, and the country is generally tolerant of the so-called "waria" – a combination of the Indonesian words for male and female. But the FPI – which is better known for attacking bars and other venues considered un-Islamic – wants to end such public shows. " Transvestites should not be made into a role model," said FPI member Alawi Usman. "We are worried it could influence our children," he told the Associated Press.

New York Times/Associated Press

October 2, 2005

Bali Bombings Kill at Least 25 in Tourist Spots (popular with gays)

by Raymond Bonner and Jane Perlez
A series of bomb blasts rocked popular tourist areas on the island of Bali on Saturday night, killing at least 25 people and injuring 101, the Indonesian government and television reports said. The blasts at Jimbaran beach come a month after Indonesia’s president warned of possible terrorist attacks. Among the places hit were a crowded restaurant outside the Four Seasons hotel at Jimbaran beach, and a shopping square in Kuta, not far from the terrorist bombing that killed 202 people in October 2002.

Witnesses described lifting bloodied bodies from the badly damaged Raja Bar and Restaurant in Kuta, and taking the injured to hospitals. Tourists who had been eating and drinking at the Raja at a peak dinner hour staggered onto the sidewalks of the Kuta Square shopping district. The front of a middle-aged man’s beach shirt was drenched in blood, his forehead gashed. Another man lay on his back on a bench, his face, head and arms covered in blood. At Jimbaran, a blurred amateur video caught the sounds of confusion soon after the blast, as survivors tried to escape and motorcycles and cars carried the injured to hospitals. The authorities would not speculate about who was behind the attacks, but immediate suspicion fell on Jemaah Islamiyah, a radical Islamic terrorist group in Indonesia that has been behind other major attacks, including the 2002 bombings.

There were conflicting reports on casualties and the number of bombs. A presidential spokesman, Dino Djalal, initially said six bombs had gone off at different locations about 7 p.m., killing at least 11. Later, the police had confirmed only three bombs, Reuters reported. A leading Indonesian news station, Metro TV, said early Sunday that 25 people had been killed and 101 seriously injured. Mr. Djalal said two of the dead were foreigners. The Australian foreign minister, Alexander Downer, said that one Australian had been killed but that he feared others could be among the dead. Diplomatic missions from other countries reported that one Japanese woman was among the dead and that five South Koreans were wounded, Agence France-Presse reported. Among the wounded were 49 Indonesians, 17 Australians, 6 Koreans, 3 Japanese and 2 Americans, according to officials at Sanglah Hospital near Denpasar, the capital of Bali.

Television reports showed chaotic scenes at a hospital as badly wounded people were wheeled into crowded corridors on gurneys, and dazed foreign tourists searched for friends. One witness, I Wayan Krisna, told El Shinta radio that as he tried to drag victims from the debris at the Raja Bar, he saw dismembered bodies scattered on the floor. The first and second floors of the restaurant, a favorite hangout for foreigners, were heavily damaged, but the third floor was virtually intact.

President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono immediately met with counterterrorism police investigators in Jakarta who have dealt with previous attacks here, Mr. Djalal said. The government did not know who was behind Saturday’s explosions, he said. "We are going to marshal all our resources to hunt the perpetrators; the people who are going to do this are seasoned," Mr. Djalal said. The bombs were timed in sequence much like those in the 2002 bombings by Jemaah Islamiyah and came just short of the Oct. 12 anniversary. Two suicide bombers, including one with a car bomb, were responsible for the earlier attacks. Of the 202 people killed, more than 80 were Australians. At about the same time, a smaller bomb went off outside the United States Consulate, where there were no fatalities.

"The president feared something like this would be attempted around this time," Mr. Djalal said, referring to the anniversary.
Initial reports Saturday night indicated that there did not appear to be a car bomb involved in the attacks, and it was too early to determine whether suicide bombers were involved. The first blasts occurred in Jimbaran, and they were followed by the blast at the Raja in Kuta. Whoever was behind the bombings chose two different sides of Bali. Kuta is a reasonably priced, crowded shopping street with cheek-by-jowl shops, bars and boutiques. Jimbaran, about three miles away, is a more spacious area, with five-star hotels and new luxury condominiums, that appeals to more affluent tourists.

(G.G.Ed. note: both Kuta and Jimbaran are popular gay areas)

One of the blasts in Jimbaran went off about 500 yards outside the Four Seasons hotel, said Fajar Yulinto, the duty manager of the Four Seasons in Jakarta. The blasts came just as Bali had seemed to put the 2002 terror attacks behind it, and as the tourism industry, the mainstay of the economy, was steaming to recovery. Tourists, particularly Australians, have been flooding back to the island, even though the Australian government has kept a travel advisory in place, warning Australians that travel there was risky. The United States and Britain also have warnings about travel to Bali.

Although President Yudhoyono has been praised by the United States for cracking down on terrorists, American officials expressed nervousness several months ago that another major attack in Indonesia could be in the works. Much of the attention focused, however, on the capital, Jakarta, not Bali. The two main bomb-makers for Jemaah Islamiyah remain at large despite the arrests of scores of members of the group. Indeed, Mr. Yudhoyono worried that Indonesia was vulnerable to further terrorism, his aides said. Two other major attacks in Jakarta, in 2003 and 2004, were attributed to Jemaah Islamiyah and carried out by suicide bombers.

In August 2003, 12 people were killed and at least 150 injured at the JW Marriott Hotel. In September 2004, at least 9 Indonesians were killed when a suicide bomber drove up to the front gate of the Australian Embassy. The attack on Bali in 2002 began when a suicide bomber set off his explosive vest inside Paddy’s Club at 11:08 p.m. The explosion is believed to have killed eight people, and it also drove panicked patrons out into the street, where another bomb was waiting. That bomb, a much bigger one hidden in a van parked outside the Sari Club, was set off by a second man 29 seconds later, ripping through the crowds in the narrow street. The attacks did severe harm to Bali’s tourism industry, which was further hurt by the scare over sudden acute respiratory syndrome, or SARS, and the outbreak of the Iraq war. While tourist visits have steadily increased in the past two years, they have not reached their former levels.

The bombings also galvanized the Indonesian government to act against Islamic militants after years of ignoring or failing to act on warnings from the United States and other nations that terrorists were active there. Since then, the government has made hundreds of arrests of suspected militants, including people accused of plotting attacks against United States interests overseas. Three brothers were convicted for organizing the 2002 Bali bombings. One brother, Ali Gufron, who is known as Mukhlas, was sentenced to death in 2003 after being found guilty of having overall responsibility for the attack. His brother Amrozi was also sentenced to death. The third brother, Ali Imron, received a life sentence after cooperating with the authorities and expressing remorse

Prosecutors said that before that attack, Mukhlas assumed the role of operations chief of Jemaah Islamiyah. He took the commanding position from another Indonesian, Hambali, who also goes by the name Riduan Isamuddin. Hambali, who is believed to be directly involved in Al Qaeda, was captured in Thailand in August 2003 and is now in American custody. This past March, Jemaah Islamiyah’s supreme leader, the cleric Abu Bakar Bashir, was convicted of criminal conspiracy in connection with the Bali bombings. But despite pressure from the United States and Australian governments, he was acquitted of charges in other attacks and of having actually directed the Bali bombings. He was sentenced to 30 months in prison but received credit for 10 months already served while awaiting trial. In the last year, Jemaah Islamiyah has been severely weakened by the arrests of scores of its members, according to Sidney Jones, widely considered the foremost expert on terrorism in Southeast Asia.

October 4, 2006

Muslim Communities Thwart Indonesian Protections For Gays

Jakarta – A decision by the Indonesian government to allow areas of the country semi-autonomous power is having a devastating effect on the country’s gays a leading local newspaper reports. In granting local authorities the right to use Islamic law gays are reportedly being round up and prosecuted despite a federal constitution which has in the past guaranteed LGBT civil rights.

Indonesia has the largest number of Muslims in the world. Although the federal government is secular the Jakarta Post reports that many provincial government have invoked Sharia law. Several local governments, the paper says, have recently passed laws making homosexuality illegal, banned alcohol and require women to wear headscarves and not travel alone at night.

This week LGBT rights group Arus Pelangi appealed to the federal ministry of Justice and Human Rights to force the regions to comply with national law. "Such ordinances are politically charged to please the majority,’ Rido Triawan, director of Arus Pelangi, told ministry officials during a meeting the Post reports. Rido said that gays and transsexuals are frequently beaten on the streets in some areas. A government spokesperson said the issue will be taken under advisement but in some areas where Sharia law is in effect, the government has little control.

Gay City News, New York

October 18, 2006

Arus Pelangi launches a national campaign

by Doug Ireland
Indonesia’s fledgling LGBT group, Arus Pelangi (Rainbow Flag:, last Monday launched a national campaign against a welter of ultra-homophobic regional statutes based on Muslim Sharia law. “Many LGBT people are arrested and detained, often without charges or clear reason, only to be released after a few days,” said Widodo “Dodo” Budi, the 35-year-old director of campaigning for Arus Pelangi, which was formed in January this year as Indonesia’s first explicitly activist LGBT group on the legal and political fronts.

“In 2004, the region of Palembang introduced a regional law that proscribes homosexuality as an act of prostitution that ‘violates the norms of common decency, religion, and legal norms as they apply to societal rule,’” Dodo—a co-founder of Arus Pelangi—told Gay City News from Jakarta. “That law says that included under the term ‘act of prostitution’ are ‘homosexual sex, lesbians, sodomy, sexual harassment, and other pornographic acts.’” Dodo said that “this regional law was part of a chain of similar laws across Sumatra and Java that base themselves on Sharia law from the Koran,” and that “52 regions have adopted or put forward such laws.” In the special capital district of Jakarta itself, he said, “all lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgendered, and transsexual people are legally considered cacat, or mentally handicapped, and as such are not protected by law. This contradiction of LGBT people falling outside the law while still being subjected to it is one of the injustices that Arus Pelangi hopes to combat.”

Some 88 percent of Indonesia’s quarter of a billion people identify as Muslims, making it the world’s largest Islamic nation. Islamic beliefs take various forms in the country—there are the orthodox, Mecca-oriented santri, and also another Muslim current called kebatinan, or Javanism, which is an amalgam of Islamic (especially Sufi) beliefs colored by indigenous animist and Hindu-Buddhist influences, as well as ethnic traditions, in a country where 300 languages are spoken. Three-fifths of the nation’s population lives on the island of Java and Islamic precepts continue to frame public debate. There is considerable political coherence among traditionalist and modernist Muslim currents—all of them doctrinally opposed to homosexuality.

“There are many Islamic fundamentalist groups in Indonesia that thrive on premanism, or thuggery, against anyone that goes against what they feel their religion dictates,” said Dodo. “These groups—in Jakarta they are most predominantly the FPI (the Front of Supporters of Islam) and the FBR (Betawi Council Forum)—will attack the offices, workplaces, and homes of people they consider to be of particular threat to the morals and values of Islam, and that includes LGBT people.”

The International Herald Tribune noted in an October 9 article on Indonesia, “Indonesian president Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono has been criticized by some for failing to speak out clearly against” the “persistent [Muslim-instigated] violence.” Last Monday, Dodo recounted, “We had a forum with the Department of Justice and Human Rights, and met with the head of the office regarding regional laws in order to push the issue of discrimination against LGBT people evidenced in those laws, and as well to attempt to break through channels in order to meet with the only two people in Indonesian politics able to quash laws still in deliberation (the minister of Internal Affairs) or already made (President Yudhoyono.)” So far, Arus Pelangi has had no success in arranging those breakthrough meetings.

Arus Pelangi also has been lobbying hard against final passage of a sweeping “Law Against Pornography and Porno-Action” that is being pushed by Islamic-oriented political parties, and could be used to stifle any pro-gay agitation or writing. This draconian, homophobic law would prohibit any writing or audio-visual presentation—including songs, poetry, films, paintings, and photographs—that “exploit the notion of persons engaging in sexual relations” or “engaging in activities leading to sexual relations with persons of the same sex.” Even portrayals of “kissing on the lips” of any gender combinations would be forbidden under this proposed legislation. Violations of this law would be punishable not only by fines but by prison terms of up to seven years as well. “There are a few supporters within the Indonesian Parliament who are willing to help us seek equal rights for LGBT people in Indonesia,” Dodo said, “and these are mainly from the PDI-P (Party for the Indonesian Democracy Struggle) and the PKB (National Awakening Party), and though their members are few, they have greatly supported Arus Pelangi’s cause and have enabled us to come further in political discussions and alliances as a result.”

Arus Pelangi is also striving, against great odds, to have sexual orientation included in a new Minority Rights law being considered by Parliament that was originally presented as a bill on ethnic and racial discrimination. “There has been strong opposition from various [Islamic] fundamentalist and conservative parties who have threatened to block the Minority Rights bill should the LGBT issue be inserted,” Dodo said, “but we are currently working in coalition with several [non-governmental organizations] and a few members of Parliament to further this issue.” Less than a year old, Arus Pelangi has some 400 members—about 40 percent are lesbians, 30 percent gay men, and 30 percent transsexuals. The large number of lesbians is in part due to the success of bi-weekly lesbian discussion groups the organization runs in Jakarta which, Dodo said, “have been successful in uniting groups with little to no ties with each other previously. They’ve become a popular forum for lesbians who are open about their sexuality as well as with those who have yet to come out,” and involve discussions of everyday problems, violations of their human rights, and consciousness-raising.

Arus Pelangi has already facilitated the establishment of three autonomous branches outside Jakarta. In Surabaya, the LGBT organization Us was formed with the support of Arus Pelangi staff, and participates in the activities generated by the Jakarta office. An Arus Pelangi chapter has started in Medan to target LGBT issues in Northern Sumatra. And in Purwokerto, a new LGBT organization has been formed as a result of Arus Pelangi’s activities in the region in response to the murder last year of Vera, a transsexual. “The case of Vera, a transsexual who was murdered last October 28 in Purwokerto, Central Java, has received little attention from the local police,” Dodo said. “Our staff traveled to the area, met with witnesses and the victim’s family, and received permission to take this case to court. We’ve developed a network of partners to insure the protection of witnesses, only four of whom have as yet been questioned by the police but with no concrete action as a result.”

In another horrendous case that is the focus of Arus Pelangi’s work, three transsexuals were murdered in Jakarta by the Indonesian police.

“We’ve begun investigations with the families of the victims who live in Jakarta, and have raised the issue with the National Human Rights Commission,” said Dodo, “but this case will require an extremely long process of data collection and campaigning with government authorities, as it involves charges being brought against the police. We’ve taken up cases like these, and are trying to build up our local communities and empower them to support themselves and each other, to decrease the fear experienced by LGBT people.” In fact, it is difficult to quantify with any specificity the level of bias-related anti-gay violence in the country because, until the founding of Arus Pelangi, there was no gay group collecting such information in Indonesia. A group called Lambda Indonesia was founded in 1985, sponsored social gatherings, consciousness-raising, and issued a newsletter, but it petered out in the 1990s. Gaya Nusantara is a gay group focusing on health issues like AIDS, and operating mainly in Surabaya, East Java. Yayasan Srikandi Sejati, founded in 1998, focuses specifically on health issue of the transgendered, running a free health clinic that provides HIV/AIDS counseling and free condoms to transsexual sex workers.

“In general, the public here is not well-informed about HIV/AIDS,” Dodo said. “There is no sex education in the schools, except for that done by these other organizations with very limited means and despite hostility from school authorities. Because the other LGBT organizations before Arus Pelangi exclusively focused on health issues, they inadvertently perpetuated the notion of AIDS as a ‘gay disease’ and thus the stigmatization of the LGBT community concerning this issue. However, the stereotype of people with AIDS now leans more toward drug users and Papuans, the indigenous people living in the easternmost province of Indonesia.” Legal and police abuse of gay people in Indonesia is hard to document, said Julie Van Dassen, Arus Pelangi’s Canadian-born international advocacy secretary, “because people often do not report cases due to their sexuality, and thus data is very hard to come by. Frequently, LGBT people are arrested for other reasons, or with no charges at all, which happens often enough in Indonesia, especially in certain regions (Aceh being the worst), and though it is obvious that they are scapegoated because of their sexual orientation, this is never formally issued as a charge, and thus hard to prove or not reported as a crime of discrimination at all.”

In addition to this, Van Dassen said, “often gays, once taken into jail, are submitted to sexual abuse far beyond that of other prisoners because of their sexual orientation. These cases are also very hard to prove, especially as many of the victims are very traumatized and remain silent out of fear of returning to jail and being subjected to abuse, rape, and beatings again.” A good example of this police abuse, she said, is the case of Adang, a gay man who was one of many arrested in a protest against the opening of a an environmentally poisonous dump site in Bojong, Bogor, West Java.

“Adang was suffering from a mild form of tuberculosis at the time of his arrest,” Van Dassan explained. “He informed authorities of this, but received no medical attention. He was further criminalized in jail, forced to kiss, masturbate for, and perform fellatio on the guards at the prison and other inmates were encouraged to take advantage of him sexually because he was a gay man, ‘so he must love it.’ His condition worsened while in jail, he was beaten and still received no medical attention. Upon his release, after seven months in jail, he received medical attention but died three weeks later due to complications connected to his injuries and tuberculosis.”

Dodo dismisses the notion that a gay identity is a “Western” notion foreign to Asian or Islamic cultures. “We have to make a separation between religion and sexual orientation,” he said, “because sexual orientation is natural, it’s a human right that needs to be respected and valued. My family was very open and pluralistic, so I was lucky to be raised in a family that was not too focused on religious rules or ethos. In Indonesia, religion is forced, you are not afforded the opportunity not to choose a religion—and as a result, many of the social norms, political policies, and laws are deeply rooted in Islamic ties and morals. I was not as affected by this as most others were.”

In fact, said Van Dassen, “Dodo is one of very few (three, at most) of our staff that has actually come out to his family and friends. Most of the staff, even though they are passionate enough about supporting LGBT rights to work full-time without wages for Arus Pelangi, are still afraid to come out to the people close to them.” Van Dassen explained that “their reasons vary—some come from moderate or more conservative Muslim families and are afraid to come out and be alienated from their families; some are less afraid of the reaction of their families but more the reaction of their community and the shame it would bring upon their entire family, which could have mild to severe social and economic effects—their business would no longer be used, they would be ostracized in social circles. Still others, and this was the most shocking for me, is that some, not working in Arus Pelangi but connected to it, are ashamed to admit it to themselves. They were raised in Muslim families and feel that their natural sexual inclinations are a sin, and have no idea of what to do about it.”

From Jakarta Post

April 18, 2007

HIV/AIDS prevention tough in a secret gay city

by Prodita Sabarini, The Jakarta Post, Jakarta
The grungy movie theater in Senen, East Jakarta, was full on the weekend, dark and hot from the lack of air-conditioning. Some of the audience wandered between the seats as a Japanese teen movie played on the big screen. Those still seated seemed not to mind. Two men in the corridor between the seats brushed arms, exchanged glances, and, without saying a word, moved to the corner for anonymous oral sex. Inside the rundown auditoriums of the Grand Duta theater, such occurrences are regular.

Amidst Indonesia’s conservative and religious society, Jakarta has a live but silent gay scene. The Senen area is one of the scene’s main hubs. "This area is like a gay boulevard," said Yakub Gunawan, a HIV/AIDS prevention activist. The area, from the Mal Atrium Senen shopping mall to the sidewalks outside the theater, is a gathering place for Jakarta’s gay men, he said. He added that there were many other places in the underground gay scene, including upscale clubs and bars in South Jakarta. Yakub, who is conducting self-funded research on gay awareness of HIV/AIDS, said few of the people he’d spoken to have a good knowledge of the disease, despite most having obtained higher education.

Yakub said that the fear of stigmatization has hampered HIV/AIDS prevention in the gay community. "They refuse to get themselves tested because they fear society’s judgment." Most of them know they are in a high risk group prone to HIV infection. However, there is a kind of denial on their part. They don’t want to get tested for HIV because if they’re HIV positive they would have to face a double stigma of being gay and having HIV, Rather than having to tell their families and facing the social stigma of being gay and having HIV, they choose to be oblivious and ignore the problem," Yakub said. In Indonesia, to be out and gay remains a taboo. Gay community members are straightforward about their sexual orientation among themselves. However, facing the social pressure of Indonesia’s heterosexist society, they hide their sexual orientation when returning to the mainstream. Most significantly, they also hide their sexual orientation from their families.

Yakub said most of the middle-aged men inside the movie theater lead double lives. "Most of them hide their sexual orientation from their wives and children," he said. He said he knew of a couple that had been together for 15 years, who both had wives and children of their own. "Their relationship is on-again-off-again, because one or the other of them always cheats with another guy. But it’s never because of a woman," he said. "Deni", in his 30s, said he faced family pressure to get married. He said he was tired of living as a gay man. The youngest of seven children from a mixed Batak and Padang family, Deni said he was the only child in the family still single, and was frequently asked about his marriage plans. "I’m living with a partner, but it’s going nowhere," he said. Deni said that, despite his sexual orientation, he wanted to marry a woman and raise a family. "Of course I can like a woman, I just have to get used to it first."

Yakub said the phenomenon of gay sex within heterosexual marriages can increase the risk of HIV infection for wives, just as the wives of injecting drug users can be infected by their husbands. Some 14 of Yakub’s 25 research respondents agreed to be tested for HIV. Four of them tested positive. "I believe that number is just the tip of the iceberg", he said. "April", a hairdresser, who participated in Yakub’s research, said he lacked knowledge about safe sex and how to protect himself from HIV infection. His test result showed he was HIV positive. "I didn’t know any better," he said. April had an active sex life, having unprotected sex with up to 20 men in one year. "If I had known (about HIV prevention) I would have been more cautious about protecting myself," he said.

Yakub said gathering places such as the Grand Duta theater were good opportunities to reach out to gay men about HIV/AIDS prevention. "If people know that Grand is a gay place, some members of society might want to close it down. But that wouldn’t make gay people disappear, because they are part of (this) society. (Closing these places down) would rather make it more difficult to identify them, making HIV/AIDS prevention harder among this group," he said.

May 17, 2007

Slovak, Yes; Indonesians, No

by Arthur S. Leonard
Both the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco and the 3rd Circuit in Philadelphia rejected recent asylum claims by gay men from Indonesia, but the San Francisco court reversed a denial of asylum for a gay man from Slovakia.
According to the court’s unpublished memorandum opinion in the Slovak case, issued on May 2, the petitioner "was kidnapped, beaten, and harassed" by police on two occasions, both times due to his sexual orientation. He fled to the United Kingdom, Austria, and eventually Mexico, from where he tried to enter the U.S. with a fake passport. In a hearing before a Justice Department immigration judge, the petitioner acknowledged his attempted illegal entry, but applied for asylum, an alternative route for avoiding deportation known as withholding of removal, and protection under the international Convention Against Torture, or CAT, to which the U.S. is a party.

The immigration judge (IJ) found the petitioner to be credible, but ruled that since he had never reported the police beatings to higher government authorities, he "could not establish that the Slovak government condones or acquiesces in such activities." Both asylum and withholding of removal were denied, and the petitioner also failed in his bid for CAT protection because he "could not demonstrate that it was more likely than not that he would be tortured if returned to Slovakia." The Board of Immigration Appeals, also a Justice Department unit, upheld the IJ’s decision.

The Court of Appeals found that denying asylum because the petitioner failed to report his beatings "was error." In its 2004 Baballah v. Ashcroft decision, the 9th Circuit ruled that "there is no reporting requirement where the government is responsible for persecution." The appeals court found that the petitioner "is statutorily eligible for asylum." The court also said that the IJ abused his discretion by adding additional grounds to his asylum denial because the petitioner entered the country fraudulently. Given that he had found that the petitioner had "a subjective fear of returning to Slovakia," he was "not permitted to discount this fear" in applying his discretionary authority. The immigration judge was ordered to reconsider his discretionary denial of asylum and his ruling on withholding of removal after applying the correct legal standard. However, the court upheld denial of CAT protection since the petitioner had not proved that he would face torture if returned to Slovakia.

This ruling spotlights an unfortunate pattern of misinformation among IJs about the prevailing legal standards that govern their rulings – and the need for enhanced professional education in the Justice Department. An entirely different three-judge panel of the 9th Circuit, ruling on May 3 in an Indonesian case, omitted discussion of any underlying facts, stating merely that although the petitioner provided evidence of anti-gay harassment and discrimination, his treatment "did not rise to the level of persecution." Tellingly, the court found that the petitioner "did not introduce evidence that the government was unwilling or unable to control those who harassed him" and that there was no evidence to "demonstrate an objectively reasonable fear of future persecution."

In fact, said the court, "the evidence shows that conditions for homosexuals in Indonesia are improving," and the Indonesian man’s appeal was denied. The May 10 ruling by the 3rd Circuit in Philadelphia details a gay Indonesian man’s discrimination and intimidation by local officials in his village, although the story is complicated by the petitioner’s relationship with an ethnic Chinese merchant, in an area where strong nationalism feeds bias against ethnic Chinese. The applicant was also forced to drop out of law school after the dean discovered that he was gay.

As in the 9th Circuit case, the court found no evidence that the Indonesian government was itself persecuting gays, noting that the nation’s Constitution had reportedly been amended to prohibit anti-gay discrimination (though in fact there has only been a proposed amendment not yet adopted). The court concluded that there was little evidence that problems encountered by the petitioner, other than the law school incident, were due to his sexual orientation, and that, in any event, they did not rise to the level of persecution required in an asylum petition. Conditions for gay people in Indonesia are improving, though they certainly don’t approach the level of respect gay rights have achieved in Western Europe, the gold standard on this issue. Asylum law is not concerned with such shortfalls, however; only with whether conditions are so intolerable that they meet the demanding threshold set by U.S. legislation and international conventions.


July 20, 2007

Indonesia to boost HIV/AIDS spending

Indonesia will increase the amount of money it spends on fighting AIDS by 75 percent over the next three years, with the major focus on hardest-hit Papua province, the welfare minister said in Jakarta. Indonesia has one of Asia’s fastest-growing HIV rates, with up to 290,000 infections among its 235 million people, fueled mainly by injecting drug users and prostitution. Health authorities have warned that a failure to take prompt action in areas like Papua — where infections are 15 times the national average — could result in 1 million people infected with HIV within a few years.

Welfare Minister Aburizal Bakrie said late Thursday the government would increase the amount of money budgeted for the AIDS fight from $67 million last year to $263 million in 2010. The government also wants to reduce its dependency on international donors, which have contributed up to 70 percent to the national AIDS budget, he said. The main focus of the new spending would be on Papua, which now receives only 4 percent of the money budgeted for AIDS even though it has the highest proportion of cases. (AP)

16th August 2007

Brazilian football’s gay rumours land judge in trouble

by Writer
Football is for real men, not gays. That was the stance Brazilian judge Manoel Maximiniano Junqueira Filho decided to take when making a ruling in a defamation case appearing before his bench. That may be his sentiments, but the law doesn’t call for that sort of ruling and now the judge could face legal actions himself. The case was brought earlier this month by Richarlyson Barbosa Felisbino, a San Paulo player, who claimed that the manager from a rival team made claims that Felisbino was gay on national television.
Felisbino filed a defamation case against the manger, and the case was scheduled before Judge Filho, who has a history of homophobic and racist rulings. Filho dismissed the claim, but not before adding a few of his own personal comments about the case.

"What I cannot understand is why the gay association of Bahia and a few columnists insist on promoting gay athletes in the field. Filho said about the media surrounding the athletes. Jeez, if this fad catches on, soon we will have a quota system, forcing the access of so many of them per team." Filho said football was a virile masculine sport and not a homosexual one, and commented that a homosexual on the team would destroy the integrity of the sport and ruin team morale. And don’t say that this opening will be in the same way that it happened when blacks started to be part of the teams," he added to drive home his point. If you were a homosexual, it would be better to admit it or to conceal it completely, however, if that was the case, it would be better to abandon the playing field," he added.

Filho’s ruling is being appealed, but the rhetoric that the judge felt compelled to add has now become more controversial than the original case. The judge is now expecting to face legal discipline and could be sanctioned for his comments.

From the Jakarta Post – Sunday, August 19, 2007

Q! Film Festival: Gender and sexuality on film

by Lisabona Rahman, Contributor, Jakarta
Now in its sixth year, the Q! Film Festival aims this year to offer an even wider selection of films that focus on gender and sexuality. Starting in Jakarta, the festival will then tour different cities in Indonesia. The Jakarta part will run from Aug. 24 through Sept. 2; that in Bali from Sept. 6 through 8. Presenting a line-up of 80 films produced in 22 countries around the world, this year’s festival takes up the theme "Youth Revisited". The opening film is Taiwan director Leste Chen’s Eternal Summer , a story about youth, friendship and the emotions that affect a group of people growing up together both in a village as well as in metropolitan Taipei. It was awarded Best New Performer at the 2006 Golden Horse Film Festival, Taipei.

The main feature of this festival is Asian films. It therefore revisits the very well-known Happy Together by Hong Kong director Wong Kar Wai, about two Chinese gays living in Buenos Aires and struggling with their lives, love and loneliness. The film will be presented together with a documentary about its making by Kwan Pun Leung and Amos Lee, an absorbing story of how the film mirrors the real life of the city, as well as that of its cast and crew. It is a revealing, behind-the-scenes story of one of the Asian masters of filmmaking, and will definitely be a real treat for Wong fans. The Asian film list also includes Tuli from Philipino director Auraeus Solito and Goodbye Boys from Malaysian director Bernard Chauly. Both present the anger and angst of growing pains in diverse Southeast Asian settings, each with its unique crisis of identity.

For B-movie fans who like to enjoy the genre’s regional version, there are two films from The Adventure of Iron Pussy series from Thai director Michael Shaowanasai. Short films in this section will include a special retrospective on Singaporean director Victric Thng. The greatest difference compared with previous festivals is the noticeable number of Indonesian films. Gender and sexuality seem increasingly to be addressed by contemporary Indonesian filmmakers. Critically acclaimed Kala by director Joko Anwar and Coklat Stroberi by newcomer Ardy Oktaviand are in the section. A documentary about the bissu (cross-dressing high priests) in South Sulawesi royal surroundings by Rhoda Grauer shows how a ritual still survives despite the contemporary shrinkage of space available for royal tradition.

The closing film of the festival will also be Indonesian feature Jakarta Undercover by director Lance. Moving away from Asian cinema, the audience may also view work from other continents, including Israeli director Eytan Fox’s The Bubble , which is set in Tel Aviv’s stylish quarter with its people dreaming about overcoming political conflicts. A South American perspective is also featured in the lineup through Brazilian director Jose Eduardo Belmonte’s The Conception . As in previous Q! Film Festivals, there will be fringe events ranging from casual talks to a photo exhibition. An informal gathering billed as Q! Gossips will feature individuals or families sharing their experiences on subjects like coming out and urban sexuality.

Three book discussions, novels and a short-story collection on sexuality and HIV/AIDS are scheduled for the 10-day event. A photo exhibition on the making of Japanese directors Imaizumi Koichi and Iwasa Hiroki’s First Love will also be presented at the Japan Foundation by photographer Taguchi Hiroki. This year’s Q! Film Festival highlights the many ways in which people deal with delicate subjects in their varied circumstances. The wide range of cultures that serve as its context also shows that sexuality is treated in so many ways that it constantly changes along with the lives of the people involved. Screenings at Q! Film Festival are free of charge but only for people who are at least 17 years of age (ID card may be required). Screenings and fringe events will take place at Blitz Megaplex, Goethe-Institut, Subtitles, Center Culturel Francais, Cemara 6 Galeri, Kineforum (Tim 21 Studio 1), The Japan Foundation, Erasmus Huis and Usmar Ismail Hall.

For schedule and full event details please visit www.qfilmfestival. org (launched Aug. 20).

From: Reuters

August 26, 2007

Indonesia film festival takes gay issues out of closet

by Adhityani Arga and Sugita Katyal
Jakarta – Indonesia’s gay film festival faced violent opposition in its early years.
Members of a hardline Islamic group tried to storm theatres to stop screenings, but as the festival enters its sixth year, organiser John Badalu has no such fears. The opening of the week-long Q! Film Festival (QFF) on Friday drew a flamboyant crowd in Jakarta, with members of the audience dressed in colourful wigs, fish-net stockings and cupid wings. Homosexuality is not banned under Indonesian law, but remains taboo in a country where 85 percent of the 220 million people are Muslim. "The festival has provided some sort of impetus for the gay rights movement in Indonesia, and has enabled many issues to surface," Badalu told Reuters.

The fall of former president Suharto in 1998 paved the way for greater freedom of speech, allowing topics such as politics and homosexuality to be more openly explored in the arts. ‘Arisan’, a 2003 feature film about a routine get-together of upper-class Indonesian women, was the first Indonesian film with a gay theme, dealing with a woman in a troubled marriage who is attracted to a young gay executive. "People have not shied from showing homosexuality in Indonesian cinema," said Badalu. "It has been well-received so far. Many straight movies have also touched on the delicate issue of homosexuality, without many realising it."

QFF, one of the largest gay film festivals in Asia, features about 80 films from countries including the Philippines, Thailand, Germany and Indonesia, and deals with topics such as sexual abuse and HIV/AIDS. Indonesia, which has a small but growing film industry, steps off the beaten path of pop romances with a rare documentary on "sacred transvestites", or gay priests, in a closely knit community on Sulawesi island. In a country where many homosexuals remain in the closet, the festival takes a sensitive look at the problems faced by an often marginalised community through films such as Hong Kong film-maker Wong Kar Wai’s "Happy Together", which chronicles the slow deterioration of a gay relationship. Other international films that try to create awareness and break some myths about homosexuals include Oscar-winning director Pedro Almodovar’s cult film "Bad Education", the story of a novice Spanish actor trying to sell a screenplay on his alleged childhood sexual abuse by a paedophile priest.

"What I like about the QFF is that it is a subtle movement," said Firliana Purwanti, programme officer for human rights and gender at HIVOS, a Dutch agency that helped fund the festival. The community, by using the language of movies and keeping such a fluid structure, has enabled the rapid spread of gay rights." This year’s festival was almost pulled — not because of opposition from Muslim hardliners but for lack of funding.

"The festival was on the brink of extinction," said Badalu. He fired off e-mails seeking financing to everyone in his address book, some of which were posted on blogs. A gas station worker from the Midwest sent me a long letter, describing how he, a simple working-class guy, sympathised with the festival’s mission. At first I thought the letter was a joke, it was so long. But then at the bottom of the letter he said he had donated $100."


March 28, 2008

Dede Oetomo

by Justin Ellis
LGBT advocacy turns 30 in Indonesia: gay rights pioneer Dede Oetomo talks to Fridae correspondent Justin Ellis about life and activism in the archipelago.

Dede Oetomo received the annual Felipa de Souza Award from the International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission in 1998 for his contribution to LGBT human rights in Indonesia. After completing his Ph.D. in linguistics at Cornell University in the US, he returned to establish Indonesia’s first gay outreach organisation, Lambda Indonesia in Surabaya, East Java, in 1982; and later the GAYa NUSANTARA Foundation in 1987. He is today the most publicly visible activist for gay/lesbian rights in Indonesia being one of the first to openly discuss homosexuality and HIV/AIDS issues in the mass media. In 1999 and 2004, Oetomo ran for the national parliament, providing further opportunities to argue that gay and lesbian persons deserve full inclusion in Indonesian society.

Fridae correspondent Justin Ellis spoke to Oetomo at the Asia Pacific Outgames in Melbourne this year where Oetomo reflected on three decades of LGBT advocacy in Indonesia.

æ: When did LGBT advocacy begin in Indonesia?

Dede: I would date it to the late 60s when the waria, the male to female transgenders became more visible and organised. They worked on social issues mostly, and out of survival, and usually with the help of municipal governments. In the 80s, following the example of the waria and ideas from the west, gay men and lesbians started organising.

Gay men more openly, with post office box numbers and magazines, the lesbians more discreetly. The gay movement, and in a way the waria movement, were boosted by HIV work in the early 90s, and the lesbians flourished after 1998 because of the growth in women’s feminist groups. Some of them were hostile to lesbians, but lesbians dominated others. There is a movement in many parts of Indonesia at the moment. There are gaps, for example in Sumatra and Kalimantan, but the existing organisations are quite strong.

æ: You established Indonesia’s first gay outreach organisation, Lambda Indonesia in1982? Did you experience any resistance?

Dede: In 1982 we were doing brochures and translations of materials, and even though Lambda Indonesia was a gay (male) organisation we meant to ask the waria and lesbians to join and a few lesbians did join. We didn’t have any incidents but there were administrative problems such as in 1988 when an over eager journalist in Surabaya (the East Java city and province where Oetomo lives) newspaper reported us to the local office of the Minister of Information.

We received a warning letter asking us to register our newsletter – not to ban it. The threats started to come in the late 90s. I could date them from 1997, especially around Yogyakarta and Solo on Java, but now they have stopped.

æ: And GAYa NUSANTARA was founded in 1987.

Dede: GAYa NUSANTARA was founded to simply connect people with each other. This was before the Internet so our magazine was the one way for people who were a bit shy and not street savvy to meet each other. Now, our strongest work in East Java province and in the city of Surabaya and cities in other districts is HIV prevention, care, support and treatment, together with the government and international organisations.

But we are also doing more advocacy work on LGBT rights. This year, and this is very special and new, we are planning an activists’ school to meet the demand from activists in other areas. With more visibility of LGBT organisations they feel they need to know more about the complexities of gender diversity and, for example, which hadith (Islamic teaching) to quote if a Muslim cleric challenges you about homosexuality.

And I’m happy to report that within GAYa NUSANTARA we now have active waria and also lesbians, so finally there are not only gay men but also all kinds of people, including sex workers. We might even have some female sex workers join us this year.

æ: How did the human rights agenda change with the end of the Suharto regime?

Dede: I would date changes a little earlier than 1998 with the formation of the National Human Rights Commission of Indonesia in 1993. The New Order (Suharto) government set it up as lip service to the West but it turned out to be quite effective. The phrase human rights started to be known – in the sense of freedom more than anything else.

And because of the human rights violations by the regime in East Timor, Papua and Aceh especially, the people got a simple but effective understanding of what a human rights violation was. In 1998 they thought, ‘no more repressive regimes, now we have our human rights.’ Groups of housewives would protest to the water company to get more regular and cleaner water, everybody would protest. Teachers would go on strike, workers, and also gay men, waria and lesbians.

Sex workers would protest if they had to stop working during Ramadan. It wasn’t always effective but it became a habit and what amazes me as an activist, probably I was naïve, is how fast people learn to organise.

æ: How do you see LGBT advocacy and human rights in Indonesia today in light of the Human Rights Action Plan 2004-2009?

Dede: We should start with the amendment to the constitution in 2000, and actually before that was the 1999 Human Rights Act. Although sexual orientation and gender identity were not explicitly mentioned in the amendment to the constitution, sexual orientation at least, was debated.

It lost at three in the morning. People were tired and said, ‘let’s just say Indonesian citizens should be protected against discrimination on any basis.’ Nobody has challenged it but it could be challenged. I’ve talked to lawyers; you just need to go to court. It’s not such a habit among Indonesians yet. In terms of advocacy we have all the instruments. The Human Rights Action Plan 2004-2009 is an explicit mandate for the protection of LGBT rights. Things are slow and the National Human Rights Commission and the Ministry of Law probably have no idea about how to go about doing it but some of the LGBT organisations have started to do their own work. In March there’s going to be a national waria meeting, probably 100 people from all over Indonesia, and I know human rights is on the agenda.

We were always regional (Lambda Indonesia and GAYa NUSANTARA) so it was difficult to go to national parliament – and expensive – but now there are groups in Jakarta that are more militant and also better at lobbying, and there are allies in parliament, namely Eva Kusuma Sundari and Nursyahbani Katjasungkana. We had a bill on population registration, and in the bill there was a third gender called T – transgender. It didn’t get in – it was voted out – but it was there.

æ: The International Organization for Migration, with funding from the Royal Netherlands Embassy and in conjunction with Indonesian National Police trained the police in Aceh in human rights. Can you envision any LGBT human rights training for the Indonesian police?

Dede: I’m not sure about the Dutch government but we have approached the Dutch embassy in Jakarta. I’m trying to be fair to the Dutch government. I think they see that enough is being done by other people and parties. Dutch aid organisation HIVOS is doing a lot of work supporting LGBT rights all over the country, so yes it’s possible, but my point is it should be us demanding that the national commission or the police do these things. And it just hasn’t been done.

æ: At the recent ILGA Asia conference in Chiang Mai three Indonesians were elected to the first ILGA Asia regional board. This is quite a milestone in Indonesian LGBT advocacy, isn’t it?

Dede: I guess so and I’m comfortable with these three (King-Toen Oey, from Arus Pelangi; Poedjiati Tan, secretary of GAYa NUSANTARA; and Kamilia of the Institut Pelangi Perempuan, a lesbian youth organisation) because they are from existing and strong organisations.

There were Indonesians elected to ILGA boards in the past, but they were individuals who would sometimes disappear. Let’s hope that these three can bring the vibrancy of the Indonesian movement to ILGA Asia so that ILGA Asia can do more for the region.

æ: Your paper at the Rainbow Conversations human rights conference at the Asia Pacific Outgames was about indigenous transgenderism in Indonesia. How is it under threat?

Dede: For the major religions, Islam and Christianity, indigenous transgender people are seen as heathen. Also, many of the indigenous transgenders or homosexuals don’t identity as gay or transgender the way people do in the modern world. They always connect their gender or sexuality to shamanism or to some ritual art, so for them it’s the art.

The art can be under threat if you can’t perform it and then you don’t get paid. There have been efforts, by mostly progressive Muslim groups to defend these indigenous groups so that they can survive not only culturally, but that they will also have an economic base, as ritual specialists, wedding planners, preparing rice fields for cultivation and so on.

æ: Tom Boellstorff titled his anthropological work on Indonesia, the Gay Archipelago. Is Indonesian society essentially tolerant of homosexuality now?

Dede: Yes, as long as you don’t look into the family, but in urban areas, if you look at these young men and women and some transgenders, they are doing what young men and women and transgenders were doing in the 70s and 80s (in the West.) They are planning their coming out. They had to come out. That’s urban; there are two sides. In other places you are tolerated but probably not by your own family. That’s where the irony comes in.

The Jakarta Post

June 09, 2008

Asian gay, transgender groups fight for their rights

by Irawaty Wardany, Denpasar
(Bali) Lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) groups in Asia have agreed to develop an international network to advocate protection of their rights in their respective countries and at the regional level. Bali hosted a conference of the groups from June 2 to 6 in the tourism enclave Nusa Dua. The conference was attended by 21 participants from eight countries — Indonesia, Nepal, India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, China and Thailand. "We agreed to make some kind of international network to advocate protection of LGBT rights in our countries," Rido Triawan, head of Arus Pelangi, an Indonesian non-governmental organization that fights for LGBT rights, told The Jakarta Post on Saturday.
He said it would be like an open communication channel connecting LGBY communities in different countries, so that when there was a problem in one country the communities could work in unison to apply political pressure on the government in question.

Generally, Rido said, LGBT communities in Asia faced similar problems. "We are all at this time suffering from stigmatization, discrimination, persecution from religious groups and discriminative government regulations," he said. "For example, the 2004 regional regulation in Palembang, South Sumatra, categorizes LGBT as a form of prostitution," Rido said.

He said religious-based persecution was the most difficult problem LGBT groups faced in Indonesia. "Those religious doctrines are then being integrated into the formal education curriculum. Naturally, the curriculum educates the students that the only ‘normal’ and accepted sexual orientation is heterosexuality," he said. Consequently, other sexual orientations are considered as not "normal" and unacceptable. This has resulted in students and communities discriminating against members of the homosexual and transgender community. "There are many cases of discrimination experienced by members of the LGBT community. One example involved a man who openly acknowledged his sexual orientation of being gay. Suddenly, his company fired him for no apparent reason," Rido said.

He said other gay workers faced varying levels of hostility from co-workers. "They suddenly keep a distance or, even worse, socially isolate him just because he is gay," he said. He said upholding the rights of the LGBT community was a significant issue since sexual orientation was also part of human rights. Rido said the LGBT community in Indonesia just wanted to be acknowledged and treated the same as the other Indonesian citizens, who enjoyed the right to education, health, work and all the other basic human rights. "It is still very hard for people to accept the fact that LGBT are also human beings, who should be treated humanely," said Arus Pelangi secretary general, Yuli Rustinawati.

A Sri Lankan LGBT activist, Rosanna Flamer-Caldera, said the situation in Sri Lanka was worse than in Indonesia. "Being part of LGBT communities in Sri Lanka is similar to committing a criminal offense. That’s the reason why people with LGBT sexual orientation prefer to be invisible," she said. She said members of the LGBT community in her country who fell victim to criminal acts often didn’t report their cases to the police, because the treatment they would receive could be worse than the perpetrators of the criminal acts. She said she participated in LGBT conferences and seminars around the world to learn about human rights instruments that could be used to advance the struggle in her country.

July 16, 2008

Queer film festival to be held Jakarta Aug 8-16, Bali Aug 21-24, Surabaya Oct 14-19

by News Editor
The only queer film festival to be held in a predominantly Muslim country, the Q! Film Festival will be held in the capital city of Jakarta, Bali and Surabaya this year; followed by Bandung and Yogjakarta next year. First established in Jakarta in 2002, the Q! Film Festival has spread its reach to four other cities: Bali, Surabaya, Bandung and Yogjakarta. According to organisers, the festival – said to be the only queer film festival to be held in a predominantly Muslim country – has attracted more than 75,000 people and has screened over 500 films in its six-year history. To be held from Aug 8-16 in Jakarta, the festival will screen some 80 films feature-length films, documentary and shorts from over 20 countries. Special guests at the festival include Julian Cole, director of With Gilbert and George (UK); Saskia Heyden, director of Risk, Stretch or Die (Germany), actor and drag king performer Ocean LeRoy (Risk, Stretch or Die), Poj Arnon and Chaiwat Thongsaeng, director and actor of Bangkok Love Story respectively.

John Badalu, the co-founding festival director, says 2008 will be one of the most important and challenging years for the festival. “We will have to fight against the National Censorship Board, the soon-to-be launched Anti Pornography Law and the crueler Islamic fundamentalist groups.” The 37-year-old says organisers have received threats of violence and even death from religious conservatives given that Indonesia is the world’s most populous Muslim country. Notably missing from the festival programme is the highly anticipated and acclaimed documentary A Jihad For Love which features the lives of 12 gay Muslim men and women and had taken director Parvez Sharma more than five years to make.

Badalu told Fridae that the screening has been postponed to next year as the director is unable to attend the festival next month. The controversial film was screened at the Istanbul International Film Festival in April – the first time the film is being screened in a Muslim country – and at the ongoing Tokyo International Lesbian & Gay Film Festival. The film was to have its Asia premiere in Singapore in April but was banned by censors at the last minute due to its "sensitive" subject. This year, the festival has teamed up with Kalyana Shira Foundation, a non-profit group that works with women, children and marginalised groups, to present a new Human Rights section featuring five local films Aside from films, other events include three photo exhibitions by French photographer Amaury Grisel (Q! Life in Paris), Indonesian photographer Adi (Transgender in Indonesia) and a group exhibition by Indonesian and international professional and non-professional photographers. There will also be two discussion panels on Homosexuality and Religion, and "Bahasa Binan" which examines the use of queer related slangs in the Indonesian language as well as literary events including a book launch "Heterophobia," the second book of blogger "Macho Man Ngomong Cong" and a book discussion on poetry and short stories by lesbians.

The majority of screenings and events oganised in conjunction with Q! Film Festival, a non-profit organisation, is free of charge. If you wish to make a cash contribution, please contact

Q! Film Festival Jakarta
Aug 8-16, 2008
Venues: Blitz Megaplex at Grand Indonesia, Goethe Institute, Erasmus Huis, Galery Cemara 6, Centre Culturel Francais (CCF) Salemba, Kineforum, Subtitles

Q! Film Festival Bali
Aug 21-24, 2008
Location; Seminyak and Denpasar.
Venues: Kudos Bar and Q Bar, Taman 65.

Q! Film Festival Surabaya
Oct 14-19, 2008
Venues: CCCL (The French Cultural Centre)

Q! Film Festival Bandung
Feb 27-Mar 3, 2009
Venues: Centre Culturel Francais, Kineruku

Q! Film Festival Yogyakarta
Apr 2009
Dates and venues are yet to be confirmed.

http://www.xtra. ca/public/ viewstory. aspx?AFF_ TYPE=1&STORY_ ID=5190&PUB_ TEMPLATE_ ID=3

July 31, 2008

Book review: How solutions lie in The Wisdom of Whores

‘The Wisdom of Whores: Bureaucrats, Brothels, and the Business of AIDS.’
by Elizabeth Pisani. Viking Canada. $23.

by Greg Beneteau
Elizabeth Pisani is taking the AIDS industry to task in print. After nearly a decade of tracking HIV-infection patterns among high-risk groups in Asia, Elizabeth Pisani has concluded that there’s a worldwide shortage of frank discussion about HIV risk factors. People, she says, don’t talk openly about "sex and drugs and all the other daft things you do when you’re thinking with your dick, or female equivalent."
The Wisdom of Whores describes in almost comic detail how the US government doles out billions of dollars to fund abstinence before marriage programs that don’t work and to "eradicate prostitution" in countries where there are few alternatives. This approach is tainted by religious ideology — the kind of bible-thumping that paints AIDS as an angry and vengeful God’s punishment of gays. According to Pisani political correctness, human rights and money — especially money — also conspire to distract attention from the realities of the world AIDS crisis.

"It’s recognized that there’s an institutional investment in making HIV absolutely everybody’s problem, in making it a development issue and a gender inequality issue and in mounting an expansive multisectoral response and all of that bollocks," Pisani explains. "But while we’re doing that we’re refocusing prevention away from what works." A former Asian correspondent for Reuters, Pisani stumbled into the world of epidemiology after returning to school in the UK in the mid 1990s. With a PhD in infectious disease epidemiology she joined the newly formed United Nations umbrella group UNAIDS in 1996 and helped to sound the alarm about the rapidly growing numbers of HIV cases. She relates with frustration how world leaders are afraid to confront evidence that intergenerational and extramarital sex — sex that lies outside the bounds of polite conversation — fuel HIV transmission in parts of Africa. They prefer, she says, to portray AIDS as an issue of poverty and under-development.

But Uganda and Senegal, despite their socioeconomic challenges, were able to stave off the worst of the HIV epidemic by focusing prevention efforts on sex workers and people having "sex in nets," or with multiple partners. Elsewhere the timidity had disastrous consequences: By the time Pisani penned the first biennial report on AIDS in 1998 one in four adults in some African countries were believed to be infected. "I just reached a pitch of frustration that we could be making so much more difference than we were," she says. The late Republican senator Jesse Helms told the New York Times in 1995 that he wanted to decrease funding for US domestic AIDS programs because the disease was spread by the "deliberate, disgusting, revolting conduct" of gays. It was then that the "AIDS industry" — Pisani’s term for the many national governments, NGOs, faith groups, pharmaceutical companies and do-gooder rock stars — finally got on board. Helms changed his tune in 2000 when celebrities like Bono and Franklin Graham, son of evangelist Billy Graham, convinced him that HIV brings immeasurable suffering "to infants and children and their families." Helms was one of the driving forces behind the 2003 President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR), a five-year, $15-billion US program to fight the epidemic. (Recently renewed and increased substantially in July 2008.)

PEPFAR did raise the bar for funding HIV programs in developing countries but, Pisani points out, the same people who are silent about HIV as it rampages among gay men, drug users and sex workers in the West are also squeamish about helping gay men, drug users and sex workers in the rest of the world. Faith-based groups are singled out for special treatment under PEPFAR, despite the opposition of many churches to contraception and homosexuality. Only 20 percent of PEPFAR funds goes to prevention efforts and fully a third of that money promotes abstinence — an approach that doesn’t work — as the sole means of prevention. High-risk groups have been entirely overlooked. By law, donor recipients aren’t allowed to take PEPFAR funds if they intend to help sex workers do anything but get out of the business. Brazil, which wants to regulate sex work, walked away from $40 million rather than yield to this demand. And to this day not a cent has gone toward harm-reduction programs for drug users, Pisani notes. There are also those who see PEPFAR as an investment rather than an act of mercy. In the first years of the project huge amounts of cash went toward buying brand name antiretroviral drugs and "Made in America" condoms rather than relying on cheaper, local versions. In Asia, where Pisani started tracking HIV-prevalence rates in 2001, close to 100 million people were being ignored or underserviced. It was her job to figure out in which circles HIV was being spread, mainly through good old-fashioned field surveillance: sample some people and ask them about their behaviours. Pisani found that asking transgendered sex workers about condom negotiation and learning the street value of heroin in Jakarta turned out to be a lot like writing a good news story.

"I never thought I would be an arms-length number cruncher," Pisani says. "I was first and foremost a journalist and that means talking to people." Those people include Fuad, a young Indonesian long-haul truck driver who supplements his meagre income by selling sex to men, as does his girlfriend back home. Pisani spoke with Frankie, a former heroin user from Bali who used to share a single needle among dozens of his fellow inmates in prison. Pisani learned that in Indonesian jails heroin is cheaper than clean needles. We meet Nancy, who is at ease talking about her work as the headmistress of an Indonesian network of MTF transsexual sex workers known as waria. She complains that her young charges have no respect for their elders, brazenly showing off their designer vaginas — bought at sex-change clinics in neighbouring Thailand — to potential clients. Nancy also works for Jakarta’s Department of Social Affairs teaching waria the practical skills they need for career options outside of sex work. But even in the face of high HIV- prevalence rates and a conservative Muslim theology that vilifies sex work and condom use, most waria remain sex workers either because the pay is too good or it’s the only job they’ve ever known. They choose.

"It’s less about the money than about the orgasms," Nancy explains to Pisani. "Let’s face it, we’re all human, we’ve all got to get laid." The book is full of such frank, often funny revelations from ordinary people. Combined with reams of statistical data collected from the red-light districts of Jakarta to the gay discos of Shanghai, Pisani comes to a simple but inescapable conclusion: sometimes people, for survival, fun or a combination of the two, take risks and they need help to do so more safely, not preaching and isolation. But Pisani is not just another angry scientist railing against conservative values. She also tears a strip off liberal activists who have their own grab bag of failed policies, what she calls "the sacred cows of the AIDS industry." Many of the ideas central to prevention today, such as emphasizing peer education, using grassroots non-governmental organizations for outreach and pressing for a strict "voluntary testing only" rule, were borrowed from the playbooks of AIDS activists in gay communities in the ’80s. They were amazingly successful under the repressive conditions they faced but, according to Pisani, many of the underlying assumptions change when you go halfway around the world. Peer education?

Pisani says sex workers and drug users are more often rivals than friends, that small-scale outreach falls apart when your client base is too large or spread over too large an area, and that in some cases mandatory testing can break the wall of shame and stigma when followed up with care and support services. Pisani also unabashedly tears apart any notion that it’s preferable to spend money on universal prevention campaigns rather than target high-risk behaviours. She blames this mentality on the politicization of the issue — the back-and-forth between ideologies that has hindered epidemiologists’ efforts to treat HIV like any other infectious disease. "That’s what it is, first and foremost," she says. "But now we’re in this weird situation where saying ‘HIV is a gay disease’ is stigmatizing to the gay community. So we say something else. Then awareness and condom use during anal sex drops and suddenly, HIV is a gay disease again…. If, in bending over backward to avoid stigmatizing people, you lose the ability to reach them it won’t work." It all sounds rather unkind. Then again public health has always been a rather fascistic discipline, Pisani concedes.

When behaviours prove frustratingly hard to change, sometimes you just need to fall back on the basics: condoms, clean needles and frank discussions about the risk factors for HIV transmission. "Everyone takes risks," she says. "It’s part of the human condition, thank God; how boring would life be if it weren’t? But people choose the risks they’re willing to take based upon a fairly complex cost/benefit model. It’s not perfect but the more information we give them the more sophisticated their analysis will be." Have her experiences made Pisani any more risk-averse? She laughs. "Oh God, no. I’m just as much of a slut as I ever was.

August 16, 2008

Former prisoner gets legal backing for Sukarno story

by Tarko Sudiarno, The Jakarta Post, Yogyakarta
When he learned that the Supreme Court had turned down the appeal against him lodged by the Yogyakarta prosecutor’s office, 81-year-old Soekardjo Wilardjito could not help praising God. The ruling, he heard from the Yogyakarta Legal Aid Institute last month, cleared him of charges that his story was a lie. And what a story: He claimed he witnessed former president Sukarno being held at gunpoint during the signing of the March 11, 1966, decree, known as Surat Perintah Sebelas Maret (Supersemar), which transferred power to Gen. Soeharto.

"My life is full of miracles from God. I faced many hard ordeals. … God always soothed me in His own way," Soekardjo told The Jakarta Post recently in his house in Gancahan village, in Godean, Yogyakarta. "It’s like I have nine lives. I should have died in 1966." Despite his age, Soekardjo still has a sharp memory. Clearly, he was able to mention important dates and the names of people involved in certain events.

The story that put him in the spotlight began on March 10, 1966, in Bogor Palace, West Java, where Sukarno lived. At that time, Soekardjo, a second lieutenant in the Army, was on duty guarding the palace. He said it was almost midnight when four high-ranking army officers — Maj. Gen. Maraden Panggabean, Maj. Gen. Basuki Rachmat, Brig. Gen. Amir Macmud and Brig. Gen. M. Yusuf — arrived at the palace. They wanted to see Sukarno, who was sleeping. As a presidential guard, Soekardjo dared to knock at Sukarno’s bedroom door. Sukarno got up and received the four officers in his working room. Soekardjo followed and took up his position behind the president. He recalled one of the Army officers handing over a pink portfolio with a letter from Soeharto. Sukarno, who was still in his pajamas, read it. He looked, Soekardjo said, hesitant. According to Soekardjo, Basuki pointed his FN pistol at Sukarno and said, "Just sign it, sir."

Sukarno re-read the letter and protested. "Bismillah. In God’s name, just sign it," Basuki said, still holding the pistol. "No time to revise it." It was here that Soekardjo stepped in, he said. "As a guard, I drew my loaded pistol. But the president told me not to take out my gun. `No, no’, he said." After Sukarno signed the letter, the four high-ranking military officers left in a hurry. Sukarno then told Soekardjo, "You must be careful. I have to get out of this palace." Sukarno was right.

At the palace the following night, Soekardjo did not resist when he was arrested by the Army and taken to the military detention center in Setia Budi, South Jakarta. He was held without trial until 1969, as he was reported to be a member of the now-defunct Indonesian Communist Party. All his documents and his private house on Jl. Muwardi 2, West Jakarta, were seized. He claims that while in detention, he was repeatedly tortured. "I surrendered myself to God the Almighty. And He heard me. Some of the torturers later came to me to apologize, kissing my knee," Soekardjo said, showing his scars.

The beatings he received were such that he became paralyzed — he is now confined to a wheelchair — and lost his front teeth, thanks to a well-aimed rifle butt. In 1969, he was transferred to Yogyakarta. He was later taken to Luweng Ombo natural spring in Gunung Kidul where he was told he would be killed. But the truck carrying him had to return to Yogyakarta because there was such a long queue to reach Gunung Kidul. "God indeed loves me," said the former political prisoner. In Yogyakarta, Soekardjo was held in Fort Vredeburg, then being used as a prison, before being transferred to military police headquarters, and then to Wirogunan Prison.

In 1975 he was sent to Semarang; after three months he was transferred to Surabaya military detention center. He was there for two months and then spent another two months in Kalisosok detention center, also in Surabaya. He was then moved to Penjara Pohon Pule prison in Ambon, Maluku province, where he stayed until his release in 1980. "According to the wardens, they transferred me from one place to another because they found out I was telling other detainees about the hold-up incident back in March 1966. Maybe they thought my story was dangerous." His wife, Sih Wilujeng, and their nine children also suffered because of his imprisonment. Wilujeng lost her job as a nurse even though she was a recipient of a Guerrilla Star from the government. She took the children to her hometown in Yogyakarta where she worked as a laborer in her neighbor’s rice field.

Wilujeng recalled that in an effort to get a rice allowance for the family, she went to see the village chief to ask for a recommendation letter for Soekardjo as an army veteran. She was turned down cold, the village chief saying, "If I issued the letter, I would be the first person to be reprimanded." Wilujeng said nothing because the village chief was Notosuwito, the brother of then president Soeharto. "Everybody in Yogyakarta knew who Notosuwito was. Who dared argue while his brother was the president?" Soekardjo said. Soekardjo took his case to the Yogyakarta Legal Aid Institute in 1998. Before long, his story had reached the media.

The upshot was he was questioned by police, before being sent to the Yogyakarta District Court for allegedly spreading lies. After the court cleared Soekardjo of all charges on Nov. 21, 2006, the prosecutors lodged an appeal in the Supreme Court, which upheld the district court’s verdict. "It is true Sukarno was held at gunpoint. I revealed this in court," Soekardjo insisted. The Supreme Court ruling, according to Soekardjo’s lawyer, Budi Hartono from the Yogyakarta Legal Aid Institute, is a legal validation of the authenticity of Soekardjo’s story. Soekardjo could not stop thanking God for the decision. "I hope the government gives back what is mine, including my reputation, status, documents and house, as well as compensating me as an Army member who was being dismissed without any official discharge letter."

August 10, 2008

U.S. grants asylum in Indonesian transgender case

by Prodita Sabarini
The United States granted,for the first time, an asylum claim to an Indonesian transsexual last month, an activist said. Lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender rights organization Arus Pelangi founder King Oey, said that Michelle Saraswati, 42, formerly known as Michael Setiabudi, won her case at the San Fransisco Immigration Court in July. Michelle, a graduate from Trisakti University school of architecture, came to the United States in 1998 as a gay man. She stayed illegally after her work visa expired in 2001 and after her asylum claim as a gay man was rejected in 2005.

In August 2006 she was arrested for violation of immigration rules. She appealed and her case was re-opened as a transgender. King acted as an expert trial witness by telephone, describing the quality of life of transgender people here. Lack of laws and legal recourse in Indonesia for transgender discrimination and limited employment opportunities for transvestites was her main justification to seek asylum in the United States. Foreign Affairs Ministry spokesperson Teuku Faizasyah when contacted on the matter said that Michelle had been seeking asylum since 2001.

"We are still checking whether her claim has been granted or not," Faizasyah said. Fellow gay Indonesian Paul Amro Yuwono residing in San Fransisco, who helped Michelle in her case, told The Jakarta Post through email that support from the LGBT community in San Fransisco was strong. Their network succeeded in collecting money to bail Michelle out of jail. Paul said that he flew to Indonesia to collect letters from the LGBT community here and from friends to support Michelle’s case.

"I had a mixed reaction from them. Some of them were too scared to do so and some of them were angry at me for supporting this case. They thought I was being a traitor and (that) I looked down on my own country," Paul said in his email. "The only person who willingly helped to write a witness letter was a good friend of mine, Vina Gracia who is a transgender herself. She wrote a letter telling about her life struggle in Yogyakarta and Jakarta as a transgender," Paul said.

He added that support also came from Gaya Nusantara founder Dede Utomo, KRT Daud Wiryo Hadinegoro, film director Nia Dinata and other close friends in the GLBT Organization. Paul said that Michelle’s case could be a wake up call for the government to eliminate discrimination and do more to protect sexual minorities.

"They are loosing their own talented people. Michelle is an architect and soon she will take up a great job in a design and architecture company. Michelle is only one example. There are many Indonesians including GBLT and other minorities that have bailed out from Indonesia and are building a good life here in the United States," he said.

October 07, 2008

Bali Foundation Calls for Increased Testing To Curb HIV Among Male Sex Workers

The Gaya Dewata Foundation — a group focused on HIV/AIDS and sexually transmitted infection education, support and treatment in Bali — recently called for increased STI testing among male sex workers who have sex with both men and women, the Jakarta Post/Asia News Network reports. Although an HIV/AIDS and STI outreach program launched in 2006 by the foundation has reached as many as 360 male sex workers, foundation representatives said the increasing number of men in this particular group could contribute to the spread of HIV and other STIs. The group said that the high risk of HIV among this particular group of sex workers largely is because they switch between male and female partners and are very mobile, the Post/Asia News Network reports.

The number of male sex workers who switch between male and female partners is increasing, and the foundation has focused its support services on serving this particular group. According to the foundation’s director Vivi, the decrease in the number of STIs recorded among male sex workers visiting foundation clinics is a result of "intensive support, such as education and free medication." Bali has recorded 2,208 HIV/AIDS cases, 133 of which occur among men who have sex with men, according to the Bali Commission for AIDS Handling (De Suryani, Jakarta Post/Asia News Network, 10/4).


November 24, 2008

Indonesia’s Papua plans to tag AIDS sufferers

by Karima Anjani
Jayapura, Indonesia (Reuters) – Indonesia’s Papua province is set to pass a bylaw that requires some HIV/AIDS patients to be implanted with microchips in a bid to prevent them infecting others, a lawmaker said on Saturday.
Under the bylaw, which has caused uproar among human rights activists, patients who had shown "actively sexual behavior" could be implanted with a microchip to monitor their activity, lawmaker John Manangsang said. "It’s a simple technology. A signal from the microchip will track their movements and this will be received by monitoring authorities," Manangsang said.

If a patient with HIV/AIDS was found to have infected a healthy person, there would be a penalty, he said without elaborating. The Jakarta Post newspaper on Saturday quoted Constan Karma, the head of Papua’s National AIDS Commission, as saying the plan violated human rights. The local parliament was expected to introduce the controversial legislation in Papua, which lies in Indonesia’s easternmost fringe, by end of this month, Manangsang said.

The number of HIV/AIDS cases per 100,000 people in Papua is nearly 20 times the national average in Indonesia, according to a government study in 2007. Health experts say the disease has been spreading rapidly from prostitutes to housewives in the past years. High rates of promiscuity, rituals in some Papuan tribes where partner swapping takes place, poor education about AIDS and lack of condoms are among factors that cause the spread of the disease there.

Editing by Ed Davies and Bill Tarrant

Underground and at risk: Men who have sex with men in urban Papua

Faces of Indonesia

by Iskandar Nugroho
It’s a Saturday night in downtown Jayapura. A group of young men queue patiently for access to one of the ten computers in a popular internet cafe. They sit together on plastic benches, staring at mobile phones that beep constantly with a stream of incoming messages. Among the crowd waiting to use a computer is Valentino (not his real name), 21 years old and born and raised in Sorong, West Papua. Valentino is of mixed Papuan and Kei background. He left home two years ago to enrol as a student in economics at Cendrawasih University in Jayapura. Every Saturday night he spends time online, browsing the internet and checking emails, as well as joining in an Indonesian language gay chat room. He enjoys the chance to share feelings and experiences, but his main agenda is to find someone for sex.

The delayed recognition of the existence of male to male sex and sexual networking in Papua is a huge issue in the fight against HIV/AIDS. As long as the internet cafe isn’t hit by one of the rolling electricity blackouts that plague the city, he can always find someone to spend his Saturday night with, usually back in the house where he rents a room. If the internet does fail, he still has other options: less than 50 metres from his usual internet cafe is one of the Jayapura ‘hotspots’, or meeting places for men who have sex with men (MSM).

Undercover sex
Undercover meeting places for men like Valentino have long been part of Jayapura’s MSM scene. The main shopping mall, the taxi terminal and city parks are key sites for the scene. But there are also less ‘appropriate’ meeting places for people in search of casual sex, like the grounds of Jayapura’s main mosque. There, men looking for sex with other men mix with people selling, or in search of, other forms of casual sex, all divided according to their different groups.

Those in the MSM ‘category’ include men who are prepared to pay, or be paid, for sex, usually as a way of supplementing their meagre incomes. Sometimes ‘payment’ takes the form of ‘phone money’, or money for alcohol, which is consumed in large quantities in urban Papua. They often congregate with people of their own ethnic background, but a form of networking exists between different MSM groups. Waria (transgendered or transsexual males), for example, will sometimes make a contact on behalf of a man looking for a different type of MSM partner, or vice versa.

An internet-based sub-culture
In the wider world of urban Papua, same sex behaviour is still heavily stigmatised and relationships between men are not recognised. In fact, social and cultural taboos make it impossible to openly discuss sex outside marriage. Men are under strong pressure to marry and fulfil their roles as husbands and fathers, and any man known to have engaged in sex with another man is a source of shame for his family and community. As a result, married men in search of sex with other men are constantly on the move, seeking partners far removed from their own family, church and community environments. These taboos are extremely dangerous. Papua has the highest rates of HIV infection in Indonesia, five times the national average. In fact 30,000 people out of a population of only 2.5 million are estimated to be infected with HIV. MSM groups are at high risk of contracting the virus, because of their ‘no talk, just sex’ attitude and behaviour.

… social and cultural taboos make it impossible to openly discuss sex outside marriage.

The internet plays a role, especially for young and educated Papuans, in getting around social sanctions. It allows them to engage in private conversations, arrange meetings and check out a prospective partner’s profile, often complete with a photo. These young men are part of a mushrooming trend all over urban Papua: from internet cafes to private homes and offices internet usage is booming. The internet is cheap and easily accessible, linking cities like Jayapura not only with other towns all over Papua, but with the world at large. In Papua itself, it enables sexual contacts to be made between men of all types, from the main urban centres to the outlying districts. The reach of the internet parallels the mapping of the HIV epidemic, which has now spread all over Papua and through all age groups of the population.

Valentino was introduced to the internet, and especially its gay chat rooms, by a Papuan friend studying at a university in Makassar. Like many other men all over urban Indonesia, Valentino and his friend have found the main Indonesian language gay chat room to be an ideal meeting place. They show no interest in seeking out a long term cohabiting partner, perhaps because social norms in Papua would make this unimaginable. But the internet supplies them with what they are looking for: direct contact with both locals and visitors in search of MSM. Since becoming a regular visitor to the chat room, Valentino has met up with men from a wide range of different backgrounds, ethnicities and professional and educational levels. Even when he is back home on holidays in Sorong, the internet keeps him in touch with local MSM activity. Men like Valentino also put their internet contacts in touch with those who have no internet access. They regularly share contacts with each other and the wider MSM community, meaning that once someone becomes part of the network, phone calls, SMS and MMS (image inputs) from strangers is an everyday occurrence. There is no privacy and no confidentiality. It is all seen as a form of MSM solidarity.
A huge challenge

Valentino’s own sexual history began at an early age, and has involved multiple partners. Apart from having a sexual relationship with his girlfriend, he has had sex with men aged between 18 and 40, including students, civil servants and military personnel from all over Indonesia, and even with foreign tourists visiting Papua. He and his MSM partners all distinguish themselves from waria, and don’t themselves have sex with waria. Like Valentino, most of them have girlfriends, and plan to marry. For them, sex with men is just casual fun. It is usually associated with alcohol, confirming a 2006 Cendrawasih University study which found that in Papua, alcohol is widely believed to enhance personal image and confidence, as well as sexual drive.

Overall, there is a dangerous lack of information and awareness about the risks associated with unprotected sex among MSM in Papua.

Condom use by men like Valentino is extremely low, and also inconsistent. One finding suggests that condoms are associated in most men’s minds with sex between prostitutes and immigrants, which they believe is the only sexual activity that carries a risk of HIV infection. Many of those interviewed on the subject say that condoms are only necessary if someone has sex with a sex worker in a designated prostitution zone. Those who have been exposed to education campaigns, or have been outside Papua, are better informed. But many still do not use condoms for fear that their ‘secrets’ will be discovered by their wives or girlfriends if they are found to be in possession of condoms. This means that their regular female partners are also being exposed to high levels of risk. Overall, there is a dangerous lack of information and awareness about the risks associated with unprotected sex among MSM in Papua.

Valentino himself is one of a very small group of men in Jayapura who were exposed to a trial condom promotion through internet chat rooms. His participation in the program not only made him aware of the importance of condom use in the prevention of HIV – it also caused him to come forward as a volunteer informant on the undercover MSM scene, providing information about a closed community that will be crucial to future intervention campaigns. As an educated young Papuan who is an avid fan of the Persipura national champion soccer team and is sexually active in the context of MSM networking in Papua, he is a perfect target for HIV/AIDS educational campaigns.

The delayed recognition of the existence of MSM and sexual networking in Papua is a huge issue in the fight against HIV/AIDS in Indonesia’s far eastern provinces. Much more needs to be done in order to raise awareness of the need for behaviour modification and regular testing among at risk groups like MSM. ii

Iskandar Nugroho ( recently completed an assignment for the AusAID-funded Indonesia HIV/AIDS Prevention and Care Project in Papua. The views expressed in this article are his own and not necessarily those of AusAID.