LGBT Jakartans: ‘Worse than a nuclear bomb? We just want to be accepted’

Intro: “In the Guardian newspaper Nov 26 was this report composed by a ‘typical’reporter Stanley Widianto which attempts to scare people into thinking that Armageddon is about to happen for the LGBT community in Indonesia. As usual the writer has found the worst examples of fear to re-enforce his negative point of view. He does not mention a single positive pro-gay perspective.” From Dede Oetemo, LGBT activist, Jakarta

As anti-LGBT sentiment grows in Indonesia – with proposals to criminalise gay sex and public condemnations from government ministers – young Jakartans share stories of discrimination and hopes for the future

The year 2016 seems to have provided a helping hand for the increasing discrimination against Indonesia’s lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender communities. The constitutional court is currently mulling over a petition to revise the criminal code to make intercourse between same-sex couples illegal.

The conservative Islamic group driving the petition, Family Love Alliance (Aliansi Cinta Keluarga), argues that the country’s current laws lean too heavily towards western values, which they see as at odds with ours in Indonesia. Patrialis Akbar, one of the judges in the constitutional court, has said: “Our freedom is limited by moral values as well as religious values … We’re not a secular country – this country acknowledges religion.”

Indonesia’s communication and information ministry, with recommendations from the national police, religious affairs ministry and the Islamic group Majelis Ulama Indonesia (who issued a fatwa [a ruling on a point of Islamic law] against LGBT practices in 2014), has plans to ban gay dating apps such as Grindr. This comes just months after gay-themed emoji and stickers were removed from a popular messaging app in the country.

This year alone, government officials have said that there is “no room” in Indonesia for the LGBT movement, that it is worse than a nuclear bomb, and that LGBT people should be barred from university campuses. In February, Vice President Jusuf Kalla asked the United Nations Development Programme to not finance LGBT community organisations in the country. In the same month, the Indonesian Psychiatrists Association classified being LGBT as a “mental disorder” that should be “cured”. You get the picture.

But the most damning assessment further underscoring the pervading conservatism which restricts, if not outright threatens, the lives of LGBT communities here came in August. Human Rights Watch released a 91-page report on the matter, where you can read a story of a trans person, known here as a waria (a portmanteau of the Indonesian words for woman and man) in the city of Yogyakarta who was violently attacked in February by seven men while walking home.

You’ll also read about the hostile closure of an Islamic academy (madrasa) for transgender women in the same city – a place that had become a vital refuge to many.

These discriminatory acts have been abetted by politicians and lawmakers in Indonesia by way of rejoinders, policies or equally-punishing silence.

Last month, however, Indonesia’s president, Joko Widodo, vowed to protect any threatened minorities in an interview with the BBC. When asked about what he thought about the hearings in the constitutional court, he said he didn’t feel the need to change the law, and that the police must protect groups from violence. “There should be no discrimination against anyone,” he said.

The president’s statement, however, is not backed up by laws ensuring equal rights for LGBT people in Indonesia. In the deliberations over the United Nations’ New Urban Agenda signed last month at Habitat III, Indonesia and 16 other countries requested the removal of LGBTQ individuals in the list of “most vulnerable” groups that should not be discriminated against.

As Indonesia’s most populous and diverse city, Jakarta is home to many LGBT advocacy and community groups, including Suara Kita (which also acts a shelter) and Arus Pelangi. The city also serves as Indonesia’s most visible stage on which demonstrations for or against LGBT rights take place.

Last year rallies were held in central Jakarta calling for greater protection of LGBT rights and in celebration of International Day Against Homophobia and Transphobia. But this year anti-LGBT banners were put up around the city by conservative Islamic groups and demonstrators protested against the Jakarta-based Asean Literary Festival for “promoting communism and LGBT values”.

I was curious to find out how LGBT people in Jakarta feel about whether the city is a safe space for them or not, despite the pressure from Islamic hardliner groups, and what their hopes for the future are.

I ran away from home after my mum told me to get out twice, my father compared me to an animal, and my aunt and uncle said that I’m an outlaw. All because my parents learned of my relationship with my girlfriend.

My parents had given me two choices to either break up with my girlfriend or leave the house. Although I chose the second option, they still tried to stop me. “You’d be better off without your limbs than this,” my mum said. Even though my family isn’t religious, they began tossing Bible passages in my way – hoping I’d get their message: that I’ve committed a sin.

So I ran away and went to Suara Kita to seek refuge there. Now I live alone and I hold down a steady job in Jakarta. To face each day, I feel fine. But whenever I get a flashback to those nights or those words that my parents said to me, it stops me in my tracks.

I’ve never been harassed or harangued when I hang out with my girlfriend in Jakarta – but we have been stared at on the train.

I know it’s hard, but I pray for more open-minded people, like the people in the PGI (Persatuan Gereja Indonesia, Indonesia’s church union) who issued a recommendation that we, as government or as a society, should accept LGBT communities. I’m hoping for the best.

I feel safe in my community; there’s more joy than sorrow. I feel accepted among my friends and they can comfort me since we have the same vision.

In some ways, Jakarta is inclusive – if we’re talking about mindsets and the character of a metropolitan society, which I think leans towards indifference. When people interact with me, they don’t really care and they talk to me without mentioning sexual orientation.

I’m allowed to express myself, but not to explain my thoughts about whether gay rights are human rights

Some friends tell me that although they’re okay with having LGBT acquaintances, they still don’t want their children to be LGBT. Don’t expect same-sex public displays of affection to be the norm anytime soon.

I’m allowed to express myself, but not to voice an opinion or to explain my thoughts about whether gay rights are human rights. Aren’t gay rights the same as the rights to be free? To earn an honest living? To live without being discriminated against?

It has nothing to do with “western” or “eastern” values whatsoever. We have all wanted those rights for so long in Indonesia – it’s just that since our struggle is relatively new, it’s regarded as something unusual, ie something western. We just want to be accepted and acknowledged by others. We want to express ourselves freely without judgment or discrimination.

I am optimistic about our future. Eventually, the way people think will change, they’ll be more open-minded. It takes time for things to change, and it’s not easy, but I’m glad I’m part of it. I think that’s my hope and my fear for the future: to have the strength to carry on.

Being a woman and identifying as bisexual has meant I get asked a lot of insensitive questions (“Why don’t you just like guys only?”) as well as people telling me that it’s “just a phase”.

Jakarta felt safe compared to other places in Indonesia until earlier this year when the spotlight was cast on the LGBT community. Suddenly everyone seemed to despise us, when before they didn’t care about our existence at all. I constantly feel like I don’t belong and afraid, like somebody is going to hunt me down for loving someone that is of the same gender.

But being a metropolitan city with a huge population of all kinds of people, there’s a lot of strong LGBT communities, even one that aims to educate university students: SGRC Indonesia (Support Group and Resource Centre on Sexuality Studies).

When the higher education minister said that LGBT people should be barred from university campuses I felt betrayed.

I just hope at the very least that the government doesn’t pass the bill to criminalise LGBT relationships. I also hope that Indonesians – or at least the ones in Jakarta – will slowly realise that we have a right to live as they do, and stop hating us and start accepting us as another part of the super-diverse Jakarta.

In Indonesia’s LGBT communities we’re talking more about SOGIEB (sexual orientation, gender identity, expression and body) as an expanded way of addressing issues of personal freedom. I was a part of a SOGIEB-themed film festival in Jakarta, which we had to relocate and rename due to the fear of anticipated backlash.

I guess this is what living as a queer person is like in Jakarta: we always have to be careful not to rub people the wrong way. In the long run, what we ultimately wish for is integration – not just tolerance or acceptance.

To get there, however, takes time, struggle and hours of uncertainty because it boils down to the simple fact that Indonesians, as much as we enjoy sex to the point of obsession, are severely lacking in sex education itself.

On a personal level, I would like to simply be able to walk by myself, or hand in hand with my boyfriend in public without it being a magnet for attention, or even a political act. I don’t feel threatened when I walk on the streets, but who’s to say I won’t someday? And that’s one of my biggest fears going forward: that LGBT Indonesians are stripped of our basic rights to exist.

There is a lot of intersectionality between the LGBT rights movement, the women’s rights movement and the human rights movement. If more people under these movements join forces then we all could make some strides. I think we are making some strides already.

Instead of chalking everything up to “LGBT”, why not concentrate on SOGIEB education? I think that’s my hope for the future: that sex education about these issues becomes a priority.

In my view, we simply need to be kinder to one another.

Some names have been changed. Additional reporting by Francesca Perry

by Stanley Widianto
Source – The Guardian