Things to Know About LGBT Issues in Indonesia

The lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender population of Muslim-majority Indonesia has long faced homophobia, but attacks and harassment have reached a fever pitch in recent months, with antigay rallies by religious hard-liners and declarations by some officials that it represents a threat to the country’s values. Here are five things to know about being LGBT in Indonesia.

1 This Isn’t a New Issue
In answering the argument that LGBT values have been imposed by outside influences, some activists note that different sexual behaviors and identities have a long history in this hugely diverse country. Some ethnic groups recognize several gender identities: The Bugis in South Sulawesi, for example, recognize males who act as heterosexual females and females who act as heterosexual males. Transgender women, or waria, have a very visible place in society. Their struggles were the subject of the acclaimed 2011 film “Lovely Man.”
Shinta Ratri, a waria, praying at her house

2 LGBT Activism Has Deep Roots
The LGBT movement emerged in the late 1960s, according to a report by USAID and the United Nations Development Program, and in 1982 gay men started Lambda Indonesia. The movement scaled up after the autocrat Suharto was ousted in 1998. In 2013 the country hosted a national dialogue to discuss the situation facing sexual minorities that was attended by officials, activists, international organizations and dozens of LGBT groups, of which there are now close to 200 across the country, estimate activists.

3 LGBT Population Is an Invisible Minority
While a few dozen high-profile LGBT activists and supporters appear in the media, many prominent people keep quiet about their sexuality for fear of losing their job, home or position in society, says Hendri Yulius, a lecturer and researcher on LGBT issues. Dédé Oetomo, founder and trustee of the advocacy group Gaya Nusantara, said the recent uproar, though it’s making some more cautious, is seen by others as a call to seize the moment. “Many of these people were just outed by the government,” he said.

4 Times Are Changing
Social media have created momentum for the LGBT movement, said Roberto Lie, a member of the Support Group and Resource Center on Sexuality Studies at the University of Indonesia. People are finally stepping up to say they have rights and don’t want to be discriminated against, he said. More visible equal-rights advocacy by LGBT groups outside Indonesia has also been a spur. A group of transgender women founded the world’s only Islamic school for transgender people in Central Java in 2008.

5 Threats Remain
While it isn’t a crime to be gay in most of the country, late last year Aceh province made gay sex punishable by up to 100 lashes, and talk of further limiting the rights of LGBT people comes and goes. As it is, they are afforded few protections in areas such as employment and housing. And while activists say LGBT individuals are mostly tolerated—if only by keeping their sexuality private—it continues to be a stigma, and hostility remains. A 2013 study by LGBT advocacy group Arus Pelangi found that nearly 80% of LGBT individuals reported experiencing psychological violence and 46% reported physical violence.

by Sara Schonhardt
Source – The Wall Street Journal