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‘Hiding in fear’: What is life like for LGBTI Indonesians?

‘Hiding in fear’: What is life like for LGBTI Indonesians?

a police officer is looking at women sitting down who are covering their faces

In the last few weeks, regional authorities in Indonesia have launched a slew of anti-LGBTI measures.

Gay sex is not illegal in Indonesia. But, since early 2016, ‘government-driven moral panic’ over LGBTI Indonesians has engulfed the nation, according to rights groups.

And it only seems to be getting worse in the run-up to elections in the Muslim-majority country next year.

Depok in West Java this weekend said it it is preparing to issue a regulation to restrict LGBTI movement.

It follows protests last week in Bogor demanding that the city ban all LGBTI people. Last month, Cianjur regency sent a memo to mosques in the region, requesting they conduct sermons warning of ‘The Dangers of LGBT, Sodomy, and Abuse’.

But how does it feel to be part of the embattled LGBTI community? Gay Star News spoke to three people across the country to find out.

What is happening?

Filmmaker Lucky Kuswandi told Gay Star News that public shaming, anti-LGBTI rhetoric from officials, police crackdowns and even demonstrations had become the new normal for LGBTI Indonesians.

‘This is a successful attempt in vilifying and creating moral panic and hatred towards the community’ he told Gay Star News.

LGBTI rights campaigner Dede Oetomo said anti-LGBTI action had been most severe in Aceh, West Sumatra and West Java.

Ayu Bagaoesoekawatie, a gender-fluid individual based in central Java, said even an innocent ‘pocky challenge’ at a shopping mall had created anti-LGBTI hysteria.

The game, which simulated same-sex kissing, lead to police interrogating organizers and contestants for hours.

‘Of course, the crackdown began in 2016, but it has become worse now’ Ayu told Gay Star News.

A biscuit eating competition caused quite the stir in Indonesia (Photo: Facebook)
A biscuit eating competition caused hysteria in Indonesia (Photo: Facebook)

What is the effect on the community?

Oetomo said some LGBTI organizations and individuals had gone underground.

‘Many events have had to be canceled, or organized in such a way that only trusted members of the community can know and attend’, he said.

By crippling LGBTI networks and organizations, Indonesia runs the risk of fueling its HIV epidemic, Kuswandi warned.

‘The victims of persecution are not only my friends who are gay’ said Ayu. ‘But people in general. You can feel it. People are living with a background of fear’.

What’s more, many LGBTI Indonesians have moved to safer parts of the country or migrated.

Why is it happening?

The rise of militant religious movements threaten Indonesia’s diversity and secularism, Kuswandi warned.

‘This has not just affected the LGBTI community, but other minorities such as women and religious minorities’ he said.

Since 2016, politicians have used the LGBT issue to garner voter support in the run-up to the 2019 elections, explained Oetomo.

He said the US’s legalization of same-sex marriage in 2015 may have contributed to the crackdown.

Ayu blamed homophobic Muslim leaders taking the word of the Quran literally to stir anti-LGBTI feelings.

An anti-LGBTI vigilante group (Photo: Human Rights Watch)
An anti-LGBTI vigilante group (Photo: Human Rights Watch)

What can be done?

The LGBTI community have been fighting back, Oetomo said.

Organizations have challenged the government on its new Penal Code draft through petitions and lobbying. The community has also been informing society on LGBTI issues through media and education.

But, ‘the community cannot fight this alone’ warned Kuswandi. He urged international corporations to show support for LGBTI Indonesians.

The LGBTI community is building a strong, integrated, and inclusive support system, Ayu said.

The international community and the United Nations can also help by pressuring the government to respect LGBTI rights, Ayu said.

‘The government must have a firm attitude to revoke all discriminatory regional regulations rather than looking for the ‘status quo’ ahead of elections’ Ayu urged.

More from Gay Star News

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Regional authorities in Indonesia persecuting LGBTI residents ahead of elections