- The exorcisms can involve ice-cold baths, being made to vomit and even rape.
LGBT+ Indonesians are warning they will face exorcisms as the country prepares to enact a law that will force them into conversion therapy.
The so-called Family Resilience Bill would make homosexuality illegal across the southeast Asian islands.
Indonesia has the world’s fourth biggest population with over 267million people. And the new law would push thousands into ‘rehab’ to ‘cure’ their sexuality.
Four Indonesian parties have backed the new bill and it’s on parliament’s priority list for the 2020 to 2024 period. However, there is also a brave, vocal opposition to the proposals.
Now experts say exorcisms are likely to be a big part of those conversion therapy efforts if the law goes ahead.
Usman Hamid is Amnesty International Indonesia’s executive director. He said: ‘[It’s] the most likely option to be taken by officials in Indonesia when doing “rehabilitation”.’
‘Nothing changed but the horror stays in my head’
Psychiatric and psychological bodies around the world condemn ‘conversion therapy’ or ‘gay cures’. They say the attempts to change an LGBT+ person into a heterosexual, cisgender person never work. Moreover, they can do serious, lasting damage to your mental health.
Despite this, they are already common in Indonesia. And even Islamic exorcisms of LGBT+ Indonesians are nothing new. GSN reported in 2018 that cases of exorcisms were rising as the country became more homophobic and transphobic.
Known as ruqyah, the practice uses prayers and, at times, physical torture to drive out evil spirits.
In some cases, religious leaders or family members feed LGBT+ people ash from paper with verses from the Quran.
Other times, imams force them to take ice-cold baths before conducting Islamic rituals.
There are even reports of family members or religious leaders raping lesbians to ‘correct’ them.
One trans woman told AFP she was taken to a religious guru in Sumatra, Indonesia. He showed her a burial shroud, used to cover the dead and gave her a choice – stop being a woman or go to hell.
Like all such quack ‘cures’, it didn’t work. She said:
‘Nothing changed after the exorcism. I’m still LGBT, but my family didn’t give up easily. It’s traumatising – the horror of that memory stays in my head.’
Vomiting and screaming
Moreover the exorcists openly boast about their ‘success’ rate. With politicians increasing backing conversion therapy, they are hoping the new bill will boost business.
AFP also spoke to one exorcist who claims to have ‘cured’ around 10 such clients in the past decade.
He told them he can see signs that the ‘evil spirits’ are leaving an LGBT+ person’s body. It is not clear exactly what he does. However he admitted that his victims sometimes vomit and scream.
‘It’s usually a strong reaction but that means they’ll be cured quicker. However, if someone likes being LGBT and they’ve only come here out of curiosity then there’s no reaction. Those cases are harder to fix.’
Help is out there
Indonesia’s intervention comes as multiple countries move towards banning conversion therapy.
Nations around the world are waking up to the fact that such attempts are dangerous and never work. Moreover they often involve physical torture and can lead to serious, long-term trauma.
Germany passed a ban to protect under 18s and prevent anyone from being forced into ‘treatment’ last week.
Meanwhile countries including Canada, the UK, Ireland, Australia and Chile are considering nationwide bans. And an increasing number of US states are banning the practice.
If Indonesia goes ahead with its new law, it will be the most draconian around conversion therapy in the world. However, Malaysia also provides state-backing for the ‘cures’.
However, if you are worried about your sexuality or gender identity or traumatized by past conversion therapy, you can find help.
There is a list of LGBT+ resources and helplines all around the world here. Please note, some of the helplines may have different operating hours during the pandemic.