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LGBTI people speak out about what life is like in Indonesia

LGBTI people speak out about what life is like in Indonesia

Two men arrested on suspicion of being gay under Indonesia's Aceh province's Sharia Law. Photo: Twitter

Indonesia’s LGBTI community has been in the headlines over the past month for all the wrong reasons.

First two young men were arrested and caned 83 in Aceh for being gay and committing sodomy. Police raided ‘gay parties’ in Surabaya and Jakarta. They published the photos and names of some of the men before they were even arrested. The men in Surabaya were even forced to take HIV tests.

Only last week in West Java the head of police revealed he had set up a special taskforce to investigate LGBTI people in his province.

Conditions for LGBTI people in Indonesia have been deteriorating, but some of the community have shared what life is like for them.

While homosexuality is not illegal in Indonesia, Aceh has unique bylaws which follow Islamic Sharia Law. So being gay and engaging same-sex activities is outlawed.

Salman watched the caning of the two men in Aceh when it dawned on him that it could be him on that stage facing a brutal punishment. Even though he is gay and scared of being found out, he has to stay in Aceh to look after his sick mother.

‘This is terrible, this can happen to me,’ Salman told Kenh14.

‘I think I should be more careful now. My boyfriend is not in Aceh now but I’m very worried about my future.

‘There are a lot of people in the LGBT community who are really smart, and they have a lot to contribute to Aceh, but now the fear is spreading over Aceh province.’

In 2007, Hartoyo was living in Aceh when he was arrested alongside his boyfriend. The activist moved to Jakarta soon after, but came back last week to witness the caning.

‘The two policemen hit me and my boyfriend in a barbaric manner. We were treated like animals,’ he said. ‘I am lucky that homosexuality has not yet been considered illegal [in Indonesia].’

Pay it forward

Hartoyo visited the two gay men in jail before they were caned. He described one of the young men as extremely panicked and was so frightened he could not stop shivering.

But when it came time for the caning to start, he could not bring himself to watch. Hartoyo said it was still important for him to travel to Aceh to let the men they have support and he can help them move to Jakarta.

‘I want them to know that they are not alone and have a safer place for them,’ he said.

The situation is not as dangerous for trans people in Aceh so long as they don’t flaunt themselves around the province. But that doesn’t stop the trans community from being scared.

‘I’m pretty scared after what happens to gay people, but I do not see any problem with transgendered families and villages accepting me,’ trans woman Syreil told Kenh14.