Benedict Brook is a gay Australian journalist who has been watching the unfolding persecution of the LGBTI community in Indonesia with great concern.
Brook wrote on news.com.au why he won’t be one of the many Aussies who flock to Indonesia’s most popular tourist spot, Bali.
Why I won’t be heading to Bali for a holiday anytime soon
Mates of mine rave about their trips to Bali. Some head up to Ubud, to laze beside palm fringed pools, taking breaks only for a tough schedule of massages. Others stay in the hustle of Seminyak and bar hop on the way to the beach.
I was considering breaking my Bali seal and finally heading there this year. The amazing people, the sublime sights and those cheap airfares.
But not now. Bali is off the list of possible holiday destinations. The reason is not because of decisions made in Denpasar but a thousand miles away in Indonesia’s capital of Jakarta.
Within days, the government of one of the world’s most populous nations could outlaw homosexuality. In a cruel piece of political theatre, the axe could fall on Valentine’s Day.
In a nation of 260 million people that could mean around one million could instantly become criminals.
Coincidentally, almost the same number of Australians — one million — visit Bali each year. Many of those crowding the aisles of planes for a family break will have voted for marriage equality in Australia.
Yet, when they land their tourist dollars will be filling the coffers of a Government that punishes gay people. They may be able to turn a blind eye because of great value airfares and tropical temperatures. I can’t.
Gay and transgender have become the cannon fodder in a bitter battle between political parties. The country’s president Joko Widodo, elected as a reformer, has increasingly kowtowed to the religious extremes.
The new law could mean gay people are locked up for up to 18 months.
While homosexuality has hardly been embraced by our northern neighbour, it has nonetheless never been illegal aside from Aceh, a province which has enshrined elements of sharia law.
Bali’s nice but it’s still Indonesia
But down in Bali, a province with a Hindu majority, the rules have always been looser.
Far from Bali’s world view seeping into the rest of Indonesia, Aceh’s way of doing things is becoming the norm.
The Australian Government’s Smart Traveller website warns LGBTI people could be discriminated against.
Absurd warnings about crackdowns on LGBTI people have become commonplace.
In 2016, Defence Minister Ryamizard Ryacudu said Indonesia’s LGBT movement was more dangerous than nuclear war. For real.
‘In a nuclear war, if a bomb is dropped over Jakarta, Semarang [a city 500 kms away] will not be affected … but [with LGBTI rights] everything we know could disappear in an instant … it’s dangerous,’ he said, reported CNN.
In 2017, in Aceh, two men accused of same-sex relations was publicly whipped.
Next month, an Australian based Indonesian LGBTI group, Selamat Datang, will march in the Sydney Mardi Gras parade to raise awareness of an increasingly draconian Jakarta and raise money to create safe houses for gay people. They are marching due to a grant from online giant Google.
Yet last month, Google caved into Jakarta’s demands and withdrew a series of gay dating apps from its online stores. In a country not exactly overflowing with gay bars, apps were a way for the marginalised community to meet.
Also last month, a group of 12 transgender women were arrested following raids on beauty salons. They were forced to shave their heads and don men’s clothing as part of their ‘coaching’ to become ‘real men’, North Aceh Police Chief Ahmad Untung Surianata told a local news agency.
‘The officers also nurtured them by … telling them to chant loudly until their male voices came out,’ the police chief said.
Humiliatingly, they were snapped surrounding the local police chief giving a thumbs up to their new, all male, look.
No political capital in LGBTI
The proposal to ban homosexuality has been long in coming, seemingly caught in the middle of a battle between Mr Widodo’s party and opposition parties that have stoked the fires of intolerant Islam to bolster their election prospects in next year’s poll.
The President seems to have decided there’s no political capital in defending the rights of some of the country’s most vulnerable.
‘This is fuelled not just by bigotry and misunderstanding but by public officials… I think that’s the really scary thing as we go forward. its fair game to go after LGBT people in Indonesia,’ Kyle Knight, a Human Rights Watch researcher told CNN last year.
The United Nations has called on Jakarta to step back from the precipice. As has the Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN), which is based in Jakarta and whose members includes Thailand, Vietnam and Singapore.
Choose where you spend your money
Clearly, saying you will set foot only in countries that fit your world view would be a difficult feat to achieve.
I’ve been to Singapore, a country where if I had sex it would be illegal. However, the law is rarely enforced in the city state which, in Pink Dot, hosts a growing LGBTI festival.
I’ve transited through the United Arab Emirates where homosexuality is forbidden.
But with the notable exception of the Russian province of Chechnya, never have the prospects for gay people headed south so quickly than in Indonesia.
How a country makes its laws is up to the people of that country. But where I spend my money is up to me.
For sure, this will choke off some of the money local people derive from tourists. But it will also choke off a profitable revenue stream for Jakarta in the form of taxes and airport landing fees.
I voted yes, so I’ll be voting no to Bali.
And just in case you think the law change, if it happens, won’t affect you, gay people are not the only group that could be criminalised. So could those who have sex outside of marriage.
That should focus the minds of a few Australian tourists.
This article first appeared on news.com.au and is republished with permission